Dr. Ryan Blazei, Clinical Psychologist
While infertility can be a very isolating experience, it is far from uncommon. According to popular estimates, 6.1 million women in the United States have an impaired ability to get pregnant or to carry a baby to term. However, most people don’t speak of their fertility struggles with others, and when they do share their struggles, they find that their friends and family just don’t know how to respond. Well meaning loved ones may say unintentionally hurtful things, or retreat from the relationship out of fear of putting their foot in their mouth.
If you are struggling with infertility and have well-meaning friends who just don’t know how to be supportive, consider sharing this article or other similar articles to give them guidance as to what is helpful. Although we all prefer for people to automatically know what we need, sometimes we have to advocate for ourselves and educate others as to exactly what we need.
Here are some tips for supporting a loved one dealing with infertility:
Educate yourself. If you’ve never been through the emotional roller coaster of infertility and infertility treatments, then it’s hard to know what your loved one is really experiencing. There are a number of excellent resources to help you learn not only the medical aspects of infertility treatments, but the emotional aspects as well. Resolve.org has a wealth of information. Click HERE for a fact sheet on the emotional side of infertility. For some of the medical aspects, HERE is a fact sheet on IUI and HERE is one on IVF.
Ask your loved one if they want to talk about it. People differ in the extent to which they want to share and discuss personal experiences, but you won’t know if they want to talk unless you ask.
Don’t give advice unless they ask you. Especially don’t give overly simplistic advice like “try to relax” or “as soon as you stop trying, you’ll get pregnant.” Most people who are well into an infertility struggle have already read a great deal on the topic and have learned more than they would care to about treatments and alternatives. If you have information that you think would be useful to them, tactfully ask them before sharing.
Be sensitive in how you share your own baby news. If you find yourself newly pregnant or excitedly making progress on an adoption, stop and think about how you’ll share your news with your fertility-challenged friends. Share your own “good news” with them in a private way, such as through email or a letter. Let them know that you’re telling them privately before you share the news more widely because you understand that this news might bring them some sadness or awkward feelings. By allowing your loved one to first process your news in a private way, they will be more able to express and share in your joy publically later. And, they will likely appreciate not having been put on the spot to respond positively.
Show up. A famous quote says: “80% of life is showing up.” Even if you don’t know what to say, it’s better to show up and continue being present in your loved one’s life, even if you end up saying something less than ideal. Don’t try to protect them by not inviting them to gatherings where there will be kids, or not inviting them out because you’re pregnant or you’ll be bringing your kids. Instead, continue to include them but sensitively offer them “an out” to not attend. Let it be their choice.
If you are one of the millions of women and men coping with impaired fertility, know that you are not alone. As helpful as your friends and family may be, there is nothing quite like talking with others who are traveling your same path.
Carolina Conceptions invites all those who are interested to attend a free monthly support group held in the Carolina Conceptions lobby the first Wednesday of the month. The next support group is scheduled for May 10th from 7-8pm. Please RSVP to [email protected] if you plan to attend.