What Not to Do When Supporting an Infertile Friend

Friends drinking wine and dancing in living room supporting fertile and infertility friends
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Can a fertile friend really support and understand a fertility challenged one? Especially if they have no experience with infertility? The answer is a big yes! All it takes is time to learn what they're going through (a little self-study), patience to listen when they need to talk, and a willingness to offer support (without offering advice).

However, even those with the best intentions may unintentionally say things that are hurtful. Here are 10 things to stop doing if you have a friend or family member struggling with infertility, plus how to support them better.

Stop Thinking You Can't Be Supportive Because You've Never Struggled With Infertility

There's a misconception that you can't provide empathy properly if you've never experienced another person's problem. Thank goodness, this isn't true.

The fact of the matter is, even when you have personal experience with a struggle, it's still only your personal experience. Everyone's life situation is different, and people cope with problems in different ways.

Instead… know that you don't have to experience a particular problem, including infertility, in order to provide support.

Don't be afraid to tell your trying to conceive friend that you're not sure what to say or do. Go ahead and ask them what they need most.

Stop Assuming They Don't Want to Hear Anything About Your New Pregnancy or Your Kids

It's true that hearing about a new pregnancy or listening to a lot of cute baby talk can be painful for those with fertility challenges.

In an effort to protect fertility challenged friends, sometimes people attempt to keep a new pregnancy secret. Or they share almost nothing about their little ones, leading to awkward silences.

This isn't a good idea.

Instead... give us the news of your pregnancy in a way that allows privacy and room for an initial reaction.

Email is probably best, and a phone call is much better than in person. The worst plan is to try to keep your pregnancy a secret. Secrets never remain secret for long, and they are bound to hear your good news eventually. Better that they find out from you.

Also, ask if they want to hear about the kids' latest activities or your recent pregnancy adventures. Maybe they want to live vicariously through you! On the other hand, some fertility challenged people don't want to hear anything about other's kids. Everyone feels differently about this.

Best plan: Ask.

Stop Endlessly Talking About Your Pregnancy

Keeping your pregnancy a secret or avoiding the topic altogether isn't a good idea. However, talking about your pregnancy endlessly is also a bad idea.

Too much pregnancy talk just reminds them of how much they are missing.

Instead... gush about your pregnancy adventures with your fertile friends.

Talk to your infertile friend about whatever it is you spoke about before you got pregnant. Can't remember? One easy trick is to look back in your old emails, text messages, or social media posts. Make a list of previously popular topics. It may seem silly, but it's actually helpful and your friend will appreciate your effort.

Stop Asking If They're Pregnant Yet

You're curious. But asking repeatedly whether your friend is pregnant reminds them, once again, that they are not pregnant.

"Any news?" is essentially the same as asking directly. So don't ask that way either.

Instead… assume that if they were pregnant and ready to share, they would have already told you. Keep in mind that they may actually be pregnant but are waiting to share until they reach a certain medical milestone. This is especially true if they have experienced pregnancy loss in the past.

If you want to ask how they are doing, then a simple, "How are you doing?" or "What's new in your life?" is best.

Stop Telling Them They Can "Always Adopt"

Fertility challenged people have a variety of options. Adoption may be on the table—but it's not a simple process nor is it available to everyone. Making the choice to adopt comes with its own set of emotional and practical complications. The costs of adoption can also be incredibly high, up into the tens of thousands of dollars.

Plus, knowing that adoption may be an option doesn't make infertility any better. It's like telling someone whose mom died that they "always have their dad." Having dad doesn't make you miss mom less.

Instead... allow them to come to the decision to adopt on their own. And only if that feels right for them. It may never be an option, and that is okay.

If they do eventually go that route, avoid comments that imply adoption automatically takes away the pain of infertility. It doesn't.

Stop Giving Unsolicited Advice

You just want to help. Maybe you heard of a new fertility treatment on the news that you're sure will cure your friend's problems. Or perhaps you believe strongly in a particular healthy lifestyle, and you believe "if only" fertility challenged people lived that lifestyle they'd be as fertile as you are.

Maybe you're sure if they would just relax, things would resolve magically.

Offering these tidbits of advice feels condescending. It feels like you don't think they can figure this out on their own. It's as you assume they aren't researching options endlessly. Of course, you don't mean to imply all that. But when you offer unsolicited advice to an infertile friend, this is how it may feel.

Plus, that new fertility treatment you read about may not be available. And "relaxation" does not cure infertility.

Without understanding their exact fertility issues (please, don't ask), you can't really provide targeted advice. Infertility is complicated and complex. Even fertility experts haven't figured out how to help every couple have a baby.

Instead... understand they are doing their own research and speaking with their doctors about how to proceed. If they want advice, they'll ask.

Stop Speaking on the Universe's Behalf

"If it's meant to be, it will happen."

"Maybe you weren't meant to be parents."

Comments like these don't help. They imply that not only is your friend infertile—but they deserve it.

Instead... remember that no one really knows why things happen.

Even if your philosophy on life comforts you, allow your friend to come to his or her own conclusions on why bad things happen to good people.

Stop Accusing Them of Not Appreciating the Good in Their Lives

Whatever it is that your friend has in life—whether it's a strong relationship, their children (if they're dealing with secondary infertility), a great job, a nice house—it doesn't take away the pain of infertility.

It is possible to feel many feelings at once, sadness for losses and joy for blessings.

Instead... keep in mind that people talk more about what's troubling them than what's going great.

Just because they don't talk to you about all the wonderful in their life doesn't mean they aren't aware it's there.

Stop Telling Them How "Lucky" They Are to Not Have Children

Yes, kids are loud. Kids don't allow you a moment to yourself. Babies never let you sleep and get in the way of sex. They are a hassle.

Couples trying to have a baby know all this, and they still want them.

They are not lucky to not have kids; their lives are not easier for the lack of them.

By the way, infertility also takes away the quiet inner moments. Infertility keeps people up at night, infertility destroys sex lives, and infertility is a hassle.

Instead... admit that you wouldn't give up your kids, even if it meant you'd have more sleep and less stress. If you would rather trade in your kids for peace and quiet, then please keep those thoughts to yourself.

Stop Invalidating Their Feelings and Reactions to Infertility

"It could be worse."

"At least it's not cancer."

"Having children is a lifestyle choice. You just need to pick a different lifestyle."

Comments like these are painful because they invalidate their feelings. They imply their reaction is an overreaction. It's not.

Instead... realize there is no "right" or "wrong" when it comes to emotional reactions. Everyone deals with life trials in their own way.

Infertility is correlated with increased rates of depression and anxiety. Your friend's reaction is likely normal. What they need is support, not invalidation.

When you don't know what to say because you don't understand, just simply say nothing. Or say, "I wish there was something I could say to make things better."

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  2. Rooney KL, Domar AD. The relationship between stress and infertilityDialogues Clin Neurosci. 2018;20(1):41–47.

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