About a month ago I wrote a post on what you shouldn’t say to a loved one dealing with infertility and planned to write a follow-up post on how you can be supportive. Well, I’ve finally finished “Part 2,” but only after discovering that putting together a list like this was much more difficult than the first one. I can’t speak definitively for everyone going through infertility and this isn’t meant to be a one-size-fits-all, but hopefully these tips can help you determine how to better support someone you love.
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1. Learn more about infertility: You don’t need to have experience with infertility to be there for a loved one going through it. The internet is full of blogs, forums, articles, and videos created from the perspective of individuals struggling with infertility, and it will mean a lot to us if you take the time to better understand what we are going through.
2. Remind us that you care: No matter how many times you’ve said it before, please remind us that you care about us– often! Also remember that we are especially likely to struggle through difficult days (such as Christmas, Mother’s/Father’s Day, birthdays, anniversaries of loss, etc.) and reach out to us at those times.
3. Take it seriously: Studies have shown that a diagnosis of infertility can produce levels of stress similar to a diagnosis of cancer or HIV. Still, many people who have not experienced infertility view it as a simple problem with an easy solution. It’s not. Please be careful not to minimize our pain just because you don’t understand it.
4. Keep track of treatments: Showing an interest in this part of our lives may help us to feel less like we are going through it on our own. Keep track of the days we are beginning injections or having an embryo transfer. Learn more about our various treatments and ask us about them. Even if we’re not ready to talk about our experiences at that time, the fact that you made an effort to remember will be meaningful to us. Don’t forget that we are still hurting in the times between treatments as well.
5. Be patient: We understand that our thoughts and lives have been consumed by our circumstances and that we have not been ourselves for a long time, but now more than ever, we are in need of grace and patience from the people who love us. Trust me, we’re also hoping for a return to a more normal life as soon as possible, but in the meantime, we are just doing the best we can to get through this.
6. Plan something fun: We are constantly overloaded with heavy decisions, painful realities, overwhelming medical bills, and serious concerns. Offer to plan something fun that we can do together as a distraction from our upcoming treatments, tests, etc.
7. Be willing to talk about the hard stuff: I’ve learned that very few people are able to handle hearing about the darker sides of infertility, but shutting us down when we try to talk about them because you are uncomfortable will not change our reality. Instead, be willing to have the tough conversations when we need to have them. Don’t force us to walk this road feeling even more isolated than we already do.
8. Respect boundaries: On the other hand, if we are not ready to talk about something, please don’t push us. Give us time to process a failed treatment, bad news, or a big decision if we need it. Let us know that you’ll be ready to talk when we are able to and we will come to you.
9. Handle the topic of pregnancy sensitively: If you’re currently pregnant and need someone to complain to about morning sickness, please pick a different friend. You don’t have to hide this part of your life from us, but try to understand that it can be a painful subject for us (and trust me, that has nothing to do with you). We also don’t want to speculate if so-and-so is pregnant or discuss the latest celebrity pregnancy (so basically, stop mentioning the Duggars for good!). If you are planning to tell us that you’re pregnant, please do it gently and give us the space to react to it. We are absolutely capable of being happy for you, but it is also a painful reminder for us of something we may never get experience.
And most importantly…
10. Just listen: Because fertility comes so naturally to most people, it is nearly impossible for us to mention our struggle with infertility without receiving advice in return. While we appreciate that your suggestions come from a thoughtful place, we aren’t always asking for you to solve the problem. In fact, sometimes there is no viable solution. Instead, what we really want is for you to just listen. It is so important to have someone we trust with whom we can process our thoughts or simply vent. Please take the time to just listen to what we have to say– without offering advice. When we need help figuring something out, we’ll be sure to let you know.
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You don’t have to have the perfect words to say or always know exactly what to do in order to be supportive; sincerity goes a long way. We just need our friends & family to be there for us and remind us that we are loved.
Don’t forget that women aren’t the only ones who struggle with infertility. Your male friends/family need extra love and support during this time as well, sometimes even more so since they are often overlooked when it comes to this issue.
And, if you’ve experienced infertility and have another suggestion of how someone can be supportive, please feel free to share.
For the post on what not to say: Part 1: What You Shouldn’t Say