We’d do anything for our loved ones—whether that means letting their dogs out when they get stuck in the office working late, dropping off soup when they’ve come down with the flu, or helping them move their couch up three flights of stairs into a new apartment. So why is it so hard to offer loved ones comfort if they find themselves struggling with infertility?
According to RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association, more than seven million people of childbearing age in the United States are struggling with infertility. “Yet, as a society, we are woefully uninformed about how to best provide emotional support for our loved ones during this painful time,” they note.
You don’t need to have struggled with cancer to be able to support someone you care about who is going through chemo, right? So you can be the rock your friend or family member needs when dealing with infertility even if you got pregnant the first month that you tried (just keep that tidbit to yourself).
Know what to say (and what not to say).
Don’t offer advice (unless asked). You might mean well when you start sharing tips for increasing fertility or new treatments you’ve read up on, but for your loved one grappling with infertility, it could come off as inconsiderate. “Advice that comes from a place of inexperience is usually conveyed as insensitivity,” says writer Danielle Helzer, who struggled to conceive before adopting two foster children.
She recalls an insurance agent who quipped, “It’s not that hard!” when he heard she’d been trying to get pregnant, and a colleague who told her to “just relax.” Helzer encourages friends to consider what their friend or family member might need. “Maybe it’s time and space to process, maybe it’s a listening ear, or maybe it’s a funny cat video on a depressing day.”
Know your audience. If your sister or best friend can’t get pregnant, don’t use them as a sounding board about your colicky baby or potty-training issues. “I once sat at a table with a few female friends who swapped breastfeeding stories for an hour,” says Helzer. “I literally had nothing to contribute to the conversation.” Instead, save those gripe sessions for folks who haven’t had fertility issues and find something a little less baby-focused to talk about. When in doubt, there’s always Netflix.
Everyone puts a foot in their mouth at some point. Of course, there might come a time when, despite your best intentions to be an awesome support system, you might say something super-insensitive. Relax. It happens. The trick is to acknowledge your flub and offer a sincere apology.
You also want to avoid making light of an incredibly painful experience. “Infertility can be an uncomfortable topic, so people often try to minimize the problem when talking to friends with infertility,” says Barbara Collura, President and CEO of RESOLVE. Don’t point out that they could always adopt or already have one kid (if it’s a secondary infertility issue). That won’t make anyone feel better.
Other ways to support someone through infertility.
Brush up on your fertility IQ: If your friend told you she was diagnosed with breast cancer, you would probably spend some time online learning as much as you could about the disease. So, if your loved one shared that they were having problems conceiving, you’d want to read up on the basics to help be more supportive. Just don’t see it as an opportunity to give unwanted advice or perpetuate fertility myths.
Let them know you care. Sometimes it’s comforting just to acknowledge that a loved one is in pain, whether it’s through a card or a phone call. “Reaching out to someone who is walking the lonely road of infertility might take some effort and education on your part, but I’m learning that the most meaningful relationships are the ones that require us to work hard,” says Helzer.
Make doctor’s visits a little less painful. If your loved one has opted to go the fertility- treatment route, offer to watch their kids (if they are dealing with secondary infertility) or to accompany them to the appointment—you can help just by sitting in the waiting room or coming in to hold their hand.
Give your loved one a “get out of jail free” card. Planning a baby shower or gender-reveal party? Have the foresight to let your loved one who’s dealing with infertility off the hook, and tell them they are under no obligation to attend. “You can certainly extend an invitation to help this friend or family member to feel included,” says Helzer. “But understand that absence from these events may be a way your friend or family member guards a vulnerable heart.”
Are you trying to get pregnant yourself?
If you have been trying unsuccessfully for a year to get pregnant, it’s time to start exploring why you haven’t been able to conceive and have both partners tested. For women, that means scheduling an appointment with an infertility specialist for assessing fertility, whether through a series of questions to determine factors like age and menstrual cycle or blood tests to check hormone levels.
For men, one of the first measures of fertility is checking the sperm count. SpermCheck is an over-the-counter kit that tests the sperm count quickly and accurately to let you determine whether that could be the underlying source of your fertility issue.
For those who want to offer the best support that they can to loved ones struggling to conceive, simply letting them know you are there to talk—or just hold their hand—is the most important gift you can give. “The best thing you can do is let your infertile friends know that you care. Send them cards and let them cry on your shoulder,” Collura says.