If you’re looking for advice about options surrounding fertility, pregnancy or counselling, always consult your doctor.
For those who’ve never been there, even for those who have, seeing a friend struggle with infertility can feel like a hopeless situation. You can see their pain, understand where it comes from, but the fact you have children (or don’t want children) is the wedge between you.
Regardless of the chasm, your friend needs you. Here are some of the dos and don’ts when it comes to a helping a friend through infertility.
Platitudes. Leave them out.
“Everything happens for a reason.” “Your turn will come.” “It’ll happen when it’s meant to.”
The intention behind these phrases are positive; they’re certainly never said to cause harm. But, in the mind of your friend, statements like these can re-confirm, instead of allay, her doubts and insecurities. ‘Maybe it’s not ‘meant to happen for me’.
In a time where nothing is certain, and falling pregnant has got nothing to do with ‘timing or turns’, phrases like these can add to feelings of frustration and helplessness. They can also appear to over-simplify or underestimate the complexity your friend’s situation, and the depth of the emotion that’s involved.
Take care with advice-giving.
Your friend will know everything there is to know. Her research will have been deep and frantic. She knows about the technologies. She's heard a million stories of "friends of friends" who couldn't fall pregnant and then did after acupuncture, or meditation, or three months off. She knows. According to Jaffe these stories do more harm than they do good.
“It feels as if everyone around you is successful, and you’re isolated and alone.”
Giving advice, or saying things like "just relax, and it will happen", can also be (inadvertently, of course) hurtful. Why? Because it brings up the issue of fault.
"The woman often feels that she has somehow created this situation, when, in fact, infertility is a disease that affects women and men equally and has many causes," Collura explains. Barbara Collura, President and CEO of RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association told Parents.com. "The best thing you can do is let your friend know that you care. Send them cards and let them cry on your shoulder."
Be open and invite her to talk.
With platitudes and advice-giving ruled out, what can you do? Be open, honest. Let your friend talk, and give her room to do so.
“Ask ‘How are you doing?’ ‘If you want to talk, I’m here.’ That kind of thing,” says Jaffe. “It opens the door. This shouldn’t be done at a party, these are private conversations."
Questions can be broad, for example "Is there anything I can do to make this easier for you?" or "Do you want to talk about it?".
Or they can be as narrow as, "Where are you in your cycle?" or "Are you trying this month?".
Even an acknowledgement can work well: "I know this is really painful for you, I'm here if you need to talk, or cry, or get angry. I'm here to listen."