Coping with fertility issues can be a complex, painful and difficult time in a person’s life, a time when they need the most support from the people that love them. And research has proven that the stress levels of women with fertility issues are the same as women who have been diagnosed with a serious illness. It’s a really, really tough time.
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.
Within Nurture 4 Life, I work with lots of people as they go through this difficult time and hear their experiences so I thought we would put together a little list of what to avoid saying and doing if you have a friend, family member or work colleague in the same position. It might help them more than you know.
I’ve also shared some alternatives you could embrace instead to help you continue to be the lovely, supportive and encouraging friend you are during their fertility journey.
If you are currently in that situation, it might be helpful to share this with your friends and family 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 them 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. And possibly things that they hoped they’d never have to experience to find out.
Instead: Be empathic. 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 (and these are the two most important words in this sentence!), discuss your legitimate, well-researched findings in an open, honest and non-judgemental way. They may well 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 and as support in difficult times.
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 painful time with their fertility issues but they may still want to feel part of your life and to not be separated from what’s happening. They also may not, and that’s really okay too. Be prepared for either but don’t judge them on how they handle your news.
Instead: Think about how and when 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 first 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 and remembered 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.So maybe give them a little heads up before you post it. Of course, your news is wonderful and your friend can be happy for you as well as feeling desperately sad that they aren’t in your position yet. Don’t keep it from them, just be mindful.
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 their life; they are frustrated, they are hurt, upset and possibly angry and confused about what to do next 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/They Should Just Relax/Have More Sex
This is a big heads up! These are three of the most unhelpful things a person trying desperately to conceive can hear. It will only add the pressure being unable to conceive; of feelings of isolation and of not being understood or truly supported. Trust me, they are probably already asking themselves why it hasn’t happened yet, why they are failing at something that everybody else seems to find so easy. Fertility issues are about far far more than just giving it a bit more time, having a ‘relaxing’ soak in the bath when you’re feeling stressed and having sex every night! And are way more complex.
Instead: Attend the difficult appointments with them. Especially if they are planning for fertility treatments or if they are perhaps receiving test results, 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
Yes, I know I’ve already mentioned this but it’s impossible to overstate this. If relaxing was all they needed to do, infertility would never have become an issue for them in the first place. Couples find themselves with fertility issues 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 a 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.