Like any trial, infertility is cruel and confusing. There is pain, heartache, disappointment, inconvenience, and often a high price tag along the way.
If you have a family member or friend who is walking through infertility, it can be hard to know what to say or do, especially if you’ve never walked through it yourself.
As someone who has been walking this infertility journey for three years, I’ve had people greatly encourage me, and I’ve also had people wound me. To help others navigate these waters, I wanted to offer a few suggestions on what to do or not to do to better support your loved one. And guess what? You’ll both make mistakes. One of you will say something careless. One of you will be overly sensitive – and that’s OK. You are learning together.
I will by no means cover every fertility situation or answer every question in this post. And these suggestions here might not work in your case. I’m simply sharing a few things that have been helpful (or not) for myself and others walking the same journey.
Don’t…Suggest Fertility Treatments
Unless you’re a medical doctor who specializes in fertility, don’t recommend treatments or say things that begin with, “Have you thought about trying…” Just don’t. For couples walking through infertility, I can guarantee you they already have thought of it, tried it, or undergone the test. When you’re trying to get pregnant and are undergoing treatment, you’ll try all the normal things, as well as the crazy tricks like eating pineapple or taking cough syrup before an IUI.
Also, if the couple is consulting with a doctor, they are already paying a lot of money to someone who is trained to make those suggestions. Avoid suggesting treatments, and instead, reassure them of your support. That’s what they are really in need of: love and support and simply being with the people they care about. A simple phrase like, “I love you. I’m here for you. I can’t imagine what it’s like, but I’m praying for you.” That means more than you’ll know.
With that said, one of the most hurtful things someone has said to me on this journey came from a nurse. When we were seeing our first specialist, we had discussed doing IUIs, with a possible laparoscopy later on to remove an endometrioma (Side note: that’s the only *potential* fertility issue I have, which itself does not prevent conceiving. We are healthy on all other accounts.) When I called the office to discuss potentially setting the procedure up, the nurse was very abrupt and ended the conversation by saying, “You should just do IVF and be done with it.”
I thought of really awesome snarky things to say after the conversation, but in the moment, I stammered out a reply and then hung up. That was totally not what the doctor and I had discussed, but she felt the freedom to suggest a treatment that was aways down the road and very, very expensive. It still makes me angry to think about it. Luckily, I had nothing but good interactions with the doctor and staff with our second specialist.
Diana, a friend of mine, reflected when someone tried to connect the dots for their next steps when they found out they couldn’t have kids on their own.
After I mentioned we were struggling with infertility issues several people would state in different ways ‘Oh, you should adopt!’ When we first found out we couldn’t have kids, we were devastated. Adoption was always part of our plan for our family but I never thought it would be our only option. After finding out about our issues, and slowly sharing them with family and friends, we didn’t even want to think about what we HAD to do next.
Bringing up adoption at that point (right after someone shares their infertility struggles) only brought those feelings to light. Let the person who is struggling decide what their next step is.
I can’t emphasize enough the healing power of being with loved ones. For a couple walking through infertility, life is anything but normal in the moment. Do you know what would normal to them? Having kids. Do you know what’s not happening for them? Having kids. So being with family: talking, laughing, or playing board games helps because that does feel normal. It gives them a safe space to relax, to let down their guard, to remember what it’s like to just be them. If they feel like discussing THE TOPIC, they will. But they probably don’t want to talk about it every time they are with family or friends because the cycle starts all over again: guard goes up, normalcy disappears, tension sets in. Which leads me to my next point…
Do…Ask infertility questions with discretion
Remember, if there were no problems, this couple would be having sex, and not telling anyone. No one would know when the woman was ovulating, or when her cycle started, and no one would know the male’s sperm count. Now that there is a problem, these intensely personal functions and events are brought into the open and many people are now a part of an equation that was originally 1 + 1 = 3. Now there are nurses, receptionists, lab techs, not to mention the doctors joining the equation. The couple understands this is a part of treatment, but it’s hard nonetheless.
