The journey through infertility is fraught with stress, grief, and misunderstanding. Sadly, the infertile also often feel like they are targets of unsolicited advice – some of which borders on the ridiculous. So, what can you say to a friend struggling with infertility to communicate your care and support, even if you can’t understand what she is experiencing?
A Crucial Starting Point
The first thing to keep in mind when talking to a friend facing infertility – whether it’s a new diagnosis or a long-suffered condition – is that she (or he) isn’t necessarily looking for advice from you. The process of seeking care for this diagnosis means lots of doctor appointments, testing with specialists, and usually, information overload – especially at the beginning. The advice thing is well-covered.
What she needs from you is the assurance of care, support, and a safe space to share – or not – as she needs it. She must know she isn’t alone in this journey, even if you aren’t walking the same struggle she is.
Be an open door
Your friend will appreciate your offer to listen to her struggles – even if she never takes you up on the offer. Be sure that she knows you are interested and available but choose not to be offended or hurt if she cannot or will not share.
Don’t forget the men!
Remember that infertility is not just a female fertility issue. About thirty percent of infertility is male-factor infertility. So whether this is your friend or your friend’s partner, the men in this struggle need a safe space as well. The pain of infertility is often borne much more quietly by men in our culture, so tread gently and respectfully. But make sure he knows you are there for him as well.
Do Your Homework
If you are unfamiliar with infertility and fertility treatments, consider a crash course in the topics. Look up common diagnoses and treatments, and even your friend’s specific diagnosis if she shares it. Learn about the grief of infertility and try to understand ambiguous loss. Get a grasp on the options available to build a family, even if you don’t know what your friend is considering.
If she does choose to share her process with you, you will be able to demonstrate your support by coming to the conversations informed. You’ll also avoid painful gaffes that could waylay your goal of supportive care.
When in Doubt, Ask
Once you’ve assured your friend of your support and care, you can ask her what she needs from you in this season. Try to receive her suggestions with an open mind and maybe even ask her to clarify the most helpful things right now.
Ask Again Occasionally
Check with her occasionally to see if her needs have changed. It’s not uncommon that she would get so caught up in her treatment process that she doesn’t stop to think about what she needs.
Ask About Therapy
Therapy can be a tender topic for many, so tread gently with your friend on this point. But sometimes, supporting your friend might also look like asking if she has considered talking with a professional about the stress and grief of her struggle. If you’ve ever benefitted from therapy, let her know that your story is why you suggest it.
Offer Practical Support
Tell your friend that you are available for hands-on support in addition to the safe space to talk and grieve. Here are a few suggestions for practical help that she (and her partner) might appreciate:
- Childcare for the frequent doctor appointments
- Meal delivery or grocery pick up on appointment or procedure days
- Transportation for appointments or treatments
- Moral support in the doctor appointments or clinic visits
- Weight loss or exercise accountability to help her achieve her health goals for treatment
Don’t Forget the Fun.
In addition to the practical help you can offer, and the shoulder to cry on that she might need, check to see if she’d be up for a fun night out. Schedule a pampering event with a couple of trusted friends. Create a “no infertility talk” zone while you are together. Sometimes, the escape from the heaviness of trying to have a baby and a regimented treatment schedule can be just the medicine her weary spirit needs.
Pay Attention to the Calendar
Holidays like Mother’s and Father’s Day and the anniversaries of significant dates in your friend’s infertility struggle can be very painful. Please keep track of their most tender dates and let them know that you remember their struggle. Tell her you are thinking of her, with a small gesture like a hand-picked bunch of flowers or a card. Making it known that you are aware of the day’s significance can go a long way toward soothing the tenderness of those days.
Respect Her Choices
No one can endure the journey of infertility and treatment with no end in sight. Sometimes, when treatments are not working, couples choose to take a break. Some decide to stop altogether. Some choose then to explore other family-building options. Some embark on the path of childless living.
Support your friend’s choice, even if you don’t understand it. Trust that she (and her partner if she has one) has done what feels best for her. Recognize and empathize with the grief in that choice. Maintain your presence and support while they grieve.
Share Good News Gently
Whatever your good news is, but especially if it is a pregnancy or pending adoption, respect your friend enough to give her the information in person. Give her (and her partner) space to react privately. Lower your expectations of how they respond to you. Committing to support a friend struggling with infertility may mean letting her have this moment to feel what she feels. Allowing this room can be a loving expression of your support. There will be plenty of other time and space for your celebration once she has processed your news.
The Bottom Line
Your friend is facing an awful, painful disease, and she needs you in a way that she might never have needed you before. If your friend has let you into this space, you can assume that she trusts you and needs you. The longing for a child or the pain of her symptoms or treatments won’t go away just because you are her friend. But you can be with her in the struggle, and that’s a fantastic gift to give her. No one should face infertility alone.
Have you supported a friend through her infertility struggle? Have you been supported by a friend through your infertility? Tell us about it in the comments.
Image Credits: Kristina Alexanderson; Tim Green; H. Michael Karshis