Even though one in eight couples struggles to conceive, if you are not familiar with the fertility community it can be difficult to understand and empathize with those who need assistance to build their family. You can strive to be supportive, gentle and open, but knowing what to do and say if your friend or family member faces an infertility diagnosis can be a real challenge. Even those with the best intentions can inadvertently upset or offend someone they were trying to comfort. If you know someone who is having trouble conceiving, we recommend the following approach to encourage an environment where he or she is comfortable.
We all lead busy lives with schedules packed with activities and appointments, so it’s understandable that you may be caught up in your own routine and don’t realize your friend is in need of an outlet. Let your friend or family member know you care, that you are available, interested, and open to supporting them in whatever way they need. Offering to help out with household duties or other chores while they attend appointments, or attend appointments with them to show that you care about their experience. If you find that they seem overwhelmed or are unwilling to discuss fertility, encourage him or her to join a support group.
Remember that special events may be difficult.
Holidays, birthdays, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day can all be challenging when you are trying to start a family but are unable, or if you are currently undergoing fertility treatment.
It’s easy for your own excitement for special days to trump your friend or family member’s emotional state, but simple reminders that you care, that you are thinking of them, and that you are there for them will make all the difference. Many infertile couples dread special occasions, especially when they are asked personal questions about when they will have a baby, or if they have tried this or that tactic for getting pregnant—having friends and family who understand that these questions are invasive and potentially hurtful will make any event easier and more enjoyable.
Don’t make assumptions, and be careful with your words.
Not every infertility diagnosis is due to the female partner—one-third of infertility is because of the female partner, one-third is because of the male, and the other one-third is simply unexplained. If you make the assumption that infertility is due to the female partner, you put a couple in the uncomfortable position of having to explain their personal fertility situation.
Additionally, a lot of people have instinctual reactions to tell those facing infertility to “calm down and relax,” and they’ll get pregnant, or that they should enjoy being childless because it means they’ll have a large savings and more sleep. These conversations can be very painful for someone who desperately wants a child but requires treatment to conceive.
At the end of the day, you know that your intentions to be a supportive figure are genuine, but sometimes conveying these intentions in a compassionate way can be easier said than done. The more you learn about the infertility community, the more helpful you will be.