Having an infertile friend or family member can prove to be challenging for our fertile loves. We know this. We know that it is always hard to know what to say / what not to say. Throughout the years, we have had many people even say that they don’t know what is helpful and / or what is hurtful. Recently, a dear friend of mine asked this very question on Instagram (my username is @wematchhearts if you’d like to find me). I promised her this post. As part of an infertile couple, it meant a lot to me that she wanted to know the do’s and do not’s of infertility language. I’m sure there are so many more things that could be added to this list, but here is what I have put together as a basic list:
Let them know that you care. The best thing you can do is let your infertile friends know that you care. It goes a long way. Most of the time when people are hurting emotionally, the best thing you could ever do is lend an open ear and an open heart. This will mean more to them than you may ever know.
Ask them what they need. They may also appreciate if you ask them what the most helpful things to say are. Everyone is different. Some people are more private than others. Asking what THEY need from you is typically welcomed well as it shows concern without prying too much.
Support their decision to stop treatment. No couple can endure infertility treatments forever. At some point, they will stop. This is an agonizing decision to make, and it involves even more grief.
Attend difficult appointments with them. You can offer to stay in the waiting room or come into the appointment with them. But the offer lets them know how committed you are to supporting them.
Watch their older kids. Attending appointments may be difficult if they have older kids at home.
Offer to be an exercise buddy. Sometimes losing weight is necessary to make treatments more effective. If you know they are trying to lose weight, you could offer to join them because it would help you achieve your personal fitness goals as well.
Let them know about your pregnancy. But deliver the news in a way that lets them handle their initial reaction privately – email is best.
NOT TO SAY:
Don’t tell them to relax. Comments such as “just relax” create even more stress for the infertile couple, particularly the woman. The woman feels like she is doing something wrong when, in fact, there is a good chance that there is a physical problem preventing her from becoming pregnant.
Don’t minimize the problem. Failure to conceive a baby is a very painful journey. Comments like, “Just enjoy being able to sleep late . . . .travel . . etc.,” do not offer comfort. Instead, these comments make infertile people feel like you are minimizing their pain.
Don’t say there are worse things that could happen. Who is the final authority on what is the “worst” thing that could happen to someone? Different people react to different life experiences in different ways.
Don’t say they are not meant to be parents. “One of the cruelest things anyone ever said to me is, ‘Maybe God doesn’t intend for you to be a mother.’” Infertility is a medical condition, not a punishment from God or Mother Nature. So please. Stop with the comments about, “All in God’s time”, “When it is supposed to happen, it will”, and anything of the like. It doesn’t help and it is very hurtful and aids in the incorrect mindset that infertility is a curse, or that the couple is “not worthy” of a child.
Don’t ask why they are not trying IVF. Because most insurance plans do not cover IVF treatment, many are unable to pay for the out-of-pocket expenses. Infertility stress is physical, emotional, and financial.
Don’t push adoption or another solution. So often, infertile couples are asked, “Why don’t you just adopt?” The couple needs to work through many issues before they will be ready to make an adoption decision or chose another family building option.
Don’t say, “You’re young, you have plenty of time to get pregnant.” Know the facts. It’s recommended that women under 35 see a fertility specialist after being unable to conceive for one year. Being young increases your chance of fertility treatments working, but it does not guarantee success.
Don’t gossip about your friend’s condition. For some, infertility treatments are a very private matter, which is why you should respect your friend’s privacy.
Don’t be crude. Don’t make crude jokes about your friend’s vulnerable position. Crude comments like, “I’ll donate the sperm” or “Make sure the doctor uses your sperm for the insemination” are not funny, and they only irritate your friends.
Don’t complain about your pregnancy. For many facing infertility, it can be hard to be around other women who are pregnant. Seeing your belly grow is a constant reminder of what your infertile friend cannot have. Not complaining can make things a little easier for your friend.
Don’t question their sadness about being unable to conceive a second child. Having one child does not mean a couple feels they have completed their family. Also, a couple may have had their first child naturally and easily but are now experiencing secondary infertility – infertility that comes after you’ve already had a child.
Don’t ask whose “fault” it is. Male or female factor. Just because a friend has told you he or she is experiencing infertility as a couple, does not mean he or she wants to discuss the details.
On the other hand, don’t assume the infertility is female factor. 1/3 of infertility is female factor, 1/3 is male factor, and 1/3 is unexplained.
As an infertile woman, I well know that my friends are ALWAYS trying to be helpful when they make these infertility mistakes; however, it doesn’t mean that it takes away the pain when it happens. Infertility is a constant struggle between the mind and the heart already. This isn’t about someone’s intentions. It is about being considerate as a loved one of an infertile couple. Please take all of these things to heart and with an open mind. Don’t make excuses for why you have said them, or why you continue to say them. Loving someone and wanting to help them is about THEM, not you. Be there for them always. Let them lead and you can be there to hold their hand, or be a shoulder to lean upon. It goes a long, long way to your infertile friends and family.
Kindness. It can be the most healing of all the virtues.