Infertility is a heavily present issue in our society, but is one that is rarely talked about. Even though statistically one in eight couples struggle with infertility, people who are outside the fertility community tend to have issues understanding and supporting those who struggle with infertility.
While it is important to be supportive, gentle and open with the people in your life who are struggling, it can still be hard to know what to do, and say, to your friend or family member who is facing an infertility diagnosis. Even people with the best intentions can inadvertently upset someone they were trying to comfort, simply from not knowing the correct ways to help.
If you know someone who is having trouble conceiving, we recommend the following approach to encourage a safe space where the individual will feel comfortable.
Everyone leads busy lives with packed schedules, so it is completely understandable that you may be caught in your own routine, and overlook that your person needs an outlet. Let your friend or family member know that you care, are available, interested, and open to supporting them in any way you can. Offering to help out with household chores and duties while they attend appointments, or even attending appointments with them, shows that you care about them and helping them maximize their time with the doctor.
If you see that the person struggling in your life seems overwhelmed, or are unwilling to discuss their fertility issues with you or anyone around them, encouraging them to seek therapy or a support group could be incredibly helpful to them by showing them that their struggle is not something that they have to face alone.
Remember that special events may be difficult
Holidays that have to do with family, such as Mother’s and Father’s Day, Christmas, Passover, etc. can be difficult when you are trying to start a family and are unable. These days can be harsh reminders for those who are undergoing fertility treatment that they won’t be able to share the day with their own little family, for at least the time being.
It is easy for your own emotions on special days to overwhelm your normal level of care for a friend or family member’s emotional state, and that’s okay! Just because someone you care about is struggling doesn’t mean that you can’t have fun, simply remember that it’s important to show them support as well. Things like simple reminders that you are thinking of them, that you are there for them, and that you care really will make a difference.
Many infertile couples struggle with special occasions, especially when there are questions about when they will be having a baby, or if they’ve tried tactic x, y or z for getting pregnant. It’s important that the people who support them understand that questions like this are invasive, potentially hurtful, and may damage this relationship. During special events, make them feel included, and try to keep the pregnancy talk to a minimum.
Don’t make assumptions, and be careful with your words
Something that is a socially ingrained idea is that infertility is solely on the woman, and that simply isn’t true. In fact, one-third of ALL infertility diagnoses is due to the male partner. One third is due to the female partner, and one third is entirely unexplained. Making the assumption that the infertility is due to the female partner puts the infertile couple in the uncomfortable position of having to choose between correcting you, or letting things awkwardly fall on the “blamed” individual.
Additionally, there are a lot of people who think it should be a certain way, or have specific opinions that they think are helpful. Often, while ignoring the fact that an infertile couple is actively trying to conceive, many people stress to infertile couples that they should take the time to enjoy being childless. Individuals think that because being childless means you’ll “have a larger savings” and “get more sleep”, that it is appropriate to express these sentiments to someone who is trying to conceive. Many people feel that the “cure” for infertility is to just “calm down and relax”, and that relaxation will lead to a successful pregnancy.
These conversations can be, and usually are, very painful for couples who are actively trying to have a child, and are facing infertility.
When it comes down to the facts, your intentions may be supportive, but every message relies on the receiver and how your message is interpreted. Because of this, conveying your message in a positive and compassionate manner may be easier said than done.
Take the time to learn.
One of the most important things you can do to help open up a safe space for conversations and support is to learn about the infertility community, what the treatments may be, and above all, listen. Your friends or family members will open up to you when they are ready. Don’t push, but do make it known that you are there for them when they are ready for you.
Trust us, it really does make a difference when you show the people in your life that you care.