How to help a friend experiencing infertility.
For parents who are struggling to conceive, it may appear as if babies are everywhere: pregnancy announcements on Facebook, Instagram posts depicting a clever gender reveal, or even just talk amongst friends about how their little one is finally on solid foods. And while this news is a genuine joy, for those struggling couples, it can hurt deeply. Approximately 1 in 6 couples will experience infertility in the United States. If you yourself have not experienced infertility, you may have a friend or family member who is. Here are a few tips on the best ways to help:
1. Remember that your friend is dealing with a loss.
There is a loss of control associated with infertility, as well as a loss of the ability to parent. As with any loss, there is grief and respecting your friend’s way of grieving will go a long way. Everyone will cope in a different way; be a good listener and be available.
2. Acknowledge the pain.
Do not make light of the situation. Telling a friend that “everything happens for a reason” or “it could be worse” is not helpful and can make a person feel like you are minimizing their suffering. Acknowledge that you may not know how they are feeling, but you do respect their pain and want to help.
3. Respect privacy.
Infertility is a very personal experience. Couples experiencing infertility endure a very invasive and challenging process and often feel exhausted. You can help by letting your friend know that you are available to talk when they are ready. It is important to be available but not pushy.
4. Be careful not to make assumptions and get rid of gossip.
This goes hand in hand with respecting privacy and it’s important to remember that each experience is unique. Even if you are familiar or have had some experience in the world of infertility, it is impossible to know what that particular couple is dealing with. It’s also wise to not discuss your friend’s personal experience with others. If your friends trusts you enough to share their story or condition, it is your responsibility to keep that information to yourself.
5. Forget the alternatives.
Couples experiencing infertility are often asked, “have you thought about IVF or adoption?” I guarantee that IVF, adoption, other alternative methods have been researched and discussed. People may not have the insurance or financial means to start the process and each alternative varies according to the couple.
6. Avoid giving out advice.
If your friend chooses to discuss her infertility with you, she may just want someone to listen. While most advice is helpful, be sure it’s warranted. Do not tell your friend the “one trick” to getting pregnant. For example, “if you just relax you will probably get pregnant in no time.” This statement implies to the couple that their inability to relax has hindered their ability to have children which is often not true and can be viewed as insulting. Instead offer whatever support you can. Your friend knows you don’t have all the answers.
7. The grass is not always greener.
Don’t glorify being childless. Even if you have the best intentions, don’t tell a friend experiencing infertility how jealous you are that they can travel or go out on Friday nights without kids. Yes, kids change a person’s life for many reasons but that does not mean that a couple experiencing infertility is “lucky to be spared of the expense or responsibility of parenting.” For couples actively seeking to become parents, reminding them they are not can be devastating.
8. Plan activities.
Entertainment and distraction can be a helpful way to get get through a hard time. Plan new and fun things to do with your friend! Take a class or go on an adventure together.
9. When appropriate, encourage therapy.
There are therapists that specialize in working with men, women and couples experiencing infertility.
Remember, your friend or family member experiencing infertility is likely on an emotional roller coaster. Communication is paramount in this situation so don’t be afraid to ask your friend directly what is the best way that you can be of support. They will be the best judge in directing you on how to help or what they may need to get through this very trying time.
For more information about support available in your area, visit resolve.org.
Bonnie Trainor, LCSW is a therapist at our Edison Park location. Bonnie works with teens and adults. Bonnie’s specialties include loss, PTSD, depression, anxiety, and adoption and infertility. If you are interested in working with Bonnie, send an email today!