What to Do (and Not to Do) for a Friend Dealing With Infertility
One thing that has truly been on my heart during our journey through infertility is educating people about the condition.
Many have asked my opinion on what you should or shouldn’t say to someone struggling with this. (I am speaking largely to women here because I receive these questions/comments more often from women.) So here is my short and sweet guide.
A couple will eventually resolve the infertility problem in one of three ways:
- They will eventually conceive a baby.
- They will stop the infertility treatments and choose to live without children.
- They will pursue an alternative way to parent, such as adopting a child or becoming foster parents.
It is important for you to understand that each of these three “routes” offers excitement, pain and heartbreak in their own way. I have friends who have either chosen or been forced down each of these different paths. It is important not to pressure them down any of these roads. Option one can be racked with worry and fear after the amount of time and money invested. Options two and three can be very difficult choices.
Here are some things I believe you should not say to someone struggling with infertility. If you have said any of these, don’t feel bad. One of my dear friends was struggling with infertility before I was diagnosed, and looking back, I said every one of these things to her. I apologized, and thankfully she understood I meant well. Having been there, I know people do mean well, but I also believe the more educated you are about this, the better.
- Don’t tell them to relax. This is very rarely the problem for people with infertility. While stress can be a problem, it is often not the main issue. Stress is usually an issue that is quickly rectified.
- Don’t minimize the problem or say worse things can happen. Don’t say it really isn’t a big deal and shouldn’t bother them that much. Of course there are worse things that can happen. Any life-changing event could be worse, but it doesn’t change how much it hurts.
- Don’t say they aren’t meant to be parents.
- Don’t ask why they aren’t trying in vitro fertilization (IVF). IVF is expensive and isn’t an “easy” decision.
- Don’t play doctor. Don’t give medical advice unless you really know what you are talking about.
- Don’t be crude. This should be obvious. Making jokes about “Do you need a lesson?” is just mean.
- Be tender when making a pregnancy announcement. The general rule here is to not make your announcement in a public place with your friend experiencing infertility in attendance. Instead, send them a card or an email and allow them to digest it privately first. Remember they are happy for you, but they might also be jealous because of their own frustrations.
- Don’t complain about your pregnancy to your children. Obviously there are things to complain about with infertility, but it is a wise move to find other adults to confide in regarding these problems.
- Don’t push adoption (yet). The general rule is to not bring this up unless they bring it up first. This is a very wonderful and tender topic, and if/when they are ready, they will share.
- Don’t start any story with “I know someone…” or “I had a friend who…”. These stories often feature the exception, not the rule. The biggest culprits: “I know a friend who went on a vacation then had a baby” and “I know who friend who got pregnant right after they adopted.”
- Don’t tell them that if they adopt, they will probably become pregnant. According to Resolve, the National Infertility Association, studies show the rate for getting pregnant after adopting is the same for people who do not adopt.
- Don’t question their decision to stop treatments. Again, it’s a personal decision. Encourage them in whatever direction they choose. If they want advice, they’ll ask.
- Don’t say, “I hope this works for you because being a parent is the best thing ever.” I have heard this on more than one occasion — shocking? Yes. Painful? Yes. I know they mean well, but it is hard to hear.
If your friend (or an acquaintance) brings up their infertility with you, they probably want to talk to you about it. From that point on, the conversation is usually welcome. Start off by saying, “If you don’t want to talk about it, it’s OK, but how is everything going?” Most of the time, once a couple decides to share, they will want to talk about it. So now that I’ve explained what not to do, here is what I believe you should do:
- Remember their “calendar” and send an email or card on a big day.
- Put them in touch with other people “in their situation.” (Ask them if they want to be contacted or do the contacting.)
- Let them know you care. Cards or thoughtful acts are appreciated.
- Remember them on Mother’s Day. This is a very painful day for my husband, John, and me. We choose not to go to church and instead plan a fun day away from all the mothers with flowers. You could simply send a nice card saying you are remembering them on that day, like you would on the anniversary of a loss. My friend Deanna had her kids (my godkids) sent special “God-Mom” cards on Mother’s Day one year. This was a wonderful thought.
- Attend support group meetings with them.
- Invite them to all events but understand they may opt out of events that might be painful (baby showers, baptisms, etc.).
- Invite them to special child-free events whenever possible.
- Give them poems or even books you think might be helpful — try to find another friend who has experienced infertility to give a “stamp” of approval on the book. (I have a great list!)
- Offer to go to appointments with them if their partner is unavailable. (Thanks, Lesley!)
- Recognize that not being able to have a child can be the loss of a dream for some people. They will move through stages of grief, which may include a time when they question their faith. However, I believe they can cycle through this with love and prayer.
- Read books that will help you understand what your friend might be going through. I strongly recommend “Water From the Rock” to understand the grieving process those with infertility go through.