Being that infertility is said to affect one in eight families, chances are good that at some point you may encounter someone who is fertility challenged. As a person who struggles herself to find the right words to comfort others, I’m making my contribution to National Infertility Awareness Week by providing some firsthand insight into things that well-meaning friends and family say that your fertility-challenged friends just don’t want to hear, and what you can do instead to be supportive.
Don’t Say …
- Nothing at all. Don’t ignore the topic. Your friend may not want to talk about it, but I promise that the struggle to have a child is on her mind as she tries to maintain normal conversation over lunch or happy hour. Infertility is so consuming that her mind rarely drifts far from it. You may not know what to say, but try to acknowledge her dilemma and give her the opportunity to talk about it if she needs to.
- Everything happens for a reason. I literally wouldn’t change a single thing about my path to family, because it led me to this kid I could not adore more. I do believe it was meant to be. But here’s the thing: That’s in hindsight, after everything worked out and I had this precious bundle in my arms. It’s not so easy to believe there is some “reason” – much less a “good reason” – when you’re painstakingly struggling to achieve something that is seemingly so easy and basic for most of the human race.
- Trying is the ‘fun’ part! No. Just. No. Since infertility is a pretty private thing, by the time you hear about it, your friend has likely been “trying” for months, if not years. And call me crazy, but there is something about the doing everything by the calendar and the clock, the infertility drugs and the doctors appointments, the constant worry and the failures, that just takes all the darn fun out of it. Sorry to disappoint all of you who think we are just having loads of fun and fantastic intercourse over here, but that’s not how families are made in the world of infertility.
- You can always ‘just’ adopt. Obviously, the suggestion of adoption is in no way offensive! But the way the discussion is approached can be. As if it’s easy. Snap of a finger, wave of a wand. As if it doesn’t take a mountain of consideration, determination, paperwork and money. Not to mention love and an open heart (although, honestly, that’s the easy part). Adoption is wonderful and worth it, but it’s also complicated and it’s hard. And when you’ve already experienced the heartbreak, financial strain, and physical and mental challenges of infertility, this isn’t a mountain that you “just” climb. Alternatively, just politely ask if your friend has considered adoption as an option.
What to Do Instead
- Just say, ‘I’m sorry you’re going through this.’ No magic words expected or needed. Your simple, sympathetic acknowledgement of your friend’s struggle goes a long way.
- Be thoughtful. I had so many thoughtful friends who went above and beyond. They brought dinner after miscarriages. Sent flowers. Gave small, inspirational gifts. Sent thoughtful texts. Even the smallest of gestures can go a long way.
- Don’t be a stranger. Infertility can be a lonely road, where you feel as if no one really knows what you’re going through. Understand that socializing may be harder for your friends during the infertility process, but a check-in from you is always welcomed and appreciated.