friendship

"Just relax, it'll happen." What not to say to someone struggling with infertility.

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.

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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."

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However you chose to do it, by addressing your friend's pain and giving her room to talk, this shows you care, and that you are not afraid to discuss the uncomfortable or the painful with her. Hopefully, it will also make her feel less alone.

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Be sensitive about your own pregnancy or children.

"The number one rule is: Don't complain about your pregnancy. You have every right to vent about the discomforts to anyone else in your life, but don't put your infertile friend in the position of comforting you," Collura said.

This makes sense. But it's also important to be aware of the isolation that can come with trying, and failing, to fall pregnant. It's your job, as a friend, to help reduce this feeling of loneliness.

“People going through infertility want to be included. If someone doesn’t want to go to a party, just say, ‘I know you don’t want to come, I’m inviting you anyways. We’re here for you,’” advises Jaffe.

When it comes to events that are child-centric, such as birthday parties or baby showers, acknowledgement and sensitivity is key. You know the event is going to be filled with emotional triggers for your friend, but talking to her about it is better than a non-invite or completely ignoring the situation.

“It’s very common for women to not want to be around children,” says Jaffe. “A way someone can handle that is to say, ‘I know this must be hard for you, and if it is, let’s try to get together when I don’t have my child with me.’ That’s a really good friend.”

The same sensitivity should be shown with announcing a pregnancy. Consider telling your friend about your success falling pregnant in private, before you publicly announce it through social media or at an event. Give her time to process, to deal with her emotions, away from the watchful gaze of other friends of family. For this she will be grateful, and she will be then ready to show her support for you when you do make the news public.

Remember, you don't need to 'understand'.

Just because you're not in her position, even if you've never been in her position, doesn't mean you can't be there to support her. Support your friend emotionally, in letting her talk, and also in the practicalities - infertility treatment can be arduous and stressful, what does she need to make life easier?

Whatever path she chooses to take - adoption, surrogacy, IVF - let her make that decision on her own.

Don't suggest these options. Once again, she knows. Just be a sounding board for her frustrations and questions and processes, and never be afraid to acknowledge what she is going through.

Having a baby is the most important thing in your friend's life at this moment. And you, as a friend, should be a part of that.

Mamamia's Infertility Week shines a light on the joy, the pain and everything in between when it comes to creating  families. To read more from Infertility Week, click here.

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