Unless you’ve been through it yourself, it’s tough to understand what someone you care about is going through when it comes to infertility treatments. For starters, there’s the overhwhelming medical aspect of the process - a whole new dictionary of medical terms to be learned, as well as understanding treatments and what you have to do. There will be a lot of decisions to consider, sometimes very difficult choices that you would never have to consider otherwise. Then there’s the lack of privacy that comes with family or friends wanting to know how things are going, but you’re just not ready to talk about it. Or you simply may not care to reveal the intimate details of your and your partner’s sex organs.
These are just some of the things your friend or family member will be dealing with. If you are finding yourself at a loss as to how to be helpful, here are some tips for you.
Ask questions about infertility treatment every time you speak to them.
This is an incredibly stressful time for them. And not only are they dealing with this, but the stress of everyday life too. Let them come to you when they want to talk about it.
Try to fix it for them.
You can’t. Unless you have medical training in infertility or have been through it, don’t make suggestions. Trust that they’re doing what they need to do.
Offer advice unless they ask for it.
There is a lot of information to digest when it comes to infertility and decisions that need to be made. Unless they ask for your input, trust that they are making the best decisions for themselves in the best way for them.
If your loved one happens to be your child, I know it can be hard as a parent to sit back and not say anything. But waiting for them to come to you for advice is actually much more helpful than throwing another opinion at them. This isn’t easy. Don't complicate it more. If you really can't help yourself, try asking first if they want advice right now.
Share other people’s stories.
Refrain from sharing any stories you may have heard or read about someone who had trouble conceiving and just when all hope was lost, they got pregnant. These miracle stories are meant to provide hope. But instead the person ends up comparing themselves and feeling like they’re still falling short. Or your loved one may feel that that story has nothing to do with what they are going through, despite how similar you may have thought it was.
Respect their need for privacy.
Infertility can be a stressful, emotional rollercoaster. They may not want to talk about it some days or be ready to. Remember while they are going through this, they are still trying to lead their everyday lives. And with that, comes the need to put their stress away until it’s the appropriate time to take care of it.
Take the time to read up on infertility.
This is incredibly helpful for both of you. Unless you are a doctor, there is a huge learning curve for those who haven’t experienced infertility. By becoming informed on some basic infertility facts, you won’t have to ask questions when your loved ones do want to talk about their struggle. They will appreciate it and be relieved that they don’t have to explain certain things yet again. In addition, this is a way you are showing your support and being helpful. Here are some sites to check out:
Listen. That’s enough.
You don’t have to make it better for them. You can’t. Believe it or not, one of the most helpful things you can do is to simply let them talk, when they choose to. This isn’t something that they are sharing with everyone in their life. Honor that and listen.
Offer support in a way that makes sense for them.
You care about your loved one and of course you want to do something to help. No one likes feeling helpless while someone we care about is suffering. Ask them, “How can I help? What’s the best way I can support you?” And then go back to the last tip - listen. Listen to what they tell you and respect it, even if it’s nothing. You can always offer just to always be here whenever they’re ready for your support.
Deal with your own discomfort so that you can be helpful.
In attempt to comfort your friend, you may make make well-meaning, but ignorant, hurtful comments.
“You need a vacation.”
“It’s not meant to be.”
“It will happen.”
None of these statements are helpful and some even place blame. “Just relax” and “you need a vacation” imply that the person is doing something wrong. I’m quite sure they come from a well-meaning place, but that place is also full of discomfort. These statements are attempts to offer comfort because you feel the need to say something. You feel the need to be helpful. You can’t tolerate seeing your loved one in pain. Read up on infertility. It will help you to understand better the facts, the process, and the associated feelings.
If your friend is struggling, check out this post on Coping with Infertility. Share it with her if she's open to a quick read right now.
Laura Winters, LCSW is a therapist specializing in infertility and prenatal/postpartum stress. Laura's practice is located in Chatham and Mountain Lakes, NJ.