03 Jan 2023 How to Support a Friend Going Through Infertility
With over ten percent of men and women of reproductive age struggling with infertility, the reality of having a friend at some point in your life who is fighting their own battle with infertility is a very real possibility, and although the journey to conceive can be a long one, support from family and friends in the interim is crucial.
Infertility is clinically described as the inability to become pregnant after a year of trying to conceive for women under 35, and for six months for women over 35. Dr. Alan Copperman, director of the Division of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility at Reproductive Medicine Associates of New York, states in The New York Times, “The chance of getting pregnant, even for a young healthy couple, is not more than 20 percent, or one in five, every month.” Adding other factors into the mix such as being over or underweight, smoking, or other underlying conditions such as cancer, diabetes, or thyroid issues can decrease the chances of conceiving a child even more.
For both men and women, experiencing infertility can be devastating. There is a silent grief in infertility that can be incredibly isolating and lonely. “We’ve all been taught that getting pregnant is so easy, so when it doesn’t work, it just destroys every core of our sense of being,” says Allison Ramsey, a psychotherapist specializing in fertility, grief, and perinatal loss, in SELF. We often dream of our future and the house, the job, and the children we will have, but nowhere in those dreams are doubts about being able to procreate. The challenges faced when navigating infertility can often leave a person feeling completely hollow.
As a friend, it can be difficult to figure out the right thing to say or do in this time of uncertainty. Finding the balance between being the “shoulder to lean on” and giving enough space to allow your friend time to process their own journey can be a bit of a juggling act. There is often hesitation on both sides. How do you help a friend who is dealing with infertility?
Every Infertility Experience Is Unique
Recognizing your friend’s unique journey is extremely important, as no two infertility experiences are the same. For some going through fertility treatments, the largest hurdle is the financial burden, while for others, it is administering the daily injection medications and undergoing the process of an IVF cycle. For many, grieving the loss of not being able to conceive easily or naturally is a heavy cross to bear. For those who choose not to pursue fertility options, the journey can be coming to terms with not having a child. Each person has their own reaction, emotions, and triggers when facing infertility, and it is important to be mindful of them.
Let Them Know You Are There to Listen
Letting your friend know that you are there to listen is another great way to be present. Kim Crone, a psychologist at The Center for Advanced Reproductive Services, tells SELF, “The best thing to say is ‘I’m here if you want to talk.’ This gives them space during this very distressing experience to talk about it without judgment and without opinions.” Checking in on them on a regular basis, whether it be a phone call or a simple text message, lets your friend know that you are still supporting them and are ready to listen if the time comes when they need to talk.
Don't Try To Fix the Fertility Issue
Although it is tempting to offer a solution, don’t try to fix the problem. Your friend will have already researched everything there is to know about infertility on the internet and explored their options with their doctors. There is no need to offer other options or tell your friend about another treatment that worked for someone else. Let your friend lead the conversation and be ready to support any decision that is to be made. Instead of trying to solve the fertility issue, Psychology Today recommends focusing on the smaller daily stressors in order to help, such as dropping off groceries, preparing a home-cooked meal, or offering to drive your friend to one of their appointments. Daily tasks can feel overwhelming in the face of infertility, so taking care of a few of them for your friend now and then can alleviate added stress they may be under.
Avoid ‘Helpful’ Comments on Your Friend’s Infertility
Watch out for unhelpful comments. Although they are meant with good intentions, comments such as “It will happen when it happens,” or “You can always adopt” may do more harm than good. Your friend is looking for support, but comments like these can minimize your friend’s experience and make your friend feel as though there isn’t validity in sitting with and processing their own feelings. Instead, ask your friend how they are feeling and allow them to share their experience with you from their perspective.
Offer Your Friend Shared Activities Together
Fertility treatment can be enveloping and can often cause people to lose track of their daily lives. “It becomes so all-encompassing that couples and patients sometimes lose sight that they had a life outside of fertility treatment,” Crone goes on to say in SELF. Inviting them to do activities that they enjoy can be a welcomed distraction. Something physically active such as a hike, a bike ride, or a friendly tennis match allows them to concentrate on something else without feeling like they need to talk about their journey. This can also serve as a reminder to revisit this activity when they need to recharge.
In the end, there is no one perfect way to help a friend struggling with infertility. Each journey is different, and there is bound to be a bit of trial and error as you learn more about your friend and how they process their journey. Being present for the highs and the lows without judgment or opinion is invaluable, as is recognizing their need for space and/or an ear to listen. Simply letting your friend know that you are there to support them no matter which path they decide to take is the best course of action. Your friend will lead the rest of the way.