“Just stop stressing and relax. It will happen!” I heard this statement from a lot of well-meaning friends and family members during the three years my husband and I struggled with infertility that wanted to support us through IVF. For some reason, many people think this is the cure-all for infertility. That could not be further from the truth. It made me feel even worse. Broken, actually.
If only it were that easy.
If you were to look at the couples to the right and left of you (pre-COVID), at least one of those couples is likely experiencing fertility struggles. Three of my close friends are currently struggling to conceive. Infertility is incredibly common, however, couples dealing with infertility often struggle quietly. They may withdraw to process this new, unwanted journey in their lives. Their bodies decided this for them, and that is a hard pill to swallow. Its daunting, depressing, and debilitating at times. Normal things become incredibly difficult. Things they once enjoyed and people they loved being around become triggers. The faith they once had may dwindle as they become incredibly angry with God and question “why.” It is hard and exhausting. It warps the life we once knew as well as the one we had been planning. There is no perfect set of coping mechanisms that makes us feel better instantaneously. And every day is different. One day we may want to vent. The next, we may not answer calls or text messages.
This time can be difficult for the people around us as well. The fear of saying or doing the wrong thing can leave you feeling confused and stuck because you so desperately want to help us feel better. While you cannot fix us or the situation, there are things that you can do to be a source of support. So, try some of the things below if someone you love has shared with you that they are struggling with infertility.
After your loved ones share their struggles with you, please refrain from asking them further questions. They may not fully understand what it means yet, and pressing them to expand may actually make them withdrawn. A quick google search to read up on what they have told you so far would be really helpful. RESOLVE has really helpful information on infertility.
Ask “What can I do for you?”
Asking your loved ones this question shows that you care and that you are focused on what they feel they need, not what you think they need. They may want a phone call to vent or may need you to bring a meal because they haven’t eaten due to depression. One day, I shared with a friend that I was really depressed and she asked me this question. It was a game changer because I definitely needed help, but I did not want to ask anyone. When she asked, I swiftly said that I needed her to help me find a therapist. And she did.
Be a good listener.
Do not listen to respond but listen to truly understand. Infertility and the treatment associated with it is science based. Not a lot of emphasis is put on how the person feels. You go in like clockwork for testing, imaging, consults, but rarely are you asked, “How are you holding up?” Talking about infertility to those not going through it can also be a buzz kill so we typically keep it to ourselves. If your loved ones come to you to talk about it, just listen. They likely aren’t looking for a response or sympathy but to merely talk to someone who is willing to listen to how they feel.
Be mindful of possible triggers.
It seemed that the amount of baby shower invitations I received while going through infertility treatments nearly tripled. That could be a slight exaggeration, but I felt sick to my stomach every time I received an invite. Of course, I was always happy for my friends and family, but these events were reminders that I was struggling to have a child. I had to choose between going to go to the event and being depressed for the next week, or disappointing my loved one by not attending. I hated being in that position. It would have been easier to receive a phone call from my friend or family member releasing me of that burden to decide. Yes, I could have simply not gone to protect what little peace I had, but I would have hated to make my friends and family feel like I wasn’t there for them.
Do an activity with them.
COVID-19 has made getting out of the house much more difficult and, in turn, has made finding distractions from infertility even harder. However, offering to do a socially distanced activity that would make a world of difference. There are virtual paint, candle making, and yoga classes that would brighten up your loved one’s day.
Give a thoughtful gift.
I love random gifts during normal times, but I absolutely loved them when going through infertility. A friend of mine gave me a ‘Hope Box’. In it were encouraging messages from other women, a pair of large underwear for when I needed to put on my “Big girl panties,” a journal and an assortment of other meaningful things. I appreciated that more than anything. It was not only useful – it also let me know that she cared.
Support whatever decisions they make.
Deciding to start or stop fertility treatment can be very difficult and agonizing. Chances are, they have weighed all options and decided to do what is best for them mentally, physically, and financially. No one can go through treatment forever. It takes a toll on your entire life. And the reality is that for some, they may never bear a child. And that is okay. The last thing your loved ones need to hear is unsolicited opinions of what they should do. Support them. And also refer them to my support group.
I hope this has shed a little light on how to be a good support person for your loved ones experiencing infertility struggles. This may seem like a lot for you to do or handle, but imagine what it is like for the person experiencing it. Check back in next week for What NOT to do when a person you love is infertile.
Such helpful information! Wish this was available to me back in the 1980s for my friends who were going through infertility. Their situation broke my heart but I was at a loss so I avoided the subject and stayed silent.
That silence is very real, the one struggling never utter a word about it and their loved ones follow their lead. Being someone who can speak from first hand experience, I loved the suggestion for loved ones to do something beyond talking. It’s difficult to speak on things you can’t understand, but a kind gesture such as a gift or just being there for whatever means the most. Thanks for this.