Although most couples are able to get pregnant on their own, many men and women throughout the world struggle with infertility, or have difficulty conceiving naturally. Rates of infertility are rising around the world, and are estimated to be at least 10-15 percent (about 1 in 6 couples) in many developed countries worldwide.
Like any difficult situation, it can be hard to watch a friend go through infertility — especially when you don’t have any first-hand experience with infertility. It can be tough to know what to say to a friend who is struggling to get pregnant, and all too often, well-meaning, but ignorant comments just serve to add to their frustration.
So what can you say or do to help a friend who is experiencing infertility? Here are a few tips:
Be sensitive to the challenge your friend is facing
Few things are quite as painful as the unfulfilled desire for a child, and your friend probably needs an extra dose of love and kindness as she deals with this difficult moment in her life.
Steer clear of unhelpful platitudes
Although it can be tempting to try to reassure your friend, things like “Your turn will come,” and “It will all work out for the best,” are probably not what she needs to hear. She already feels guilty about the grief, pain, and anger she is experiencing and doesn’t need another person making her feel like she should be handling things better. What can you do instead? Give her a hug, ask if she feels like talking about it, and respect her need to grieve.
Try not to complain about your own pregnancy or children
To a person in the throes of infertility, hearing a comment like “Well, at least you’re sleeping through the night,” or “I’d give anything to get rid of this pregnancy heartburn,” can often feel like the final straw. Usually, someone experiencing infertility would happily trade their child-free hours for all the sleepless nights and uncomfortable symptoms in the world if it meant they could achieve their dream of parenthood.
What can you do instead?
Remember that subjects like pregnancy and parenthood are probably sensitive topics for your friend, and try to keep your conversation about those issues neutral. If you need to vent about your pregnancy or your children, it might be best to find a friend who has had similar experiences and will be able to commiserate with you, rather than relying on your infertile friend.
Avoid the temptation to give advice
While we all know the story of someone who was struggling to get pregnant and then miraculously conceived after they stopped thinking about it, went on a relaxing vacation, or adopted, sharing these stories with your infertile friend is rarely helpful. Often, infertility is the result of serious medical conditions or hormonal imbalances and requires medical intervention to correct. While, it can be tempting to remind your friend to “just relax,” such advice is usually more hurtful than helpful.
What can you do instead?
Be sensitive to the fact that your friend has probably heard all the advice before, and most likely tried a lot of it. Follow her lead — if she seems interested in hearing your advice, then share it. If she doesn’t seem to want to hear stories of what worked (or didn’t work) for the people you know, go ahead and change the subject.
Don’t ask when they’re planning to have kids
Family planning can be a sensitive subject, especially for those experiencing infertility. Often, couples who are having trouble conceiving stay quiet about their struggle, which can make it easy to assume that they’re choosing to delay starting their family for other reasons. If you already know that a friend is trying to get pregnant or undergoing fertility treatments, don’t ask if she is pregnant or if her treatments worked. When she’s ready to let you know, she’ll do so. If her efforts to get pregnant aren’t succeeding, your well-meaning question might be a painful reminder of her failures. If she is pregnant, she might be afraid to share the news with the world, at first, and needs some time to process the new development before she goes public.
What can you do instead?
Trust that your friend will share her good news with you when she’s ready, and let her know that you’re always there if she needs to share her struggles or frustrations.
And remember, it’s OK that you don’t understand what your friend is feeling. She doesn’t need you to understand the specifics of what she’s going through; instead, she needs your love, your support, and your understanding.
“Infertility.” World Health Organization.World Health Organization, 2004. Web. 26 Nov. 2012.
“Infertility Treatment: When Nature Needs a Helping Hand.” Cleveland Clinic. The Cleveland Clinic, 2009. Web. 26 Nov. 2012.
Kirkey, Sharon. “Infertility on the rise in Canada: study.” National Post. National Post, 15 Feb. 2012. Web. 26 Nov. 2012.