Ever since I first shared my infertility story I’ve heard from many of you wondering how you can help your friend/sister/cousin/neighbor who is also struggling to conceive. It’s about time I finally shared my ideas and tips with you.
But before we get to the ways in which you can help your friend, I want to first discuss the things you SHOULD NEVER say to someone going through infertility. I know that most people are trying to be helpful, or frankly, they don’t know what to say at all, but many of the following comments are incredibly hurtful to someone struggling (at least in my experience). I’ve had each and every one of these comments spoken to me and while I know people are not intending to be mean-spirited, I think we need to bring some awareness about what’s appropriate to say and not to say to someone on this difficult journey.
What NOT to Say to a Friend Going Through Infertility
Just Relax: If I had a dollar for every time someone told me to “just relax and it will happen”, I would be rich. Seriously. Telling someone not to stress when they’re trying to get pregnant is not helpful, nor is it factual. Stress doesn’t cause infertility, but infertility causes stress.
Medical Advice: Unless you are a fertility specialist, do not offer unsolicited medical advice. I constantly have people telling me I should “try acupuncture”, “cut gluten”, “use this vitamin”…the list goes on and on. Don’t, just don’t.
I’ve lived and breathed infertility for almost two years. Trust me, I’ve read every article and asked every question to my many doctors. Just because you read one headline does not make you an expert on treating infertility. The only time I think it’s okay to offer some medical advice is if you, too, are going through infertility and you’re sharing information about the latest procedures or protocols.
Stories of Other Women: It might seem helpful to tell your friend that your cousin went through IVF and then was able to have her second child naturally. But hearing stories of success is not always the best way to offer infertility support. Everyone’s body is different and every couple faces their own unique medical challenges. Of course, I love hearing that IVF worked for someone else who was struggling, but it doesn’t make me feel better about my current situation.
Adoption/Surrogacy: I’ve had many people tell me, “You can always just adopt” or ” Why don’t you just use a surrogate”. Yes, adoption and surrogacy are wonderful options on a journey to parenthood! But if you have a friend who is undergoing infertility treatments, she is putting her all into it and saying you can “just adopt” is insensitive. You want to support her on her current path to parenthood, so asking about a Plan B or Plan C is not helpful.
Trust me, your friend has thought about every single option available to her and your comment is not helping. I also think people don’t realize how long (and expensive) a process both adoption and surrogacy can be. Don’t speak on the subject unless you’ve personally gone through it and have insight to share.
“At Least”: “At least you’re still young.” “At least your insurance covers IVF.” “At least you have two embryos left.” I encourage you to avoid statements like this when chatting with someone going through infertility. It doesn’t make anyone feel better or bring any hope, and it isn’t showcasing empathy. This short video from Brene Brown sums it up beautifully and is worth a watch.
Infertility Support – Ideas to Help a Friend
Just Listen: Infertility can be very isolating and your friend may retreat a bit. Don’t take it personally. Instead, let her know that you’re there for her if she ever wants to chat. And when she does open up, just listen. Don’t offer advice, don’t try to pep her up. Instead, just let her vent and feel what she needs to feel.
Remember Big Dates: I have a few close friends I confide in about my ongoing infertility treatments and I’ll casually mention the date of upcoming appointments or procedures. Somehow they always remember to text me on those days to let me know they’re thinking of me. It makes those hard days a little brighter to know they care.
Periodically Check-In: It’s sweet to send a text every once in a while to let your friend know you’re thinking about her and sending good vibes her way. If she wants to talk about it, this is a non-intrusive way to open the door to that conversation. And don’t worry that you’re making her think about something she wants to avoid. Chances are infertility is always on her mind (it is for me, at least), and she’ll appreciate the check-in.
I think it’s important to not ignore your friend’s infertility. After my miscarriage, I had people avoid the topic because they didn’t know what to say. Or they didn’t want to say the wrong thing. You might feel like you don’t have the right words, but just a simple, “I’m so sorry and I’ve been thinking about you”, will suffice. That’s the best way to show support and it is a lot better than ignoring the elephant in the room completely.
Be a Fun Distraction: Finally, have fun with your friend who is struggling because she might need a distraction. She might not be able to enjoy a cocktail, caffeine, or workout class because of treatments, but a movie night or long walk is always a good idea!
If You’re Pregnant or a New Mom
Newly Pregnant: Four of my closest friends are pregnant right now, so I’ve endured many baby announcements in the past few years. I think the best way to tell your friend that you’re pregnant is through a text or email before you announce it on social media. All of my friends have told me in that way and I appreciate that so much. They were very considerate of my feelings.
I’m always genuinely happy for my pregnant friends. I’ve seriously cried tears of joy at their news! But just because I’m happy for someone else, doesn’t mean I’m not sad for me. So, if you’re unsure of how to share your pregnancy news, I say a simple text message is best. She will have time to process, collect herself, and respond in the best possible manner.
Baby Showers: Definitely still invite your friend to your baby shower, but don’t be upset if she politely declines. The worst thing you can do is not include her because you think she won’t attend. Let her make that choice.
Complaints: If you’re pregnant and not feeling great, I’d avoid sharing all of the juicy details with your friends. It’s fine to chat about it, but don’t vent and go on and on. Instead, chat with other friends about those pregnancy woes (because your infertile friend is probably dying to be in your shoes!). Same goes for life with a newborn. She doesn’t want to hear about those sleepless nights when it’s something she wishes she could have someday!
I hope this post was helpful for anyone out there looking to support a friend or family member. Infertility is an isolating experience and those women (and men) need you now more than ever.Casey