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How to Support Someone Experiencing Infertility

What to Do and Say

One in 8 couples has trouble getting pregnant or carrying a pregnancy, and 7.4 million women have received infertility treatment. Infertility can be difficult to talk about, and many people wonder how to approach conversations with friends or family who are experiencing it.

Give them grace and space.
— Eve C. Feinberg, MD

"Have an open-ended conversation with family or friends, and put it at the forefront of the discussion in a loving, non-threatening and supportive way," suggests Eve C. Feinberg, MD, Northwestern Medicine reproductive endocrinologist and infertility specialist.

What people usually need is for someone to listen and acknowledge their feelings. To show you support them without prying or intruding on their private grief or stress, invite people to express what they are going through without asking a lot of questions. "You don't want your friends and family to feel abandoned, but you also don't want them to feel pressure, like they have to constantly give you updates on how they are or where they are in treatment," explains Dr. Feinberg.

To support a friend with infertility, educate yourself, and remember, it's more helpful to listen than to speak.

Here are six more tips for sensitive and supportive communication with someone facing infertility.

1. Validate their feelings.

A study suggests most women with infertility do not share their struggles with family or friends. This secrecy increases their feelings of depression, anxiety or low self-esteem.  Asking open-ended questions like, "How can I best support you?" or, "What can I do for you during this time?" shows that you want to understand their situation and can open the door to a helpful dialogue.

2. Ask, don't assume.

Constantly trying to figure out if someone is pregnant can be upsetting for the person with infertility. "Don't constantly look for clues or ask leading questions," explains Dr. Feinberg. "Just give them grace and space, and allow them to share at the pace that they feel comfortable sharing."

3. Don't minimize their condition.

Statements like, "You will get to sleep in," or, "It will happen soon enough" minimize the pain and sorrow a couple may be experiencing. Being overly positive about a situation does not help either, says Dr. Feinberg. "There's no certainty when facing infertility," she explains. "Acknowledging the uncertainty is more helpful for someone with infertility rather than having a false sense of hope."

4. Don't compare.

Every person's journey with infertility is different. Comparing someone's situation with someone else's can create stress and make them feel as if they're doing something wrong, Dr. Feinberg says.

Avoid statements such as: 

  • "I know a friend who…"
  • "take a vacation…"
  • "Have you tried…"
  • "You can always do IVF."
  • "Maybe you should just…"
  • "Relax. All that stress is causing your infertility."
  • "Why don't you just adopt?"

5. Be sensitive when talking about your own pregnancy or children.

If you are pregnant or have kids of your own, don't complain. Aches from your growing baby bump or lack of sleep from caring for a newborn can be painful reminders of what your friend has not been able to have.
If you are newly pregnant, you may be tempted to avoid sharing the news, but eventually that will impact the strength of your relationship. Instead, approach the conversation with sensitivity.

  • Be honest. Tell your friend you're expecting before they find out from someone else or through social media. Have the conversation in a quiet, private setting where they don't feel pressured to disguise their feelings.
  • Give them space. Allow your friend time and space to process this information and work through their feelings. Don't take any negative responses personally. Let them know that you understand and will be there if and when they are ready to talk.
  • Be thoughtful. Find other topics and activities to share with your friend. Check in on them and let them know you are thinking of them.

6. Keep them involved.

Your friend may be uncomfortable attending your children's birthday parties, soccer games and other special events centered around kids. However, extend the invitation anyway to show you still value the friendship. Dr. Feinberg suggests giving them the option to attend events. "People don't like to be excluded from knowing details about your experience with kids and want to be invited to important occasions," she says.

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Eve C. Feinberg, MD
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