10 Ways to Support a Friend Dealing with Infertility

No matter how long it takes a couple to conceive a child, if it doesn’t happen by surprise or within a couple of months, doubt starts to creep in. And let me tell you, having to actually try to get pregnant can really suck. It doesn’t matter if it takes four months or four years; the uncertainty, frustration, doubt, and self-loathing can eat away at you.

Infertility charts and OPK testsAs women, we automatically wonder if there’s something wrong with our bodies. Everywhere we look we see pregnant women and new babies where we didn’t notice them before.

What’s a person to do when their friend or family member is dealing with infertility? How can you support them without sticking your foot in your mouth? It’s often a subject that is difficult to talk about when one isn’t necessarily educated on the subject. It’s so easy to say the wrong thing and cause some very hurt feelings.

After chatting with some fellow mamas who’ve struggled with infertility in a variety of ways, we came up with some good ways to be supportive.

1. If you aren’t sure if your friend wants to talk about her infertility woes, ASK HER. For me personally, I don’t mind talking about it and I don’t mind if a friend brings up the subject of my infertility. Talking about it helps vent frustrations. But I rarely bring up the subject because I get a distinct vibe of “uncomfortableness” from friends and family when I do. It often leads to a mama feeling like she’s going through it alone.

2. Listen and let her know you care. Just be empathetic, “I am so sorry you are dealing with this.” Avoiding or always changing the subject only makes your friend feel alienated. If you know that she is cool with talking about her infertility journey, then ask her how it’s going from time to time. You aren’t asking how her sex life is going, you’re inquiring as to her emotional state and what steps she may be taking to help the process along. How is she dealing? Does she want to talk about it? If you know she had an appointment with her RE (reproductive endocrinologist), ask her how it went. Is she trying a new herbal tea or a new acupuncturist? Ask her how it’s going.

3. Don’t diss on whatever treatment your friend is doing or thinking about trying. Whether it’s acupuncture, IUI, herbal supplements, IVF, injectable hormones, chiropractic, diet changes or whatever… deciding to get help with infertility is a very personal decision for a couple and it’s never a decision come to quickly and easily. Please respect that.

Clomid, fertility drugs

Image by Reese Dixon under Creative Commons License

4. Don’t say hurtful things. There are SO many comments that are made when people are trying to help, but these comments can cut so deep. Here are just a few of the very common phrases that are said to mamas dealing with infertility. Please don’t say any of these:

  • Stop trying and it’ll happen. If you paid attention in sex education, then you would know that this isn’t physically possible for a woman who knows her cycle and knows when she’s ovulating… unless she’s hoping for an immaculate conception.
  • You just need to relax. Aw man, why didn’t I think of that?!
  • You don’t look infertile! What exactly does an infertile person look like?
  • Just adopt! Adoption isn’t for everyone and can be a very long and expensive process.
  • Don’t worry, you’re young! What does that mean?! Are you suggesting I’m not meant to have a baby now? Have I been wasting my time trying so far? Plus, if not pregnant equals young, does pregnant equal old? If I get pregnant now, I will be “advanced maternal age” and considered high risk by most OBs. How’s that for hypocrisy?!
  • Maybe God doesn’t think you’ll make a good parent. Ouch. Since when do people have to be good parents to have children? I can walk through WalMart and see plenty of examples that contradict that statement. And did God personally tell you this? If not, please don’t speak for Him.

5. Educate yourself. If you want to be SUPER supportive, pick up a copy of Taking Charge of Your Fertility and read up if you aren’t well versed on the amazing fertility cycles of women. You can also visit FertilityFriend and read some articles on the subject. This way you know what the heck your friend is talking about when she mentions progesterone, her luteal phase, and strange acronyms like OPK, EWCM and FMU.

Fetal ultrasound

Image by Stacy Rackley under Creative Commons License

6. Respect that miscarriages are losses. Don’t make excuses and tell your friend “It wasn’t meant to be.” As soon as a woman sees a positive pregnancy test, the joy and excitement begins immediately. Miscarriage is a death; the death of a tiny ball of cells and the death of the future she had imagined for her baby, even if it was only for a few short weeks. Her body is flooded with hormones and there is a physical process that comes with a miscarriage that painfully reminds her just how NOT pregnant she is.

