It’s National Infertility Awareness Week, and whatever your parenting situation may be, it’s important to remember that not everyone is able to have children naturally. One in eight couples suffers from infertility of some form. For an issue so common, it’s a wonder we don’t talk about it more often.
RESOLVE is a movement founded by the National Infertility Association. This year, they are focusing their outreach efforts on the theme “You Are Not Alone.” In that spirit, I encourage you to reach out to your friends who are dealing with fertility issues. Talking about infertility is a touchy subject, so keep these recommendations in mind.
When you first learn that your friends are going through fertility issues, have a sympathetic but frank discussion about boundaries. What questions can you ask? Can they keep you updated with the process? What topics are off-limits?
Explain that you want to be there to help, but you don’t want your friends to feel pressured to share.
Understand that they might not want to talk
Accepting and working through infertility can be a very private matter. If your friends don’t want to talk about it, honor that request. You can still check in and see how they are doing, but know that your friends might not want to talk about every detail.
Each person’s situation is unique
Even if you have faced infertility yourself, no one’s struggle is the same. Never assume you know what your friends are going through. Talk to them about how they are feeling, but don’t assume anything. Some couples feel like failures for not being able to have children, some feel like outcasts, and some feel that it’s simply biology and are just frustrated.
Maybe you felt one way but your friends feel another. That’s okay. Don’t project your experience or emotions onto them. Being there to listen is the best thing you can do.
Be supportive through treatment
Again, ask your friends for boundaries if they are going through fertility treatments. If you’re very close, you might want to know when an IUI or IVF procedure will happen, and you might want to know right away if your friends are pregnant. But they might not want to tell you, so it’s important to discuss boundaries in advance and not take it personally if that’s the case. Many couples prefer to keep pregnancies private for the first trimester for a number of reasons, so respect your friends’ preferences.
Avoid giving advice
Many people going through fertility issues receive unsolicited advice from well-meaning friends and family.
“Once you stop trying so hard, you’ll end up getting pregnant when you least expect it!”
“Why don’t you just adopt?”
“If you can’t have kids, think of it as a blessing—you’ll save money, get more sleep, and can travel more!”
While it’s easy for you to think you’re being optimistic, statements like those are like salt in the wound for couples struggling with infertility. It’s best to simply say, “I can’t imagine what you’re going through. Do you want to talk about it?”
Be sensitive when talking about your kids
You don’t need to stop sharing your joys with your friends, but try to be more selective about what and how much you share while they are dealing with these issues. When facing the idea of not being able to have children, it’s hard to hear complaints from parents about their kids, or on the other hand, excessive bragging about them, so choose your stories with a bit more care than usual.
It’s nearly impossible to empathize with someone going through fertility problems, but you can still remain a good friend as long as you establish boundaries and set expectations during this time. Overall, letting your friends know that you are there for them is the best thing you can do to help them know that they are not alone in this struggle.