Supporting a Friend Through Infertility
As an individual or couple facing infertility diagnoses and fertility treatments, the path can seem overwhelmingly daunting and lonely. Then, the widespread secretiveness around infertility and fertility treatments exacerbates those feelings because friends and family simply don’t know what to say or how to be.
“Think” With the Heart
The biggest thing for friends and family to remember is that you don’t have to “fix” anything. Your friend or family member has done more researching, learning, trying, not trying, and more researching and re-learning than you can ever imagine. There’s nothing “factual” or “fix-oriented” you can offer.
So, get your brain out of the way, get used to feeling a little uncomfortable in your tummy, and let your heart be the leader as you figure out which of these ideas fits best for who you are.
1. Listen, listen, listen
Fixers aren’t the best listeners because they’re brains are firing with all kinds of well-meaning solutions and “perfect things to say.”
Your friend needs you to just listen. S/he’s going to tell you their story and you just practice reflective listening, “Mmmm,” “I see…,” “Mmm-hmmm….,” and, “You are on such a difficult journey…,” etc. That’s it. That’s all you need to do. Just listen. HUGE help!
2. Do your own homework
Your friend may not want to talk about the clinical details because that’s what their fertility specialists and infertility support group(s) is for. That said, the more you know about infertility, the better you can understand certain terms, tests, treatments, and so on as they come up in conversation. RESOLVE’s Infertility 101 page is a great place to start.
We also recommend reading our posts, 5 of Our Favorite Infertility Blogs, and, More Infertility Blogs to Love. Then visit a few of the blogs we’ve suggested to get an insider’s perspective of what your friend may be going through depending on his/her situation. You can also bookmark or subscribe to our Reproductive Resource Center (RRC) Blogs to get up to date information about all things infertility and fertility treatment oriented.
3. Ask directly what they need and what they want
Trying to guess what to say or not can feel maddening, especially because odds are they change from day-to-day depending on where someone is on their journey, the kind of day they’re having, whether they’re excited about a new treatment round or grieving a failed one, etc.
Therefore, being direct is the best way to know what you can do to help. Let your friend know exactly what you are available for and then check in occasionally about what s/he needs:
- Listening time
- A ride and companionship for a fertility appointment
- A space to cry with a witness
- Meal support
- A fun day out on the town without a single mention of babies
- Kid-free time
- To skip an event that will have lots of babies or pregnant women
- To take a baby shower hiatus
You’ll feel far more comfortable when you know your words or actions are exactly what’s needed rather than feeling like you’re floundering in the realm of the unknown.
4. Be extra sensitive to the non-baby carrying partner
If you are friends with a couple, the one who isn’t planning to carry the baby is every bit as emotionally involved as the one who is. In heterosexual couples, the male is often neglected because people assume it’s the female who needs the most support. In the LGBTQ+ community, fertility treatments can be even more fraught depending on whether or not couples have the support of their family members and society as a whole.
Check-in with both sides of the couple equation to see what they need and to make sure everyone is being looked out for.
5. Check-in (when appropriate) about therapy or group support options
We are huge advocates for infertility counseling, and believe every individual with an infertility diagnosis or who is pursuing fertility treatments should schedule at least a handful of sessions. If it feels appropriate, check-in and see what your friend(s) are doing, if anything, to ensure they have the infertility support they need.
In addition to counseling, we recommend patients reach out for fertility support here in the KC area, whether that be joining a group, connecting with people online, or getting involved in the next National Infertility Awareness Week walks or activities.
7. Remember to check in with them on holidays
The calendared holidays are pretty rough for couples going through infertility, especially if they’ve suffered repeat miscarriages or multiple failed fertility treatment cycles.
Pregnant family members, the questions, the noticeable lack of questions, little babies and young children, and all of the focus on family family family takes its toll. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day can be especially challenging. Reach out to them and honor where they’re at with a text, a call, or a card and it will be so meaningful.
Ultimately, remember that your friend is grieving. Grief needs extra space, lots of love, to be heard and seen, and to never feel like it’s having to conform to a timeline. If you can create a comfortable space for your friend to be him/herself through infertility, it will be the most priceless gift you can ever give them.
The team at RRC is grateful you care enough to read this blog and we wish you and your friends the best of luck on their fertility journey.
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RRC has over 200 years of combined experience. As a leading reproductive health, infertility, and in-vitro fertilization (or IVF) center based in Kansas City, we're proud to have the highest level of expertise available to our patients.