Tell her that you are sorry and that you are there for her. Let her talk, let her cry. Ask if there is anything you can do to help… even if it’s just to walk her dog, do a load of laundry, or bring over a box of her favorite Belgian chocolates.

7. Respect that Secondary Infertility is just as hard, if not harder for many. When a mama has a baby (or two, or more) and she suffers from infertility when trying to conceive another, some argue that it can be even more frustrating than the first time around. Our bodies physically ache, yearning to feel the kicks and the hiccups once more. The sound of a newborn’s cry can make our breasts tingle to be full of milk. Our bodies already know how to conceive, grow and birth a child… you’d think we’d be able to do it again. Sometimes we’re not.

Never, ever suggest that she’s being ungrateful for the child she already has. That is likely an emotion she is struggling with all on her own. Just be the loving and listening friend that you are and offer to babysit from time to time if she needs to visit her RE or acupuncturist. Kids are very rarely welcome in the waiting room of an RE’s office… for good reason.

8. Be sensitive to her feelings when friends, family members, or even you become pregnant. But don’t try to hide a new pregnancy from your friend. It’s different for every woman and for every pregnancy. When many friends of mine got pregnant, I was thrilled for them and cried tears of joy when their new babies were born. But for some reason, other friends’ pregnancies were harder for me and I had to hide their baby bump photos from my Facebook feed. I don’t know how to describe why some were okay and some weren’t. They just were.

If you get pregnant and are faced with telling your infertile friend, tell her separately from the rest of your friends and family. And tell her that you understand that it might mean she can’t be around you for a little while. Tell her that you love her and are there for her. Let your friend decide how much baby and pregnancy-related stuff she can handle being around.

Pregnancy Test

9. Keep inviting your friend to social gatherings; baby showers and birthdays too. Even if she says no every time, keep inviting her. Eventually she will be in the right place to be there. Don’t make her feel isolated.

10. Light a candle, say a prayer, and send good thoughts out into the universe for your friend.

11 Responses to 10 Ways to Support a Friend Dealing with Infertility

  1. Stefanie McMullen Reply

    Thank you for this article. I have PCOS and suffer from infertility. It took 5 years to get pregnant with my son and another 4 years after he was born to get pregnant now. I wish so many of the my friends and family could’ve read an article such as this. Their ignorance and apathy towards the issue can be extremely frustrating and hurtful.

  2. Such an important and informative article. I Think people want to be helpful to their loved ones struggling with this but they Just don’t know how.

  3. Great article. So insightful and well done.

  4. AWESOME post! What a great list. It took us 3.5 years to meet our first baby and I could echo this whole post a thousand times over. It would be so great if everyone could just keep these few things in mind.

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  6. Great article! Another thing that people tell me that I just love (insert eyeroll) is “There can’t be anything major wrong since you already have a child”. Ugh! Yes, we are very blessed to have one child but that doesn’t erase the pain of TTC for 3 years now.

  7. I loved this article. I am 29 years old, have been married for three years (we’ve been together for about 7 years) and I have PCOS, uterine fibroids, etc etc. I have so many friends that are much younger than me and already have their families well established. One of them is 25- also has PCOS- but has had 5 children since she got married. I don’t ovulate, or at least, I haven’t in about 2 years since actively starting to try. The biggest things I get from my friends are “maybe it’s not the right time” or “maybe you’re just thinking/stressing about it too much” and then there’s the whole “you can borrow mine for a week and see if you still want one!”

    I threw my best friend her baby shower about this same time last year (for her second baby. She never got a shower for the first)… And while I was so very happy for her- of course I wondered when I would get to have a shower of my own, who would throw it for me, etc etc. it’s just ALWAYS there at the back of my mind… And it’s really frustrating and heartbreaking. Especially when people try to tell me that when they see me with their kids they can tell that I’d “be a great mother”. I know I would— it’s the one thing I want most in the world. I’ve been getting in my practice for YEARS!

    I understand people want to supportive, and I dearly appreciate the support… But at the same time, I just wish people would go about it differently- or at least not quite so verbally. :/

  8. this touched me so much ! it is very informative information ! YES so true especially the fact that i did in the past accept some of my friends pregnancy and didnot accept others and at that time i didnot understand why and i was dealing with IUI with medication which sucks . thank you for making sense out of it to me

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