Now add to the equation family and friends, who out of their concern and strong connection with the couple in question, may overlook that same level of discretion offered by the doctors and nurses. Because they know the couple, surely they will feel like sharing? Right? Well, not necessarily.
Every couple is different: Kurtis and I are more reserved when it comes to discussing really private matters. Others may thrive on being far more open than us, and that’s OK too. But generally, you wouldn’t expect your children, your best friend, your niece, to let you know they’re having sex in a normal situation, so do your best to filter your questions when they haven’t volunteered info. If they bring it up, fine. If they don’t, fine.
Diana offers this perspective:
One helpful thing a friend said to me was, ‘I don’t understand what you are going through and I hate that you are going through this, but I love you, I’m here for you, and I’m praying for you.’
This comment made me feel like my situation wasn’t being compared to anything she had gone through (since she has children) but also made me feel special, that even though my friend couldn’t do anything to help me or give me wisdom from her own experiences, that she was hurting for me and praying for me and I could talk to her if I wanted.
It wasn’t an intrusive question but a welcoming one, that I could talk if I chose to.
Now, not all questions are horrible and inappropriate. The other end of this spectrum is extreme anxiety that paralyzes everyone on the outside looking in. That’s no way to live either. Use your common sense, use discernment to feel out each situation. Start with simple questions like “Do you like your doctor?” “Would you recommend him to someone else?” “Is there something specific I can be praying for you?” Or even straight up ask them, “How can I best support you?” and go from there.
Do…Avoid broad statements about infertility
Please avoid generalizing a couple’s infertility journey. Statements like “Just relax,” “God will make it happen,” “Don’t worry about it so much, everything will be OK,” don’t help. Let me repeat, THEY DON’T HELP. It’s understandable that when you love someone, you just want to relieve the pain or solve the problem, and so a trial like this can send you grasping for something, anything to say. But just remember, you don’t know all the work the Lord is doing in a couple’s heart. You don’t know the deep watering, sowing, and pruning that needs to take place. Don’t rush the process in their lives just because you are uncomfortable.
And at the end of the day, sometimes silence is healing, too.
Where God tears great gaps we should not try to fill them with human words. They should remain open. Our only comfort is the God of the resurrection, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Do…Offer lots of love and support
This couple is in need of your love and support more than ever before. Here are some great ways to show it, depending on the couple/situation.
- Texts, cards, emails offering support and prayers
- Tokens like flowers, candies, framed scripture, special mementos like Willow Tree figures
- Rides to doctor appointments
- Help with housework
Suggestions on announcing your own pregnancy
If you as a close friend or family member find yourself pregnant while the couple in question is still trying to conceive/adopt/foster, congratulations! That is so exciting! As you rejoice, there are a couple of helpful things you can do to break the news.
If you are planning a big reveal (and even if you’re not), consider letting the couple know privately beforehand. This gives the couple time to absorb the news and arrange their feelings, allowing them to rejoice when the whole group is together. I promise you they want to rejoice with you deep down, so give some time to allow those feelings to rise to the surface. For those that have done this for me, it was enormously helpful.
If you spring the news on them in a whole group, or post on Facebook, the couple may or may not respond how you desire in that moment, which indeed is your moment to rejoice!
Whew, that’s a lot of ground to cover. And I’ll be honest, this was a difficult post to write. If as a friend or family member and you’ve finished reading this and you’re thinking, “Ugh, I know I’ve said some things that weren’t helpful,” don’t beat yourself up. We know your actions and words are borne out of a place of love, and as you have been extending us grace to walk through this season, we extend you grace to navigate your end. So don’t worry over what’s been done or said in the past, just learn from it and move forward.
If you are a Christ follower, the best thing you can doing during this time is to lean in hard to the Holy Spirit’s direction. He will be faithful to bring you discernment, understanding, and wisdom as you support your loved one. He sees your heart. And he sees theirs. He is able to weave together the cords of love and kindness between you.
Additional infertility resources
This post on The Rejoicing Heart Blog
And this one at In Due Time
Have any tips? Leave them in the comments below! It’s always good to be learning from others.