Infertility is a challenging and emotional journey, but it doesn’t have to be an isolating one. Infertility is becoming more prevalent, with as many as 1 in 6 Canadian couples experiencing trouble conceiving. Learning how to provide proper support to someone with infertility can make a world of a difference on their fertility journey.
When someone reveals that they are going through infertility, some worry about saying the wrong things. Others wonder about the right way to react: should they address the situation or change the subject to avoid making the individual feel uncomfortable?
Unfortunately, the answer isn’t so simple. We must consider the nature of our relationship with the person to know what kind of conversations they might want to participate in. Supporting a loved one experiencing infertility might look completely different from supporting a coworker.
Although specifics will differ depending on your relationship to the person, there are still general dos and don’ts to consider when someone in your life is going through infertility.
Here are some tips on how to support someone experiencing infertility.
Infertility can be emotionally and physically draining, with lots of frustrating waiting periods. This is especially the case for individuals that are going through fertility treatments such as in-vitro fertilization (IVF). One of the best ways to support someone going through infertility is simply by being there for them and offering your time.
This can be through check-ins, especially on certain dates that might be more difficult for them. These might be days like Mother’s Day or Father’s Day, holidays, or due dates that did not come. Make note of these days, and be sure to check in and give some extra support when they arrive.
If they are open to it, some may welcome being engaged in a fun, distracting activity. Sometimes infertility can feel as though it consumes your whole world, with many conversations, thoughts and web searches devoted to fertility-related topics. So, being involved in an activity that doesn’t focus on these topics might allow a well-deserved mental break.
One of the best ways to be supportive is through the power of silence – just listening! Sometimes, individuals just need a safe space and someone to listen as they work through their thoughts and emotions. Allowing the person to discuss their feelings on their own terms without offering unsolicited advice or solutions can help them feel heard and validated.
Here, remember the key ideas of active listening: try your best not to interrupt, impose opinions or plan out what to say next. Instead, stay focused and show the person you’re listening by using body language and giving nods of encouragement. Sometimes, it is helpful to ask open questions like “how did that make you feel?” or “what do you think is the right decision”?
Be sure to invite individuals facing infertility to social events like birthday parties, baby showers or holidays. It is true that certain events can be triggering to individuals experiencing infertility, so it is a good idea to be sensitive when discussing topics like gender or pregnancy announcements, baby-showers, or births. However, excluding individuals from these events altogether can make infertility feel even more isolating. Instead, when events such as the above come up, it is a good idea to first ask your friend about the event and explain that there is no pressure for them to attend.
While it is impossible to fully understand the emotions that come with infertility unless you have personally experienced it, educating yourself on infertility can help give you a better idea of what they are going through. By reading stories from other people facing infertility and learning more about fertility treatment, you will be able to better empathize with the individual.
In the process of educating yourself, you might also dispel some of the myths you believe about infertility. For example, did you know that while many people think that stress can cause infertility, research has not yet shown a causal mechanism between stress and infertility? After learning about this, you may be less inclined to offer unsolicited advice like “just relax and it will happen.” Comments such as these are hurtful because they cast blame on the individual.
Like any other medical condition, infertility does not only affect one’s ability to conceive. It comes with other mental, physical, and financial hardships. Many individuals place blame on themselves for the condition when it is truly no one’s fault. It is good to be sensitive of inadvertently placing blame when discussing infertility with someone having trouble conceiving.
The following are some examples of good and bad statements:
“Have you tried this diet?”
“You can always adopt”
“Everything happens for a reason”
“At least it’s not cancer”
“Thank you so much for sharing this with me”
“I am so sorry that you’ve had to go through this”
“I am here to support you and listen whenever you need me”
“Is there anything I can do to help?”
The statements on the left place blame on the individual, make them feel invalidated, and minimize the struggle of infertility. Infertility is a complex medical issue, for which there are no quick-fix solutions. Someone struggling with infertility might come away from these statements feeling hurt and isolated. They will probably not return to this individual for support again.
The statements on the right focus on support instead of advice or suggestions. It is not easy to reveal to someone that you are facing infertility, so it is a good idea to start out by thanking the individual for sharing this with you. These responses validate the emotions and experiences of someone going through infertility. In contrast to the statements on the left, someone might come away from this conversation feeling supported and heard and will likely feel a renewed sense of trust with this individual.
The fact that you are reading an article about how to support your friend, family member or coworker is an incredible start and shows that you truly care about them. As you learn to support this person, remember to also be patient and kind to yourself. There may be times where, despite your best intentions, you accidentally say something hurtful. In situations like this, it is best to simply apologize and explain that you are still learning to try and find the right words to say. Remember that imperfect support is better than no support at all. A supportive friend who is willing to learn from their mistakes can make a world of a difference along someone’s fertility journey.
If you have other questions about infertility, book a consultation today.
Chloe Graham (she/her)
Master's Student (University of Guelph, Biomedical Sciences)
Chloe is a Masters Student in Biomedical Sciences at the University of Guelph, who also works as a patient coordinator at Anova Fertility.
At Anova, she educates patients through creating online resources, manages patient flow and assists with administrative functions. Before joining our team, Chloe advocated for women’s health and reproductive rights as an executive member of Oxfam at Guelph, local branch of the international anti-poverty organization.
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