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How Can I Support a Friend with Infertility?

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Updated July 17, 2013

Heart in your hands.

When a fertility challenged friend discloses their infertility, they are saying they trust you. You don't have to offer perfect support, just "good enough" support.

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Question: How Can I Support a Friend with Infertility?

So a friend or family member has confided in you that they are struggling to conceive. Maybe you already suspected they were dealing with infertility, in which case this isn't a big surprise. Or maybe you're really shocked. No matter how you took the news, the fact that they've told you is a big deal. This means they trust you, and that they think you'll be supportive.

Answer:

Even if you intend to be supportive, knowing how to actually give that support can be tricky, especially if you've never experienced infertility yourself.

Learn More About Infertility

Read up on at least the basics of infertility to be a more supportive friend. Not so you can offer advice, which will most likely be unwelcome, but so you can offer support in a more understanding fashion. Knowing the basics of IVF, for example, will make it easier for your friend to talk about her cycle. You won't react with shock that she needs to give herself numerous injections, since you'll already know that.

Another reason to brush up on the basics is so you don't find yourself repeating common myths. The fertility challenged are used to hearing myths, but it'd be nice if the person they have trusted to offer support - you - wouldn't be one of those myth-repeating people.

Here are some articles you can read on the basics and infertility myths:

Ask Them What They Need

Asking a friend what she or he needs sounds so simple, and yet, few people do so! Maybe because they are embarrassed about not knowing what to do, or perhaps because we're concerned it makes us less supportive. (Don't we all dream of people knowing what we need without having to spell things out? And yet, few people are good at mind reading.)

Conversely, people who are struggling often hesitate to ask for what they need. They don't want to be a burden, or they are so overwhelmed that asking for help doesn't even occur to them.

Here are a few things you can offer as help:

  • Attend difficult appointments with them. Whether they'd like you to just sit in the waiting room or come in and hold their hand.

  • Watch their older kids. If they're dealing with secondary infertility, attending appointments at the fertility clinic may be tricky with older kids at home.

  • Offer to be an exercise buddy, if you know they're trying to lose weight. Sometimes women (and men) need to lose weight to make treatments more effective. It's much easier to lose weight when you have a buddy working out with you. (Just don't suggest the weight loss plan on your own! See below on what not to say.)

Know What to Say

When you're not sure what to say, you may want to try one of these responses:

  • I'm sorry to hear that.
  • What can I do to help?
  • Do you want to talk about it?
  • I'm here to listen, whenever you need me.
  • I wish I knew what to say to comfort you.
  • I wish there something I could do or say that would make it all better.

Know What Not to Say

Things you should not say to a fertility challenged friend include:

  • Suggestions that they should "just relax," or "just go on vacation, and it'll happen."
  • Any phrase that starts with "at least." (As in, "At least you already have one kid," or, after a miscarriage, "At least you know you can get pregnant.")
  • Any phrase starting with "You can always…" (As in, "You can always do IVF," or "You can always adopt.")
  • Any statements implying they are "lucky" to be without kids. Yes, pregnancy and parenting aren't easy, but not everything worth having in life is easy. Not having kids when you want them doesn't make you lucky.
  • Any statement that minimizes the pain they are experiencing, like "It's not that bad," or "At least it's not cancer," or "One day you'll look back and laugh at this."
  • Any implication that they just aren't trying hard enough. Not every couple will want to go on to IVF, for example, and if that applies to your friend, supporting their decision is vital.

Another no-no is pushing them to make lifestyle changes, whether through weight loss or other fertility boosters. You have no idea what they've tried or haven't, nor what their fertility factors are. Trust that if your friend is smart enough to choose you as a friend they are also smart enough to research these issues on their own.

Learn more things you shouldn't do here:

You may accidentally say something hurtful and realize the moment later when you see the look on their face or listen to an uncomfortable silence over the phone. If this happens, just quickly apologize, and say you don't always know the right things to say, so sometimes you say the wrong things.

No one expects you to be super human, and putting that expectation on yourself may prevent you from offering the support you can provide. Imperfect support is always better than nothing at all. If you are willing to ask your friend what she or he needs most, and learn from your mistakes, you're bound to become the most supportive friend your fertility challenged buddy has.

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