In many ways, infertility is a private experience. Even through the news media publish lots of headlines about infertility, and most people know someone who has been affected, it is also intensely personal.
Maybe it’s our puritan roots, but it’s just not comfortable to walk around talking about problems with our reproductive bits. So, when you discover that someone you care about is going through infertility, it can be difficult to know what to say or do.
Those of us who are going through it – we know that the absolute last thing our friends and family want to do is say the wrong thing, and cause harm. Sometimes, it’s tempting to not say anything. At least then you won’t stick your foot in your mouth.
But the problem with that is that this person who you care about is hurting. Saying nothing is almost as bad as saying the wrong thing. They need to know you support them and see them, especially when they’re struggling.
But what’s okay to say? Where can you start?
Well, instead of the many articles out there that focus on “What NOT to Say…”, I thought it would be more helpful to offer some guidance and ideas for what you can say to someone going through infertility.
(Of course, everyone is different and no words or actions will be received the same way by everyone. Consider your loved one and their personality in your choice of words.)
All of the below are a comfortable way to show support and love during someone’s infertility journey.
When someone you know tells you about their infertility, you can say something like:
“My heart goes out to you. It’s so difficult to see you so sad. I feel really helpless.”
It is so hard to see someone in pain. Expressing your feeling of vulnerability can make it easier for your friend to share theirs too.
In any situation, keeping it simple and honest is always safe. There isn’t anything you can do to fix their infertility, but you can show that you care.
Don’t know what to say or do? Ask! It’s often the easiest option.
“Is there anything at all you need, or that I can do to support you?”
The fertility roadmap is like an emotional rollercoaster so asking this question periodically can be a big help. Let them know that you are there for them, acknowledge that infertility is hard, and ask them what they would find most helpful.
Understand that what they need may change over time. A “no thanks,” today could change into a powerful, “Yes please, here is what I need…” in a short amount of time. So keep checking in from time to time.
Allow your friend or family member to talk about infertility in his or her own time, and then just listen without trying to give advice, offer a solution, or make judgements. Pay attention to when they want to change the subject or stop talking, and follow their lead. Oh, and it probably goes without saying, but keep everything they tell you confidential. If they trust you enough to share, don’t betray this trust.
To gently invite someone to talk to you, you could say:
“I’m sorry you’re having a hard time. I’m here if you want to talk.”
“I may not understand the medical stuff, but I’m happy to listen if you need to vent.” The fertility world is full of medical lingo and acronyms, and explaining it all can be exhausting. Let your friend know that they don’t have to explain everything to you – they can just talk if they want, and you’ll listen. You don’t have to understand every term and test. Just show your friend that they’re not alone, and give them an outlet to express what they’re feeling.
“So how’s everything going?”
If you’ve talked about their infertility before, and you want to gently check in again, this is a subtle question that gives the person an out if they’re not in the mood to talk.
When you’ve had an initial conversation and want to continue to check in and be supportive, here are some more specific things you could say:
“My best friend just did IVF—do you want me to introduce you to her?”
You can listen, but chances are you won’t truly understand infertility if you haven’t also experienced it yourself. Connecting your friend with someone else you know who “gets it” and can share their own stories of injections and hormones, scheduled sex and the rollercoaster ride of menstrual cycles can be a huge gift.
“I had a miscarriage (took Clomid/had multiple IUIs/used a surrogate); I’m always here if you need to talk.”
If you have gone through infertility yourself, opening up about your experiences can show your friend that they’re not as alone as they might feel. Offer to be a resource for questions and venting sessions — there’s nothing else you could give that will mean as much.
“What have you tried so far?’ or ‘What will be the next step you after this?”
Instead of offering ideas from an article you read, or a colleague who told you about their infertility experience, ask these questions. Show interest in their journey, and understand if the person doesn’t want to discuss the details. And unless you’re a medical fertility specialist, avoid making judgements or trying to offer solutions.
“I realize that (Mother’s Day / Father’s Day / a baby shower, etc.) can be really tough when you’re coping with infertility. What do you need?”
Oh man, holidays or events that celebrate children and babies can be horrible when you’re trying desperately to get pregnant. Asking what you can do and what she needs can make it more comfortable for your loved one to be part of painful holidays/events (or help her feel okay about not participating).
“Do you wanna (Grab coffee / Go for a hike / See a movie) and talk about anything BUT fertility stuff?”
OMG sometimes you just want to pretend that everything is normal. Infertility can seem to take over every waking moment of life, so the offer to just be a regular person doing regular stuff can be a huge relief. Offer an “infertility-free zone” where your friend can just be herself for a bit. Plan events where you can go out and have fun together, and show them that you value their friendship and enjoy their company.
“I heard you’re kicking ass at your job. How’s that going?”
Help your friend think about what’s going right in their life. Despite infertility, they are still a successful, powerful person with a lot going for them. Go ahead and remind them just how awesome they are.
No matter what you say, think before you speak. And if you accidentally stick your foot in it and say something hurtful, just apologise and keep listening.
One of the easiest things you can do to support someone with infertility is to learn more about what they’re going through.
Just a small word of caution – no matter how much you read, you will not understand infertility in the same way that someone living it does. Being informed can simply help you to listen and provide active support in a more understanding way.
Look out for your friend in social situations. Be ready to change the subject if the conversation is starting to get awkward. It can great relief to get a (subtle) helping hand out of a painful topic.
Send a Card
A simple message or card that expresses your concern and support can mean the world. (Check out this tearjerker ad for American Greetings.) While any Hallmark aisle card will do the trick, this Huffington Post article about “Cards for Infertility” and the Mindful Fertility Project’s Compassion Cards offer some more creative options.
Seemingly small offers of help, like bringing a meal, helping with a chore, or running an errand can add up to make life feel easier. Just offer what you’re willing to do, and ask what’s the best time to deliver.
Help with Medical Appointments
Infertility treatments can be intense and time-consuming. You could offer to attend an appointment with your friend if their spouse or partner can’t be there (even if you’re just sitting in the waiting room), or if your friend is dealing with secondary infertility you could offer to watch their older kids so they can go to an appointment alone.
Have you heard about the five love languages? For some people, giving and receiving gifts is the way they express love. If that’s the case, here are some gift ideas that range from sweet and thoughtful, to downright goofy.
Share pregnancy announcements sensitively. If you are good friends with someone struggling with infertility, think about telling them about your pregnancy privately first, and maybe by text message rather than face to face – it will help them get their emotions sorted out before your news goes public.
If none of these ideas feel quite right to you, or you’re still not sure what to say or do, some fertility clinics offer free counselling not only for patients but for their family and friends. If you feel like you need extra support, reach out to the counselling team at a local fertility clinic.
Originally published at circlebloom.com