This week, April 23 – 29, 2023, is National Infertility Awareness Week. According to the CDC, about 12% of women aged 15-44 have difficulty getting pregnant or carrying a pregnancy to term. Which means, chances are, you know somebody (whether you know it or not) who is struggling with infertility. Thankfully, in recent years, women have become more open about this topic and slowly but surely we are breaking down the stigma. As someone who struggled with infertility herself, I want to share some tips on some dos and don’ts when supporting someone in this situation.
Don’t Ask; Just Be a Friend
If somebody you know is struggling with infertility, please do not constantly ask them about what is going on with their treatment. Some women like to be very open, some are more private, and some are both. For me, there were days and times I really wanted to talk about it. I knew who my friends were that I could open to and I was able to reach out when I wanted/needed. Then there were times when I just wanted to push that aspect of my reality to the side and not think about it. I just didn’t want to deal – and friends play an important role in this as well. Let your friend know you are always there to talk when they may need it, but don’t be pushy for information.
On this same topic of asking, take the question of, “so when are you guys going to have a baby (or another baby)?” completely out of your repertoire of conversation starters. You NEVER know what someone else is going through, and this simple question can be a knife in the heart. That friend or coworker you just asked could have just have been trying for months and just met with a fertility doctor for the first time. That person could have just had a miscarriage. That person could have just received the news that they can’t have biological children. You just never know. I always had the motto of, “not your uterus, not your business!”
Be Considerate When Announcing Pregnancies
If you have a friend who has been trying to conceive, and you are blessed with a healthy pregnancy before her, please be compassionate when telling her. Try telling her alone – not in a large group. Follow up with her afterward and see how she is. In the year my husband and I were trying to conceive it seemed like every single couple I knew got pregnant before me. While every one of these couples has every right to be ecstatic and over the moon about their biggest blessing, and I was ecstatic and over the moon for them, it can spark some tough feelings in those struggling with infertility. For me, it was jealousy. I was NEVER angry or upset with a friend for getting pregnant, but pregnancy announcements definitely elicited some feelings of jealousy. Never did I not want my friends to experience this joy, but I wanted to experience this joy as well. Stay away from phrases like, “Oh, I thought you were calling to tell me you were pregnant because I am…” (yes, this was actually said to me by a friend who knew we had been trying to conceive for close to a year!).
Some Big No-No Phrases – And what to say instead!
DON’T SAY –
“At least…” (you already have a baby; you know you can get pregnant; etc).
“Just try…” (to relax; going on vacation; getting drunk; etc). This can inadvertently make someone feel like they are at fault for their infertility.
“You can always…” (adopt; try IVF; foster, etc). Since you never know what someone has tried or what their financial resources are
Avoid any comments about how they are lucky to not have kids (even if your children are driving you nuts!)
“I’m so sorry you are hurting.”
“How can I support you?”
“I wish I knew what to say to comfort you.”
“I’m always hear to listen if you want to talk.”
At the end of the day, the best way to support a friend struggling with infertility is to just be a friend. Be a listening ear. A shoulder to cry on. A friend who provides some distractions when times are rough. And just remember, that those in the midst of a fertility struggle are waiting and working on something that they have longed for and dreamed about their entire life and are coming to the realization that it might never be; all they need is a loyal friend!