How Can I Support a Friend With Infertility?

Sharing coffee and a few giggles as a woman supports a friend with infertility

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So, a friend or family member has confided in you that they are struggling to conceive. Maybe you already suspected they were dealing with infertility, in which case this isn't a big surprise. Or, maybe you're really shocked.

No matter how you took the news, the fact that they've told you is a big deal. This means they trust you. They think you'll be supportive. However, knowing how to actually give that support can be tricky, especially if you've never experienced infertility yourself. Here's what you can do.

Learn More About Infertility

Read up on at least the basics of infertility to be a more supportive friend. Not so you can offer advice (which will most likely be unwelcome), but so you can offer support in a more understanding fashion.

Knowing the basics of IVF, for example, will make it easier for your friend to talk about their cycle. You won't react with shock that they need to give themself numerous injections, for example. You'll already know that.

Another reason to brush up on the basics is so you don't find yourself repeating common misconceptions. The fertility challenged are used to hearing myths. However, it is nice if the person they have trusted to offer support—you—isn't one of those myth-repeating people.

Ask Them What They Need

Asking a friend what they need sounds so simple. Yet, few people do so! Maybe we are embarrassed about not knowing what to do, or perhaps we're concerned it makes us less supportive. (Don't we all dream of people knowing what we need without having to spell things out?)

Conversely, people who are struggling often hesitate to ask for what they need. They may not want to be a burden. Sometimes, they are so overwhelmed that asking for help doesn't even occur to them.

So ask what you can do, or better yet, make a specific offer to:

  • Attend difficult appointments with them, whether they'd like you to just sit in the waiting room or come in and hold their hand.
  • Be an exercise buddy, if you know they're trying to lose weight: Sometimes people need to lose weight to make treatments more effective. It's much easier to lose weight when you have a buddy working out with you. (Just don't suggest the weight-loss plan on your own. See below on what not to say.)
  • Watch their older kids: If they're dealing with secondary infertility, attending appointments at the fertility clinic may be tricky with older kids at home.

Know What to Say

When you're not sure what to say, try one of these responses:

  • Do you want to talk about it?
  • I wish I knew what to say to comfort you.
  • I wish there was something I could do or say that would make it all better.
  • I'm here to listen, whenever you need me.
  • I'm sorry to hear that.
  • What can I do to help?

Know What Not to Say

Things you should not say to a friend coping with infertility include:

  • Any implication that they just aren't trying hard enough. Not every couple will want IVF, for example. If that applies to your friend, supporting their decision is vital.
  • Any phrase starting with "at least." (As in, "At least you already have one kid," or, after a miscarriage, "At least you know you can get pregnant.")
  • Any phrase that starts with "You can always…" (As in, "You can always do IVF," or "You can always adopt.")
  • Any statements implying they are "lucky" to be without kids. Yes, pregnancy and parenting aren't easy, but not everything worth having in life is easy. Not having kids when you want them doesn't make you lucky.
  • Any statement that minimizes the pain they are experiencing, like "It's not that bad," or "At least it's not cancer," or "One day you'll look back and laugh at this."
  • Suggestions that they should "just relax," or "just go on vacation, and it'll happen."

Another no-no is pushing them to make lifestyle changes, whether through weight loss or other fertility boosters. You have no idea what they've tried or haven't nor what their fertility factors are. You may not even know if they are facing female infertility, male infertility, both, or unknown causes. Trust that your friend is smart enough to research these issues on their own.

Get Involved in Advocacy

Another way to show your support is to get involved in fertility advocacy. Most advocacy efforts come from those directly affected by a disease or issue. The second most active group comes from loved ones who know a person struggling. 

How can you become a fertility advocate?

  • Attend or financially support a Walk of Hope event
  • Consider attending Advocacy Day. This is an event put on by RESOLVE, where anyone can come and talk to their congressional representative about the needs of the fertility community. 
  • Can't attend Advocacy Day? Write a letter that your friend or family member can hand deliver when/if they attend. 
  • If your local government attempts to pass laws that would negatively impact those with fertility or those considering adoption, make your voice heard. Write letters and make phone calls. 
  • Participate in Infertility Awareness Week, usually the last week of April every year. 
  • When you overhear people spreading misconceptions about infertility or fertility treatments, speak up. 

A Word From Verywell

You may accidentally say something hurtful and realize it a moment later when you see the look on their face or listen to an uncomfortable silence over the phone. If this happens, just quickly apologize, and say you don't always know the right things to say, so sometimes you say the wrong things.

No one expects you to be superhuman, and putting that expectation on yourself may prevent you from offering the support you can provide. Imperfect support is always better than none at all. If you are willing to ask your friend what they need most, and learn from your mistakes, you're bound to become the most supportive friend your fertility challenged buddy has.

By Rachel Gurevich, RN
Rachel Gurevich is a fertility advocate, author, and recipient of The Hope Award for Achievement, from Resolve: The National Infertility Association. She is a professional member of the Association of Health Care Journalists and has been writing about women’s health since 2001. Rachel uses her own experiences with infertility to write compassionate, practical, and supportive articles.