Deciding to start a family can be one of the most exciting life decisions a person can make. However, if a couple or individual has difficulty conceiving, joy and excitement can turn into stress and despair.
Unfortunately, infertility is not uncommon. This global issue affects about 48 million couples and 186 million individuals worldwide. So even if you’re not personally struggling with infertility, chances are likely that you know someone who is.
Infertility takes a mental, physical, and emotional toll on those longing to become parents. So how can you best support a friend who’s going through infertility?
What is Infertility?
Infertility is being unable to get pregnant after a year or more (6 months if over the age of 35).
Infertility affects all genders and can be due to several causes. Issues with any of the many steps that lead to conception can cause infertility.
For many people, infertility can occur when there are problems with their reproductive organs — such as the fallopian tubes, uterus, ovaries, testicles, or sperm. Smoking, obesity, alcohol or drug use, radiation exposure, genetic factors, and some medications increase the risk of infertility.
Infertility impacts everyone differently, and people may cope in various ways. It can be heartbreaking when someone wants to become a parent and is met with challenges.
You may be unsure what to do or say if your friend or family member is dealing with infertility. Still, there are several ways to support them.
Talking to Those Struggling With Infertility
When talking to a loved one with infertility, the most important thing is to let them know you’re there for them. Just asking how you can help goes a long way. Infertility comes with many complex emotions, so let your friend know they can talk to you if they feel like discussing it.
What Not to Say to a Friend with Infertility
What NOT to say is just as important as what you say. You may be trying to frame things in a positive light. For instance, saying things like “at least you don’t have cancer” or “at least you have freedom since you don’t have kids” is not helpful. But instead, statements like these minimize the pain of infertility. Just because infertility isn’t life-threatening doesn’t mean it’s not devastating to those trying to conceive.
Don’t Give Advice
Also, avoid advising on what they should do, like telling them to adopt. Adoption is a different journey that comes with its complexities. Your friend may not be ready to think about adoption just yet. On top of that, adoption can be a significant financial strain.
Fertility treatments can also be costly as well as mentally and physically taxing. So it’s best not to push your friend to pursue fertility treatments or tell them what to do about their infertility. In addition, you may not know everything they’ve tried or what it’s like to undergo fertility treatments.
Communicate Openly and Mindfully
Open communication is vital; you shouldn’t hide your pregnancy just because your friend is struggling with infertility. They’re probably very happy for you! But it’s a good idea to drop the news to them in private, so they have time to process it on their own time. You could even give them an individual heads up before posting about your pregnancy on social media.
Supporting a Friend With Infertility
Besides mindful and empathetic communication, there are more concrete ways to support someone struggling with infertility.
Learn About Infertility
Everyone in your friend’s circle may be curious about their infertility and ask them lots of questions about it. Yet, it can be exhausting to constantly rehash all the same information to different people.
You can take some of the burdens off your friend by researching and learning about infertility. Educate yourself about infertility and fertility treatments, like in vitro fertilization or intracytoplasmic sperm injection, so you’ll be on the same page if your friend ever wants to discuss it.
Offer to Help out with Tasks.
Infertility and fertility treatments are mentally and physically exhausting. You can support your friend by helping out with mundane tasks like housework or dropping off a meal. You could offer to attend fertility appointments with your friend or watch their pets so they can have time for self-care.
Ask How They’re Doing and if They Need Anything
The best way to support your friend on the journey to becoming a parent is to ask what they need. For example, some people want a listening ear to talk about it, while others require a mental break.
Remember to check in with your friend and say, “I’m here if you want to talk about it. What do you need from me?”
Don’t Be Afraid to Talk About It
While you want to avoid giving advice, don’t be afraid to talk about infertility. This is where you should let your friend take the lead. They may or may not want to discuss it, but it’s a profound part of their life.
Those struggling with infertility may feel isolated. Many of their friends and family are throwing baby showers and starting families while they fight a silent battle to become a parent. Let your friend know you’re here if they want to talk, and respect their medical decisions surrounding infertility. Don’t try to convince them to do something you may think they should do, and also respect their decision to stop treatments.
Hold Space to Help Your Friend Get Through Their Infertility Struggles
Infertility affects everyone differently, and it’s never an easy journey. The most important thing you can do is lead with love and hold space for whatever your friend is going through. Be a haven for them to laugh, cry, and everything in between. If you communicate with empathy, love, and honesty, you can provide the support your friend needs most.
If you or anyone you know is dealing with infertility, you don’t have to do it alone. At Reproductive Gynecology and Fertility, we provide comprehensive fertility care so those struggling with infertility can successfully become parents. Visit us at Reproductive Gynecology & Infertility to learn more about how we can help.