Coping with fertility issues can be a complex and difficult time in a person’s life, a time when they need the most support from the people that love them.
And while you want to help and you want to be there, it can be very difficult to know what to say and how to handle the situation.
At Nurture 4 Life, we help lots of people as they go through this difficult time and we thought we would put together a list of what to avoid saying and doing if you have a loved one in the same position.
We also thought it would be helpful to share some alternatives you could embrace instead to help you continue to be a supportive, encouraging and positive person during your friend or loved one’s fertility issues.
If you are currently in that situation, it might be helpful to share this with your loved ones too. Many people don’t know what to say or are worried about saying the wrong thing so a gentle nudge to let them know what you would appreciate people saying or doing might make your relationship with them a little easier.
1. Don’t Give Advice
Giving unwarranted advice on the complexity of and ‘what they could do better’ in their situation can come across as hurtful and offensive. They’ve probably seen numerous doctors, nurses, had tests and scans completed on them for quite some time and it can feel insulting to assume that they’ve not tried x or considered y. They will probably have already done their own research and will know more than you do.
Instead: Do some research on infertility generally and be prepared to serve as a support when they come to you for a difficult conversation about what they could do. If asked, discuss your legitimate, well-researched findings in an open, honest and non-judgemental way. They will thank you for your honesty and for not being ‘preachy’ with them. Or just listen, don’t judge and be there as a shoulder to cry on.
2. Don’t Hide Your Baby News
Keeping things from the ones we love is painful and difficult but if they find out exciting wonderful news about a dear friend from a third party it’s even more hurtful. Of course, they are going through a tough time with their fertility issues but they still want to feel part of your life and to not be separated from what’s happening.
Instead: Think about how you tell them. Be sure that the way they find out that you are pregnant is respectful and considered. If you intend on announcing it as a big surprise, perhaps give them a heads up so that they can deal with the news without having to put on a brave face. A face to face conversation just between the two of you, a phone call, a text or even a lovely note could be a little less painful as they will appreciate that you have still thought about them as you’re celebrating your own happy news.
Seeing ultrasound pictures as you scroll through social media when you aren’t prepared for it can really hurt. Of course, your news will get them thinking about their own troubles but that is never a reason to keep it from them.
3. Don’t Try To Relate To Them
Maybe on the face of it this sounds counter-intuitive, shared stories bring us closer to our friends. However, in this case, they are most likely going through one of the most difficult times in life; they are frustrated, they are hurt and they are confused and there is almost no way you can truly identify with what they are going through and how they are feeling.
Instead: Just be there. Be around for a hug, be around to talk about it, to not talk about it, to make them laugh or to cry with them. Accept that this is hard, and just be what they need you to be.
4. Don’t Tell Them That They’ve Got Time
This will only add the pressure of them being unable to conceive. They will ask themselves why it hasn’t happened yet and stress out more. While they may be young and this increases the chances of fertility treatments being a success, there are no guarantees.
Instead: Attend the difficult appointments with them. Especially if they are for fertility treatments or if they are perhaps receiving results of testing, even just sitting in the waiting room shows how much you care and how much you support them on this difficult journey.
5. Don’t Try To Solve It
Saying things like ‘there are thousands of children in the foster care system’ or ‘you can always adopt’, at this moment in time, is not helpful. It will only feel like you have given up hope for them, as well as the fact that this is something they will want to come to on their own, if at all.
Instead: Remember them on Mother’s and Father’s days. Whether they have lost children in the past or they have been unable to conceive for a long time, these days can be very tough on your friends and loved ones who have wanted to be parents for so long. Just checking in on them will show how much you care.
6. Don’t Tell Them To Relax
If relaxing was all they needed to do, infertility would never have become an issue for them in the first place. Couples find themselves infertile for a vast range of reasons and none can be boiled down to relaxation. Handling fertility issues is the same as dealing with a broken arm or tackling cancer, relaxation is not the answer.
Relaxing isn’t going to make endometriosis, PCOS or sperm motility issues disappear, no matter how well-intentioned the sentiment is.
Instead: Ask what they need from you. There is nothing more comforting than a friend sitting with you during hard time and simply asking what they need to be for you right now. This approach is sensitive and loving and open; all of which are wonderful qualities to find in a friend.