Support for Fertility Challenges
Medically Reviewed by Sari Eckler Cooper, LCSW
A recent survey from the nonprofit organization HealthyWomen found that about half of those surveyed had friends or family members who had experienced fertility problems. That's not surprising, since between 10 to 14 percent of couples will experience fertility problems at some point.
If your friend or family member is struggling with infertility, she needs your support and understanding now more than ever. Unfortunately, too many people get uncomfortable around this issue and say or do the wrong thing. That's why we've provided this roadmap:
10 Things You Should Not Say to a Friend Experiencing Infertility
- Pregnant yet? If your friend is pregnant, she'll tell you when she's ready. Don't keep asking her how it's going. Let her tell you in her own time.
- It could be worse. To a couple who wants children, it really can't be worse.
- Haven't you done enough? It is up to your friend to determine when enough is enough.
- Focus on the other parts of your life. This is really tough for a woman with infertility problems to do. For some women, her desire for a child becomes her life.
- Think of all the fun things you can do if you don't have children. If the couple didn't want children, they would not be going to the trouble they are to have them.
- How much is this costing you? This is none of your business!
- Are you sure you chose the best doctor? Don't question your friend's medical choice unless she asks your opinion.
- Just relax. Infertility is a medical condition, not a psychological one.
- You can always adopt. The couple already knows this. They are going through the expense and trouble of infertility treatments because that is the path they have chosen. At some point they may consider adoption, but not now.
- When my friend couldn't get pregnant... Your friend doesn't need to hear what worked for other people. Her efforts to conceive are hers alone.
10 Things You Should Say to a Friend Experiencing Infertility
- Would you like me to go to your appointment with you? If a partner is not available or your friend is becoming a single mother by choice, having a friend to accompany her to appointments can be welcome support.
- May I take you out to dinner?
- How about if we just sit here and you tell me how you feel? If your friend isn't comfortable talking to you, since you haven't experienced infertility, offer to help her find a support group for women who are having similar experiences.
- No, I don't mind hearing about how hard this is! Remind her that she's always been there for you, and that you will be there for her. That's what friends are for.
- It is not your fault! It is no one's fault. Sometimes these things just happen.
- You will make a wonderful mother.
- You look so beautiful! (This is particularly important since many women begin to loathe their bodies during infertility treatment, viewing it as dysfunctional or inadequate. Some women gain weight from the treatments.)
- I want you to come to my baby shower but I totally understand if it's too much for you. While some women find it too painful to be around young children and pregnant women, others are hurt if they're left out.
- I'd like to come over tomorrow and clean the house and make you dinner. Infertility treatments can be exhausting, physically and emotionally. Your friend will appreciate the help.
- I think you are amazing. I admire your commitment.
Sharing Your Infertility
At some point, you should share your infertility with the people who care about you. If you don't, your friends and family may assume you're childless by choice, leading to some hurtful comments and uncomfortable situations. Keeping it secret also enhances the stigma and shame some couples feel. You also may subject yourself to continually being asked when you're going to get pregnant and to jokes about your sex life. Studies find that couples who seek support from their social networks tend to cope better with their infertility than couples who hide it.
Plus, if your family and friends know about your fertility issues, they will be more understanding when you beg off occasions that involve children.
- Keep the details to a minimum. Your mother doesn't need to know how often you have sex.
- Warn them that the hormonal treatments can lead to major mood swings.
- Ask for their support when you need a ride to doctor appointments or help managing your life during exhausting tests and treatments.
- Tell them what you don't want to hear (see "10 Things You Should Not Say to Your Infertile Friend").
- Give them information about infertility. The Web sites of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (www.asrm.org) and RESOLVE (www.resolve.org) provide excellent information.
- Explain that you may not be able to attend baby showers, christenings, children's birthday parties and other such events for a while.
- Consider setting up a blog or Web site your friends can visit for information so you aren't barraged by questions.
Let them know when you're having a "fertility-free" day or month and want to take a vacation from talking about it.