If you know someone who is having difficulty conceiving or going through fertility treatment, it can be difficult to know what to do and say (and what not to say) to show your support. It’s such a sensitive topic, and unless you’ve been through something similar, it’s hard to understand exactly what your loved one is experiencing and how you can be of help.
In this article, we give you some insights into what they might be feeling, what to say and what you shouldn’t say to women and couples struggling with infertility, plus some practical ways you can offer your support.
How a woman or couple having difficulties conceiving could be feeling
Infertility can be a highly emotional journey, and everyone’s experience and their ability to cope varies between individuals. It can be tremendously stressful, fraught with uncertainty, and can sometimes lead to depression and anxiety. Relationships are often impacted because fertility becomes a dominating stressor.
Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, guilt, shame, isolation, loneliness, and a sense that they’re ‘broken’ are not uncommon experiences. It can feel like everyone around them is getting pregnant, which can be a frequent, painful reminder of their situation.
What to say to someone struggling with infertility
If a friend or family member confides in you that they’re struggling to conceive, you could try one of these responses:
- What can I do to help?
- Do you want to talk about it?
- I’m here for you, anytime you need me.
- I’m so sorry to hear that.
- I wish I knew what to say to comfort you.
How best to communicate:
- Truly listen when they feel like talking.
- Be mindful of painful occasions, such as pregnancy announcements, baby showers, and Mother’s Day.
- Keep their infertility information confidential.
- Remember that they are in pain, so always think before you speak.
- If you don’t know what to say, be honest about that.
What NOT to say to someone struggling to conceive
We all have the best intentions and it comes from a loving place, but saying the wrong thing can be very hurtful. What your friend or family member doesn’t need right now are fixes, advice, judgement, or tips. If you do find yourself making a tactless remark, apologise and be honest that it’s not what you intended to say, and then just actively listen. Some things to avoid saying include:
- Any statement that minimises their experience, particularly statements beginning with ‘At least…’. For example, ‘At least you have your health’ or ‘At least you have a loving partner’.
- Any form of advice, such as anything beginning with ‘Have you tried/you could always…’. For example, ‘You could always try IVF’, ‘Have you tried monitoring your ovulation window?’, or ‘You could always adopt’, or ‘Have you tried ‘insert old wives’ tale?’’
- Any statements that imply that they’re ‘lucky’ not to have children, like when you’ve had a bad day with the kids or you’re sleep-deprived. Not having a family when you want one does not feel fortunate.
- Suggestions that they should go on a holiday or find ways to relax more, and it will ‘just happen’.
- Offering suggestions that by making some lifestyle changes, it could improve their chances of conceiving. Sending them tips or links to products for weight loss or fertility boosters is not helpful. Trust that your friend is doing all the necessary research.
- Even asking someone when they’re going to have kids or try for another one may seem innocent enough, but you don’t know what their situation is and they may be having difficulties.
- Saying things like ‘you have to think positive’. It’s hard to be hopeful when you’re regularly disappointed. Telling someone to be positive can make them worry about their negativity, adding to their already heavy emotional load.
- ‘You’re young, you still have time’. The reality is you don’t know who the infertile person is if it’s a couple, and you don’t truly know their medical background or exact situation.
Practical ways to offer your support
People who are struggling with infertility don’t always ask for help, and perhaps don’t even know themselves what they need. Here are some ways you can show your support:
- Learn about infertility. Understanding the basics, as well as the common misconceptions, will help you to be a more knowledgeable and supportive friend. See our section on infertility treatment for numerous expert articles on the subject.
- Offer to attend appointments with them, even if it’s just to sit in the waiting room with them.
- If they have older children, offer to look after them while they go to their appointments.
- If doctors have recommended that they go on a special diet or exercise to lose weight, you could offer to be their gym buddy, or do the diet with them to be an accountability buddy.
- Get involved in fertility advocacy. Find out how by heading to The Pink Elephants Support Network, The Fertility Society of Australia and New Zealand, IVF Australia, and Gidget Foundation Australia.