Infertility support from friends and family can be an important pillar people who suffer from it can lean on! If a friend or family member has confided in you that they are having difficulty conceiving, it can be hard to know the right thing to say or do to be there for them. Because infertility and pregnancy complications such as miscarriage are still taboo in our society, many people don’t quite how know to talk about these topics or give support to someone going through it if they haven’t had the experience themselves.
Fertility struggles can take a huge emotional toll on someone, not to mention the impact on finances, and personal relationships with a partner and friends. It’s a lot to handle all at once. And getting bombarded with pregnancy announcements and ultrasound photos on social media and invitations to baby showers and gender reveal parties usually makes matters worse.
In these times, feeling loved and supported by friends and family can make a world of difference to someone battling with fertility. Fortunately, there are many ways you can show up for them. This guide walks you through all the things you can do, as well as what you shouldn’t do, to help someone experiencing infertility.
How to support Loved Ones with Their Infertility
When they are ready to talk, just listen
Give them time and space to work through their feelings, and let them know you’re available to talk whenever they’re ready. Even if you are unsure what to say, simply offering a shoulder to cry on and allowing them to let out their emotions without judgment is a great way to show your support. When you don’t know how to respond, try something like this: “I’m so sorry you’re going through this” or “I wish I knew what to say to make you feel better”.
Read up on infertility
Do some research about infertility and potential treatments. Knowing the basics will help you be more supportive and understanding. Also, it’ll prevent you from perpetuating myths or misconceptions when you talk about it, or acting surprised when they discuss their IVF cycle and daily hormonal injections.
Show them that you care with a small act of kindness
Send a card or flowers, bring over a cooked meal, or put together a little self-care package for them. Even a text or a funny meme with a note that you’re thinking of them can go a long way. Mother’s and Father’s Day can be a particularly difficult time for people struggling to have a baby of their own, so reaching out on these days can be extra meaningful.
Ask what they need most
It’s okay if you don’t know the best way to support them. Everyone handles fertility struggles differently and people going through a tough time often don’t know how to ask for help. Let them know that you can be there for them however they need. But keep in mind that for some people, thinking of what they actually need can be a burden, so you can also try suggesting a date to cook dinner together, see a movie, and/or take a walk in nature.
Offer your help
Another way you can support is by offering to drive them to difficult doctor’s appointments, pick up their medication, exercise together if you know they are trying to lose weight, or, if they are dealing with secondary infertility (infertility that comes up after a previous successful pregnancy), you can babysit their older children while they are at the fertility clinic.
Be understanding if they miss events
Baby-related gatherings such as showers, baptisms, and birthday parties with kids around can be too much to handle for someone who is struggling to conceive. While they are happy for you, celebrating your pregnancy and motherhood milestones can be a very painful experience. Keep inviting them along, but understand if they need to decline your invitation or just pop in for a quick hello at your party. Consider planning a kids-free event like a girls night out so they continue to feel included in the group.
Suggest that they connect with people who have been through the same thing
Many women say that dealing with infertility can feel very lonely and isolating. If you happen to know someone else in your social circle who has experienced the same thing, offer to introduce them. If not, suggest searching for a support group or online forum where they can connect with others who can relate to their struggle.
Ask if they have considered therapy
If you feel it’s appropriate, gently ask if they have thought about speaking to a mental health professional to help them work through their thoughts and emotions. Some therapists specialize in dealing with infertility, and some fertility clinics offer access to counselors and support groups as people go through treatment. If you have ever been to therapy, you may think about sharing your own experience and how it helped you.
Back up any decision they make
If your friend decides to stop fertility treatments or pursue other options such as adoption or surrogacy, support their decision wholeheartedly. Recognize that these are all tough choices to make. Whether they decide to stop trying to have children or to try to become a parent in another way, the decision is completely up to them; all you can do is support the avenue they choose.
Navigating conversations about fertility issues can be difficult and uncomfortable at times, even more so if you are pregnant or already have children. It’s also helpful to know what you shouldn’t do so that you don’t accidentally say something hurtful.
Don’t tell them to relax or suggest that they’re just not trying hard enough
Whatever you do, don’t tell them to stop stressing and just let it happen naturally, as if it’s super easy to get pregnant. One in 7 couples has trouble conceiving. Just because it happened quickly for you or people you know doesn’t mean it will for someone else, and sometimes there are underlying medical reasons that make conception more difficult. Perhaps they have already been trying for years and doing everything “right” but it’s still not happening.
Avoid toxic positivity
Don’t tell them that it’ll all work out in the end or that it’ll probably happen once they stop trying so hard. You don’t know that and it won’t make them feel better to hear it.
Give unsolicited advice
Avoid giving unsolicited advice, especially if you’ve never gone through any fertility struggle or miscarriage yourself. It may feel like you’re just trying to help, but suggesting them to try this new fertility treatment you heard about, eat a certain food, or live a more healthy lifestyle can come off as patronizing. You don’t know what they’ve already tried or what treatments are available to them (keep in mind that fertility treatments can cost up to the tens of thousands), so don’t act like you know more than they or their doctors do. Your job is not to solve problems, but to listen and offer emotional support.
Don’t say that it’s fate or that they’re lucky to be childless
Implying that the universe didn’t intend them to be parents is extremely cruel. If they are unable to conceive there is a medical reason for it; it’s not a punishment or their destiny. Similarly, don’t say that they should appreciate not having kids. They are well aware that parenting isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, and saying that they should just enjoy being able to travel more and sleeping 8 hours per night isn’t helpful.
Don’t recommend adoption or a donor
Avoid pushing adoption or another solution such as a sperm/egg donor if they aren’t able to conceive. Hinting that they can still be parents in another way doesn’t take away the pain of not being able to have a biological child. On top of that, adoption brings high costs and logistical complications and it’s not for everyone.
Tread carefully when talking about your own pregnancy or children
If you find out that you are pregnant while they are struggling with fertility, be mindful about how you share the news – consider telling them through a call or text rather than in-person to give them space to process. You may also want to give them a little heads up before making announcements on social media or sending out invitations to pregnancy-related events. Do not try to protect their feelings by keeping your pregnancy a secret – it will just make them feel more alone and hurt when they eventually find out another way. Also, avoid complaining about any pregnancy discomforts you have or challenges with your kids; your fertility-challenged friend is not the right person to vent to.
Don’t repeatedly ask if they are pregnant
Checking in too often about their fertility journey and asking if they are pregnant isn’t a good idea. You’re curious and want to share their excitement if the moment comes, but if they have to keep telling you no it just serves as a reminder that it still hasn’t happened yet. Plus, if they were pregnant and ready to share the news, they would tell you without you having to ask.
Don’t minimize their pain
Avoid making any statements that imply that things could be worse. If they already have one child and are experiencing secondary infertility, don’t say that at least they’re lucky to have one – this doesn’t mean they feel that their family is complete.
Don’t ask who is at “fault”
Let your friend or family member decide which details they wish to share about their situation and respect their privacy. Don’t question them for specifics on the cause or if it’s male or female factor infertility. Your goal is not to place blame or find a solution for whatever is behind their fertility struggles, but just be there for them however they need.
It’s hard to always know what to say, and despite your best efforts, you may end up saying or doing something that comes across as insensitive. If you realize you have upset them, quickly apologize and explain that it’s hard for you sometimes to know how to be there for them or find the right thing to say. Do your best to stand by their side and offer your emotional support in this time of need, while also accepting that no one is perfect and it’s okay to stumble a bit along the way.
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