Fertility bloggers write a lot about what you’re NOT supposed to say to couples going through infertility. Hell, I’m just as guilty.
So, if we know all the things we’re not supposed to say to our friends and family members wrestling with infertility, then what the hell are we supposed to say? Somehow “I’m sorry you’re infertile,” doesn’t really seem to do the trick, now does it?
Well, it’s not easy that’s for sure. But none of this is easy. Not for them…and not for the people who love them. That said, there are some things you can say (and do!) that will help alleviate their anxiety and make them feel loved and supported.
Here are some things you should be saying to your friends who confide in you with their fertility struggles.
- “Thank you for confiding in me.” Infertility is a deeply personal struggle that brings a lot of messy feelings like shame and guilt. It’s a huge honor that your friend or family member decided to share their struggle with you. So be sure to thank them for trusting you and confiding in you. It’s huge that they let you in. Acknowledge that. Also, (this should go without saying) but respect their privacy. Don’t “gossip about their struggle. Don’t tell a mutual friend. It’s your friend’s’ story and it’s theirs to share or not share.
- “You are not alone.” One of the hardest parts of the fertility struggle is feeling isolated and alone. You constantly feel misunderstood and sad and you don’t want to burden your friends. Letting them know you are an ally and someone they can talk to freely is a huge gift you can give.
- “I’m so sorry you’re going through this.” Just acknowledging their struggle is sometimes all your friend wants to hear. Apologizing for this injustice of the world is a great place to start relating to your friend.
- “This isn’t your fault.” When you’re experiencing infertility, it’s REALLY easy to blame yourself. “Maybe if I lost 20 lbs” or “maybe if I didn’t work out so much” are constant thoughts we fertility-challenged tell ourselves. Why is this happening to us? What are we doing wrong? How did I give myself endometriosis/PCOS/low sperm count? Of course none of this is actually our faults, and sometimes all we want to hear is a third party acknowledging this.
- “This is so unfair.” This phrase is probably playing on a loop within your friend’s head. A coworker posts a pregnancy announcement on Facebook? This is so unfair. An IVF cycle doesn’t work? This is so unfair. Another Christmas rolls around with no baby to be seen? This is so unfair. Sometimes it helps to hear someone else also acknowledge how unfair this whole thing it is.
- “You’re doing the best you can.” As someone who is “fertility challenged,” I can tell you that we put so much pressure on our bodies, especially when we are going through expensive and invasive fertility treatments. It’s easy to beat ourselves up, even though there’s not much we can be doing other than not smoking/drinking/running marathons. The best thing we can hear is truly acknowledgment that we are trying our hardest.
- “You’re so strong.” Going through infertility is NO joke. It can leave the toughest, strongest, most stoic people in emotional shambles. Telling them how strong they are for going through this is not only kind, it also demonstrates your understanding of how big a struggle they are dealing with.
- “I don’t know what to say, but I want to be there for you. What can I do?” No one will ever be mad at you for honestly saying you don’t know what to say. It’s true. It’s honest. It’s real. Your friend doesn’t really know what you should say either. This whole situation is messy and awkward and sometimes acknowledging your discomfort can be a comfort in and of itself.
- Don’t say much; let them do the talking. Listen to your friend and to his/her story. Don’t interrupt or compare their story to some cousin’s story or some episode of The Real Housewives. Listen. Try to steer clear of giving advice or tips; odds are they’ve not only heard of but already tried any tips you have. Unless you’re a reproductive endocrinologist, THEY are the subject matter expert, so try to learn from them. Ask questions. Listen empathetically. There are no quick fixes, so don’t try to diagnosis them or solve their problems…just clear emotional space for them to share.
- If you or your partner is pregnant, be sensitive to your fertility-challenged friend and don’t take their distance personally. I’ve lost friends to my infertility. Correction, I lost my “best” friend to infertility. When she got pregnant quickly after we had already been trying tirelessly for over a year, it destroyed our friendship. Why? She took my distance personally. She thought I should have been able to be there for her, even though I was falling apart. All I wanted from her was understanding. Empathy. Kindness. Patience. I never ended up getting any of that and our friendship fell apart. But that’s ok. Infertility has a way of showing who your true friends are.
What else, friends? What else makes you feel better to hear when you open up to your friends or family members about your struggle? Anything I’m forgetting or leaving out? What do you always hope to hear?