Thursday, 19 December 2013

How To Support Your Friend Through Infertility

This is a longer post than I originally planned. I guess I have a lot to say on the subject, with it being so close to my heart - and something that is especially prominent at this time of year.

How to Support Your Friend Through Infertility

This time of year is particularly difficult for those struggling with infertility. It signifies another Christmas without much longed-for toys under the tree, and the turn of another year that has been completely unsuccessful in terms of creating a family.

Many couples who are struggling with infertility do so privately, so you may not necessarily know if your friends are dealing with it at all. Now that we are approaching the three year mark, there are a handful of people that know some of the truth about us – but this has only been the case for the last six months or so. For those who are suffering the torment that is infertility, it is a daily battle and a real mix of emotions and anguish.

Whether you know for certain or not that your friend is in the midst of the infertility struggle, there are some things you should definitely not say. Even the most well meaning of comments can be extremely hurtful, so please think carefully before you speak, and consider whether what you're saying could be construed as insensitive.

Don't give them an inquisition about when they're going to start a family. Chances are, if you do ask, you'll get a very vague answer if they're trying to keep it private – something along the lines of "we'll see what the future holds" or "maybe in time". One we've used a lot is "we're just enjoying being married for a while first". Please respect their right to privacy, and don't push with comments such as "you're not getting any younger you know" or (my personal favourite that mother-in-law rolls out with ALL the time!) "I need more grandchildren" – believe me, couples don't need any more pressure from others than they are already putting on themselves.

If a friend confides in you that they are having difficulty conceiving, don't be afraid to talk to them about it. Ask if it is OK to ask how things are going, how they're feeling etc, rather than ignoring the subject and making them feel even more alienated. Do offer to lend an ear any time they need to talk – and listen, rather than talk.

Don’t offer then your own children, and don’t complain about pregnancy and say how lucky they are not to be experiencing it. Anybody going through infertility will want to bite your head off at such comments. You may well think you are making a light joke, but take it from me - not funny. Infertility is like a never-ending cycle of grief and bereavement, only there is nothing tangible to focus the grief upon. With every cycle that passes, is the loss of another chance, another hope, another what might have been. These comments will not cheer them up, they will make them feel worse.

Don’t try to convince them you understand if you clearly don’t. While you may well sympathise, and feel terrible for them and the plight they are being forced to endure, if you haven’t been through it yourself you cannot possibly understand. Also, even if you have had infertility problems, remember that every woman faces a different battle with it. What you went through is not necessarily the same as your friend, and in that instance you will, again, not be able to fully understand her feelings. You can relate to aspects of them, but no two situations are exactly alike and no two couples are exactly alike.

Don't disregard or dismiss the fact that fertility issues are real. It is important to accept that there is a genuine medical reason why your friends are unable to conceive. Comments such as "it will happen when it is supposed to", or advice such as to relax (grrr, we really hate that one!), don't think about it, don't get stressed, make changes to lifestyle, and so on, are actually the opposite of helpful as it feels as though you are trivialising the issue and somehow making it our fault. If it was as simple as "relaxing", don't you think we'd have done it by now?! Leave the advice to the professionals.

Learn a few things about fertility treatment if your friend is headed in that direction. There is a common misconception that IVF is basically a done deal - it is not. Only approximately 30% of people that go through IVF become pregnant; and unfortunately not all of those result in live births. Also, don't underestimate what a big deal IVF actually is - a woman has to go through a hell of a lot both physically and mentally, and all of that is for a relatively low chance of achieving the end goal. There are, of course, other forms of treatment - I am using IVF as an example here because it is probably the most well recognised. Try to understand that the power of positive thinking does not apply to fertility treatment as it would to a job interview, and the couple may wish to take a more realistic approach, so they can be prepared for a negative outcome.

Be sensitive to your friend when pregnancies are announced. By this, I don't mean ignore your friend. If you have a pregnancy to announce, tell your friend privately and away from other friends and family. Just because she's struggling with her own journey doesn't mean she won't be happy for you - of course she will. She will just need a day or two to deal with the sorrow that it still isn't happening for her, and that others are able to move forward while she is stuck standing still. Don't try to hide it from her, and don't deliberately not tell her of others you know becoming pregnant. Tell her, and tell her if she wants to talk about it or ask that's fine but you will also understand if she doesn't feel able to.

Don't "forget" your friend when you have your own family. I've had this done to me, by the only person who I confided in for the first two years - and it hurts like hell. More so, considering she had struggled to conceive herself and should know how isolating it is.

Some other things you probably shouldn't say to your infertile friend:

- "Is it you? Is it him?" - Infertility affects a couple equally. Whatever the cause. Yes, someone actually asked me this.
- "Just adopt" - Adoption isn't for everyone, and it isn't a simple process. It's not like going to the supermarket and choosing a tin of soup. For some people, it is incredibly important to them to have their own biological child.
- "You will have a child when it is right in God's plan" - I hate this. As a non-religious person, I don't believe in God having a plan. I can appreciate the sentiment, but why would God not plan for a married, home-owning, stable, loving couple to have a child, but he will plan for teenagers with no qualifications, no prospects, no job, no money etc to have one. Doesn't add up to me, sorry.

    *This post originally appeared on my old blog and has been imported to Living for the Victories*


    1. I love you and I love this post. I could write these very things. Huge hugs. People that don't go through what we go through will never be able to understand the hardship and strain. You will get there, I know you will. XOXO

    2. I absolutely love this post and it's SO spot on. Although I have not struggled as much as you have (BY FAR) with infertility, I completely understand where you are coming from and all of these points are so valid and helpful. Just like with grieving, there are certain things that just shouldn't be said. Love ya!

    3. Jenni, this is such an awesome lesson, thank you for sharing it! These are especially important things to remember, especially around the holidays, which can be particularly emotional for some people. I have a very good friend who has been struggling with infertility issues for a couple years now, and I am always so careful around her when talking about my own pregnancy. She is so happy for me, but I know it has to be painful for her at the same time. The most important thing, I think, you can do for people is just to be supporting and think before you speak, because sometimes innocent offhand remarks can be incredibly hurtful to someone in this situation. Great post!

    4. Hugs to you, Jenni!! Many of these points you mention are so true. I'm always so insecure with the "don't be afraid to ask them how it's going". Of course, I'm interested, but then I don't want to impose or be annoying. I'd rather make clear that I'm interested and do care, and always there if you need to talk. I agree with how stupid the "God's plan" is.. Right up the alley with "just relax".. As if you hadn't relaxed that first 6 or more months.. Do you have a medical diagnosis or is it unclear for you? I don't know if that is of any help, but a friend of mine just announced her pregnancy, after 5 years of struggling, tears, doubts, and pain.. Her husband had a reversed vasectomy and the doctor didn't give them much hope after all. How are things going for you two?

      Hugs to you, my friend!!


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