How to support a friend struggling with infertility
Hi! Thanks for stopping by.
This week is National Infertility Awareness Week and we. Are. Here. For. It.
Our road to conceiving was difficult and complicated. And while we had our miracle rainbow son after multiple fertility treatments and a whole lotta heartache, we have continued to struggle getting pregnant with our second child. We’re excited for the future — we’ve teamed up with a new doctor since our two back-to-back failed embryo transfers last year — but this road is often dark and lonely. And we wouldn’t have survived without the support of friends and family.
If you have a friend who is coping with infertility, you may be wondering what on earth you can do to help them. I hope some of my suggestions might help you navigate these murky waters. Your friend(s) needs you right now. Even if they may not have the will or the strength to discuss what they’re going through at length.
- Like the hashtag in my Instagram post suggests, start asking. And check in. I remember when I wrote my first essay on the topic I wrote: “It’s the friends who don’t ask who hurt the most.” I don’t mean ask, “When are you having kids?” or “Why don’t you have kids yet?” Those are BIGGGGG GIANT no-nos. But instead, “How are you?” “Just thinking of you and wanted to see if you’re doing OK.” “When is your next doctor’s appointment?” In my experience, I have friends who were on both sides of the communication spectrum. Friends who suffered with infertility in silence and I never knew until they mentioned it after they were pregnant. And I have friends who were in the middle of treatment the same time as me and we were totally in sync every step of the way. If your friend falls into the latter category of being vocal about the journey, don’t hesitate to reach out and check in. A simple “I’m thinking of you” is sometimes just what we need to hear.
- Listen. Maybe the injections are doing wonders to your friend’s hormonal balance (and weight!) and they need to vent. Maybe there was a pregnancy boom at the office and it nearly broke her. Maybe a celebrity got pregnant and it triggered a week of feeling like crud. So many things can set you off when you’re going through infertility, knowing you have someone who you can call to emote/vent to is a major help. Just saying “I’m here if you need me” is a great way to let your friend know you’re available on her terms, when/if she wants to talk.
- Be sensitive. I can’t emphasize this one enough. If you have a friend who’s struggling to get pregnant, please, hold off on texting her baby photos. In addition, the last thing she wants to hear is how uncomfortable and fat you feel during your pregnancy. (If she does want to hear it, God bless her, she’s a better friend than I am 😝 ). No matter how close you think you are, save it for another friend. Seriously. Baby showers can also be really tough. Compassion and understanding when a friend declines an invite can go a long way. If they’re in the thick of treatment or they’ve just experienced a loss or a setback, there is nothing worse.
- Snail mail. I can’t tell you how lovely a treat it was to get a random card in the mail with good vibes and encouragement. One of my besties found special infertility cards on Etsy and it just blew me away. Who knew? What a lovely gesture and it brought a smile to my face when I really really needed it.
- Keep the diet tips and sex advice to yourself. Unless, of course, you’re a physician or a fertility doctor, or you too are suffering with infertility. Luckily I didn’t have friends texting me to, “Just relax, it’ll happen.” But this is a phrase many hear often in this unfortunate club. And it’s NOT helpful. We are likely doing acupuncture, changing our diets on a daily basis and doing all kinds of voodoo/baby-making/optimal body-enhancing stuff and unless it’s a thoughtful essay or a message saying, “This was awesome and made me think of you,” I’d just keep it to yourself.
- Lastly, if your friend is filling you in on important dates, jot the dates down, or better yet put them in your phone. It means the world when you receive surprise “good luck” texts and messages of support on retrieval and transfer days. Which brings me to pregnancy test days. Your friend may or may not tell you this much detail. I shared this date with only my closest friends. Mainly because I knew I would need the extra support on those days, no matter the outcome. Best to come up with a plan if you know the test date. I think I said something like, “If you don’t hear from me by this time, assume…” or “B will text you when…” The two-week wait between treatment and testing is also brutal. But never as brutal as the test day. And god forbid your friend gets bad news, they’ll feel like there’s been a death so an “I’m so sorry” is totally valid. I’d skip saying things like, “There’s always next time…” For me, I always needed time between cycles to grieve/process the failure before I could get my game face back on for another round or next steps.
Some of this may come off as harsh, but infertility is harsh. One friend called it the “ultimate mindf***.” And that it is. And this isn’t meant to scold my friends. My friends have been incredibly supportive over the years and I think we have all learned from this. But if I can enlighten a stranger or someone on the internet who’s curious how to show up and help their friend, who is likely in a lot of pain, this is for them. I owe it to that brave infertility sister to keep it as real as possible.
There’s a whole marketplace on Etsy designated for infertility. Check it out here.