How Friends and Family Can Support Those Going Through Infertility
It is very likely that someone you know has gone through or is currently going through treatments for infertility. In the United States, 1 in 8 couples has trouble getting pregnant or sustaining a pregnancy. While infertility is a fairly common condition, society has not yet normalized the conversation surrounding it. This can make it challenging to know what to say to someone who is going through fertility treatments. Oftentimes, couples going through fertility treatments may take years to resolve their family building journey. As a friend or family member, it’s important to keep in mind that your role as a support never waivers, but how you offer support may change during that time.* One of the best things you can do for someone going through infertility is to simply let them know that you care and are available. Send a card, lend an ear to listen or a shoulder to cry on. Making yourself amenable to however they are feeling that particular day or whatever they need at that time is invaluable. Going through infertility treatments can feel isolating but by providing this kind of support, you confirm that your friend or family member is surrounded by an understanding and compassionate network. Oftentimes the most helpful support involves just showing up. * You may want to consider asking your friend or family member for more specific instructions on how they want to be supported. This strategy is helpful for both of you because you know how best to support your friend and, in turn, they get the most out of your offered support. For example, your friend going through infertility may say, “I want to tell you something that I have been going through and all I want is for you to tell me that I’m going to be fine. Please text me to check in periodically.” Or, in a different scenario, your friend may voice, “I would like to tell you something that I have been going through and I would like you to never ask about it again. If there is something I want to discuss, I will bring it up.” Knowing the type of support they need at the time will better serve the relationship and make your connection stronger.
* While you may have the best of intentions when trying to support someone going through infertility, you may find yourself struggling to find the right language to use. Below are a few examples of phrases you should avoid and the alternatives you can consider when speaking with a friend or family member:
Take note – the type of support they need may change. It’s important to continuously communicate with your friend or family member who is receiving fertility treatment so you know how best to help and support them.
* If you have little experience with infertility, it might be helpful to do some research. Reading literature that has been published, understanding various treatment options, and being knowledgeable about current topics in reproductive health will make you a trusted confidante for your friend or family member. If and when they need to speak with someone, you will already be informed and ready to have a smart and productive conversation.
Instead of saying, “Just relax. It will happen!” Considering saying, “That sounds incredibly difficult. Would it be helpful for you if I keep checking in or would you prefer to bring it up yourself?” Instead of saying, “It’s because you exercise too much and work too hard.” Consider saying, “I am so sorry you are going through this. How can I help? What can I do?” Instead of saying, “Why don’t you just adopt?” Consider saying, “Thank you for sharing your experience with me. I feel honored you trusted me with this information. Please let me know how I can support you. Would you like me to text or call you? Should I let you take the lead in bringing it up in conversation?” By using these alternative phrases, you demonstrate a sincere interest in their condition without being prying or overbearing. Try not to get too caught up with saying the right thing and instead, focus on the bigger ideas – you are providing support and you want to let them guide the conversation.
Keep in mind your friend or family member will need time and space to feel the range of thoughts and emotions they will most likely experience as they undergo treatment. They might even avoid certain social gatherings they find difficult to attend, especially if they involve children. Be sensitive and let them know that you are committed to preserving your friendship. This will help create a space for honest discussion when they need it.