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11 Ways to Support a Loved One Experiencing Infertility

There are a lot of articles about things you should not say to someone struggling with infertility, but less guidance for what you should say or do instead.

There’s no universally right or wrong answer — the “right” thing will vary immensely from person to person … and indeed the same person (on different days).

I surveyed hundreds of women about how family and friends could have better supported them through their experience of infertility and miscarriage, here’s what they said:

  1. I’m so sorry. Give us a hug and say “I’m so sorry.”
  2. Do not try to solve the problem. There’s nothing you can say or do to fix this, so stop trying to do so. Please, please don’t offer advice or tell us about someone else’s miracle story  —  all you can do is bear witness to our pain.
  3. Just listen and acknowledge our distress. Don’t feel you have to do anything other than listen. Don’t tell us what to do, what to think or what to feel. Just listen to us and allow us to be sad, and angry, at how unfair life is. Be there; let us know you care, that you’re there and that you want to understand our feelings and needs. Acknowledge that it’s an unimaginably cruel situation and let us offload.
  4. Take it seriously. Please understand that infertility is deeply traumatic and genuinely life-changing. Studies into the psychological impact of infertility, conducted by the Fertility Network UK, identified 90% of infertile couples reported feeling depressed, while 42% reported feeling suicidal. Further, 50% of the women and 15% of the men surveyed said that infertility was the most upsetting experience of their lives, and levels of depression and anxiety in infertility patients were comparable with those among cancer patients. Four in 10 women also experienced symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following a miscarriage.
  5. Don’t diminish our suffering by telling us we’re being oversensitive, or that we should be over it by now. It’s OK for us to not be OK. Try to not take it personally if we withdraw from social situations, or distance ourselves from you. It’s not that we don’t care  — we do. We’re just trying to protect ourselves from being hurt even more than we already are.
  6. Don’t ignore it. Recognize our devastation and ask us if we’d like to talk about it. Don’t be fooled that our smiles mean that everything’s fine. Just letting us know you’re thinking of us can go a long way
  7. Read up and educate yourself. Research the issues and try to gain as much knowledge as possible about what your loved one is going through.
  8. Ask us how you can best support us. If you’re not sure what to say or do, ask us. It’s absolutely OK to say, “I don’t know what to say,” or “I know I can’t take the pain away, but what can I do to help?”
  9. Show us you care. Offers of distraction and acts of kindness will never not be appreciated. If someone has had a failed cycle or miscarriage, don’t just say, “I’m here if you need anything.” Instead  offer practical support like, “I’m coming round with cake,” or,”Let me know if you fancy going out for drinks/dinner.” Be patient with some of the ugly stuff this experience makes us feel and say. Do things which make us feel remembered and valued. Cut us some slack if we avoid family events ,  and if we do attend these sorts of events, look out for us. Remember our due dates or loss dates, so you can show someone else cares about our babies too.
  10. Don’t exclude us. Yes, pregnancy announcements, christenings and kids birthday parties are difficult for us.  But it’s even more difficult if you don’t tell us, or invite us in an effort to spare our feelings and we feel even more excluded and isolated. Tell us your news when you’re ready to share it, but sensitively … don’t surprise us with a scan picture. Just send us a text  and give us a heads up in private, rather than telling us face to face (this gives us time and space to have a cry and put our game face on, so we can be happy for you when we see you). Invite us to your child’s birthday party, but tell us that you’ll understand if we don’t come.
  11. Reassure us that you love us. Don’t ever say that it’ll happen eventually , because you don’t know that it will (and it might not). Reassure us that you love us and will support us no matter what ;  that we are still loved and important, regardless of whether we become parents.

A version of this story was originally published on uberbarrens.club/blog.

Photo credit: KristinaJovanovic/Getty Images