Living with fertility struggles can be incredibly difficult. It’s an emotional rollercoaster and can cause people to feel sad, angry, frustrated, or anything in between. There is some support available for couples dealing with fertility struggles, but often that support can be hard to get. Workplaces often don’t offer much support, and counselling can be hard to access. If a loved one is struggling with their fertility and you want to be better support for them, here are some of the best things to say, and what you should never say.
Friends and family of couples dealing with infertility, and medical professionals can always learn more about how to be kind and supportive. It can be easy to get it wrong in tough emotional situations. Whether you look into tips for effective communication for nurses, or just want to learn what will actually be helpful to say to your friend, you can try some of these tips.
What To Say
- Let them know that you care. The best thing that you can do for your friends who are struggling to get pregnant is to let them know that you care. Fertility struggles can be isolating and sad, and knowing someone is thinking of you can make more difference than you might think.
- Do some research. Do some reading about infertility so you have a better understanding of what your friends are going through. If you know they’re considering a particular kind of treatment, it can help to read up about it so you are informed about it if they need to talk and don’t need to ask them lots of questions that might be upsetting to answer.
- Be interested. Some people don’t want to discuss their infertility, but some people really do want to talk. Let your friend know that you are available if they do want to talk to you about what they’re going through.
- Ask them what they need. Don’t assume you know what kind of support your friend wants. They might want to talk about it, or they might want to be distracted from their worries. Ask them what they need and what would be most helpful, whether that’s a shoulder to cry on, or someone to pick them up from an upsetting doctor’s appointment to save them from having to drive.
- Provide extra outreach to your male friends. Infertility doesn’t only affect women, but the conversation around it often centres on them. Your male friends dealing with these struggles may be suffering in silence. Don’t push them to talk, but remind them that you’re for them for whatever they need.
- Encourage therapy. If you feel that your friend would benefit from talking to a professional to learn to handle their grief and frustration, and you think they would be open to the suggestion, you could gently suggest they try therapy. If you go to therapy regularly yourself, or have been to therapy and found it helpful, you can offer your own story to encourage them.
- Support their decision to stop treatment. No couple can continue to endure infertility treatments forever. These treatments are expensive and often distressing. At some point, many couples will decide to stop seeking treatment. This is always an incredibly painful decision to make. Offer your support, never your judgement.
- Remember them on Mother’s and Father’s Day. These days can be painful for those struggling to start a family of their own, and but in all the business of the days, a lot of people forget about those who can’t become parents. Remember your infertile friends on these days and let them know you’re thinking of them. They’ll appreciate the care.
- Attend difficult appointments with them. You can offer to come into the appointment with them, or offer to wait in the car park or the waiting room so they don’t have to drive themselves home when they’re upset, and don’t have to go in alone if they don’t want to. The offer lets them know that you are committed to supporting them the best you can.
- Watch their older kids. If they already have children, offer to babysit, so they can attend their appointments without having to worry about what to do with their older children.
- Offer to be an exercise buddy. Losing weight is common advice for those struggling to get pregnant. If you know that they’re trying to lose weight, offer to be their gym buddy to keep them motivated and on track.
- Let them know about your pregnancy. A lot of people worry about how to share pregnancy news with a friend struggling to get pregnant themselves. Deliver the news as gently as you can, and in private. Email can work well, as they can react however they need where nobody can see them.
What Not To Say
- Don’t tell them to relax. Comments like ‘you just need to relax,’ aren’t helpful, and can make people feel even more stressed. Infertile couples often already feel as though they are doing something wrong. In fact, it’s more likely that a physical problem is what is preventing them from getting pregnant.
- Don’t minimize the problem. Struggling to conceive is a very emotionally painful experience. Well-meaning comments intended to cheer them up can actually be really hurtful. There’s no real comfort in being told to enjoy being able to sleep late, not clean up baby sick, or have more alone time with their partner when all you want is a family.
- Don’t say there are worse things that could happen. You don’t get to say what the worst thing that could happen to someone is. People react to life in different ways, and while you think there are worse things, the pain of infertility can feel like the end of the world to some couples.
- Don’t say that they aren’t meant to be parents. One of the very cruellest things that people feel the need to say to people struggling to get pregnant is that maybe they just weren’t meant to become parents and that it wasn’t in God’s plan for them. This is very hurtful. Infertility is a medical condition that happens for all kinds of reasons. It’s not a punishment from nature or God, and it’s not a sign from the universe that parenthood is not for them.
- Don’t ask why they are not trying IVF. The decision to treat infertility is a very personal one. Most insurance plans don’t cover IVF, and it’s available on the NHS in Britain, so many people are just not able to afford it. Never ask why someone is choosing or not choosing a particular treatment. These are tough decisions to make.
- Don’t push adoption or other options. A lot of infertile couples get asked why they don’t just adopt. This is another very personal choice to make, and they will have thought about it without your prompting. The couple can only make that choice for themselves and will have a lot of work to do before they can consider adoption or other ways t have children.
- Don’t say that they’re young and have plenty of time to get pregnant. Know the facts before you make comments like this. In fact, it is recommended that women under the age of 35 see a fertility specialist if they have unable to conceive after a year of trying. Being young does increase your chances of fertility treatment being successful, but there are no guarantees.
- Don’t gossip about your friend’s condition. For many people, their infertility and the treatments they seek are a very private matter. Respect their privacy and don’t discuss their problems with other people.
- Don’t be crude. When they don’t know what to say, some people fall back on crude jokes. Don’t do this. Making jokes about donating your own sperm to the cause, or making sure the doctor uses the right sperm for the insemination is not funny. It’s just rude, unpleasant, and upsetting.
- Don’t complain about your pregnancy. For a lot of people living with infertility, it can be very hard to be around women who have managed to get pregnant. Seeing someone else pregnant is a constant reminder of what they’re missing and can’t have for themselves. If you’re pregnant, you can make it easier on infertile friends by not complaining about being pregnant.
- Don’t question their sadness about being unable to have a second. Having successfully had one child doesn’t mean that a couple feels as though their family is complete. A couple may have had their first child naturally and with no problems, but are now having issues with infertility when trying for a second. Infertility can happen after already having a child, and is no less upsetting.
- Don’t ask whose fault it is. Just because someone has told you they’re dealing with infertility, this doesn’t mean they will feel comfortable talking about the details.
- Don’t assume the infertility is the woman. A lot of people assume the problem is usually the women. In fact, a third of the time, the reason is unexplained, and another third is the male partner.