How to help someone going through infertility
16th September 2019
How do you help someone going through infertility? It’s a difficult question to answer. Obviously, there is no way to take away the pain someone is feeling when finding it hard to conceive. But support from loved ones can make all the difference when navigating this trying time.
At Adia, we give a lot of advice to couples who want to get pregnant, but what do you do if it isn’t you going through infertility, but a loved one? Infertility is not the easiest thing to talk about, especially if it’s something you’ve not experienced. In this blog, we will help you understand what to say and what not to say to someone facing infertility, as well as some hints and tips on other ways you can support them.
What to say to friends facing infertility
When someone you love is hurting, it can be difficult to find the right words to express how you feel. Here are a few suggestions of what to say to help a friend struggling with infertility.
This may seem like an incredibly basic phrase, but sometimes it’s all someone needs to hear. Saying you’re sorry immediately validates their emotions and lets them know you care. It can be easy to jump straight in to discussing medical research or giving them advice on what worked for other people. However, often people just need a hug and to know that you sympathise with them.
‘I support your decision’
Throughout a fertility journey, there will many tough decisions that have to be made. Whether to stop treatment, take a new course of action, or start trying again after loss. Whilst it may be tempting to give your opinion on their choices, it’s imperative that you simply lend your support – whatever they decide. This can be a confusing and overwhelming time, and they will be doing their own research and thought processing. Another person’s opinion can cloud judgement and make then doubt themselves.
‘What do you need?’
No matter how much research you do, or how much you try to empathise, it will be difficult for you to put yourself in their shoes. Everyone’s fertility journey is incredibly personal and the support they need will be unique. Some people will need space, others – distraction. Some will want to talk about their experience in detail, others will want to talk about anything else. Rather than assuming, ask your friend what they need from you.
‘Do you want to leave?’
When struggling to conceive, there can be certain social occasions that are emotionally triggering. Baby showers, Christenings and children’s birthday parties can all be tough days. If your friend is finding them difficult, knowing you will support them if they want to leave is important. They may feel that leaving will cause a scene or draw attention, so giving them an excuse to leave can be hugely helpful, and something they will definitely appreciate.
What should you not say to someone with fertility problems?
‘At least you already have one baby’
Secondary fertility can be just as hard to deal with as any other form of fertility struggle. It can also be extremely stressful going through fertility treatments when also trying to look after a young child. Acknowledging this rather than telling them to be grateful that they already have a baby will show your understanding and support.
‘Maybe it’s just not meant to be’
This could make your friend feel like they aren’t meant to be parents. Infertility is a medical condition, not something that has been left to fate. A phrase like the might also make them feel like you don’t support their decisions regarding continuing treatment or trying a new course of action.
‘There are worse things that could happen’
Whilst well-meaning friends may say this to give some positive perspective, it can actually make things worse. Fertility is stressful and emotional enough without feeling guilty for not appreciating other things in your life. For someone desperate to be a parent, there probably is nothing worse that could happen to them right now than to get another negative pregnancy test or piece of bad news. Let them be present in their feelings and don’t minimise their experience.
‘Relax and it will happen’
This is common advice given by friends of people struggling with infertility – and even some medical professionals. However, the link between fertility and stress is actually completely unproven. Whilst a healthy lifestyle – which can be impacted by stress – can aid natural conception, there are many more important factors at play. Telling your friend to relax will make them feel like their infertility is being caused by their inability to manage their emotions. This sort of guilt is unhelpful and will make them feel even worse about their situation.
How to comfort your partner if you’re struggling to conceive
As a couple, infertility is one of the biggest challenges you may face together. It’s totally normal for the process and heartache to put an emotional strain on your relationship. Whilst arguments will happen, always try to remind your partner that you love them and that you are in this together. Communication is key to a good relationship, and it’s never more important than when you are facing infertility There will be times when one of you is feeling stronger than the other, and it’s important to always be prepared to pick your partner up if they are struggling.
Regardless of what is causing your infertility, there should never be any blame passed between you. Your partner will be feeling emotions of guilt and self-doubt, and it’s your job to help dissipate those negative feelings. If one partner is going through intensive testing or treatment, be sure to be extra supportive. If doctors have advised a fertility diet plan or change of lifestyle, always make sure you tackle these challenges together. Things, like giving up alcohol and doing more exercise, will be much easier if you are doing them as a team.
My infertile friend is avoiding me – what should I do?
There could be numerous reasons that your infertile friend is avoiding you. Firstly, they may be avoiding everybody. Whilst talking about your fertility issues is a healthy way to deal with your emotions, it isn’t always easy. They may be craving their own space whilst they process their feelings and could be found socialising difficult. If it’s common knowledge that they are trying to conceive, questions about the process may be distressing if things aren’t going the way the want them to. Try not to take it personally, or to be offended. Let your friend know that you understand if they need some space, but that you’re here for them whenever they need you. A simple text or even a card might be all they need from you right now.
How to tell your infertile friend you’re pregnant
This can be an incredibly difficult situation to navigate. The most important thing is that you are honest with your friend whilst also being completely sensitive to her situation. If you’re planning a big announcement, either at an event or on social media, make sure you tell her first. Take the time to speak to her personally and allow her time to digest the information before going public. You should avoid telling her how ‘easy’ it was to get pregnant or giving advice on what worked for you. In many cases, your friend will be happy for you, despite her own struggles. However, if she doesn’t react in a positive way, try to be understanding and not take it personally. In time, she will be excited for you, but initially, she may feel hurt. Be a supportive friend and give her the space she needs.
Gift for someone struggling with infertility
Whilst there is no material item that can make up for struggling to have a baby, tokens of your affection can let people know you are thinking of them. Presents that encourage self-care are great. Items like aromatherapy oils or candles are useful. There are also many companies that create jewellery and other gifts specifically for those going through fertility treatment. We love this morse code ‘Hope’ necklace, available on Etsy.
However, the best gift you can give your friend is the gift of time. Showing up when they need you is the best thing you can do at this time. Offer to look after their children when they are going for treatment, or go along with them if they are going alone. If they are taking up an exercise for fertility routine, why not find a class you can go to together? Or if they are in need of distraction maybe treating them to a weekend away or spa day would help them have something to look forward to.
Other things you can do to be a supportive friend of someone struggling with fertility
Don’t forget about the men in your life – Male partners will be struggling with the strain of not being able to conceive too. It’s important to always check in with them, as well as your female friends. Male infertility is just as common as female infertility, so don’t leave them out of the conversation.
Do your research – Educate yourself on both the medical and emotional sides of infertility. The Adia blog has lots of first-hand accounts of loss and infertility that may help you empathise with their situation. ‘Not as I planned: My fertility journey’ and ‘Akiko’s journey dealing with secondary infertility’ are especially insightful.
Don’t stop treating your friend as your friend – Throughout all of this, your friend will be probably feeling a total loss of control and sense of self. You can remind them of the funny, kind, smart person they are, and help boost their confidence. Whilst you may need to tread with a little sensitivity, don’t treat them as a medical patient – treat them as your friend.
If you would like more advice on how to help someone going through infertility, join the Adia platform for free. Your friend may also benefit from signing up to Adia. The platform has lots of advice to help them on their fertility journey. They can contact fertility experts, listen to unique meditation podcasts and access fertility diet plans created by specialists nutritionists.