How To Support A Friend Struggling With Infertility

By Katie Lee Jacobs

Infertility affects 1 in 8 couples in the U.S., and yet it is not spoken about nearly enough. For those of us who have gone through this emotional roller coaster, it is extremely difficult and at times, lonely. Thankfully, women are starting to open up about it more; but the majority of the time, friends and family members are unsure of how to respond, or what to say to support those struggling to get pregnant.

During my own fertility journey, I joined multiple support groups and this was a topic that came up over and over again. Women would say, “my friends keep telling me to ‘just relax and be positive,’ or ‘everything happens for a reason!’” While these comments are usually well-meaning, they can be triggering for someone going through infertility.

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So I hope the below can help be a guide for how to best support your friend, family member, or loved one dealing with fertility issues:

Things NOT to say:

  • “Don’t stress too much.”
  • “Be positive.”
  • “Good vibes only!”
  • “It will happen when it’s supposed to.”
  • “What’s meant to be, will be.”
  • “Think Happy Thoughts.”
  • “Be happy for what you do have.”
  • “Things could be worse.”
  • “Everything happens for a reason.”
  • “You have so much to be grateful for!”
  • “God only gives you what you can handle.”
  • “This will make you stronger.”
  • “Look on the bright side.”
  • “I know exactly how you feel.”
  • “Everything will be fine.”
  • “You should do/try…”
  • “______ stopped trying and got pregnant!”
  • “Enjoy this time; when you do get pregnant you’ll wish you had this time back.”
  • “You can take my kids!”
  • “You’re young, you have plenty of time.”

“When your friend tells you she’s having difficulty getting pregnant, you may be tempted to reach for some go-to platitudes, like, ‘Don’t worry, it will all work out in the end,’ or, “‘Just relax and it will happen when you least expect it.’ Though you mean well, these kinds of responses are rarely comforting and tend to minimize the very real fears and challenges she is trying to share with you. It’s less helpful to tell her that you totally get what she’s going through when it only took you six months to conceive. Remember that offering empathy, or simply listening, is better than making comparisons or trying to offer solutions. (It’s not about you—it’s about her).” — Today Parent

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“They don’t need anecdotes about how your aunt’s friend’s sister’s babysitter got pregnant eating pineapple core while relaxing on the beach,” Dr. Zaki said. “Such comments, while most likely well-intentioned, imply that infertility is a simple problem that can be easily solved.” The reality is that infertility is a complex issue that can take years of treatments, heartache, and countless losses before being overcome.” The New York Times

What To Say Instead:

  • “This is hard. You’ve done hard things before, and I believe in you.”
  • “What is this like for you?”
  • “I’m thinking about you today. Let me know if you need anything!”
  • “How can I best support you?
  • “We can be grateful for what we have and be sad for what we don’t.”
  • “I know there’s a lot that could go wrong. What could go right?”
  • “I’m here if you want to talk about the scary things.”
  • “It’s normal to have negative feelings in this situation.”
  • “Your feelings make so much sense.”
  • “It’s probably pretty hard to be positive right now. I’m putting out good energy into the world for you.”
  • “It’s never fun to feel like this. Is there something we can do today that you would enjoy?”
  • “It’s probably really hard to see any good in this situation.”
  • “It’s okay to struggle.”
  • “You are not alone.”

“If she chooses to talk to you about it, the best thing you can do is LISTEN! Most women just want to be heard, to vent about the unfairness or pain of it all. Many women appreciate commiseration, such as “I’m so sorry” or “This totally sucks.” A few words go a long way.” — A Cup of Jo

“When a loved one is struggling, it’s only natural to want to jump in and problem-solve—to take away their pain, help them overcome roadblocks, and support them in reaching their goals. Instead of chiming in with possible solutions to a friend’s dilemma, let your friend guide the conversation and support your friend’s plans, whatever they may be. It’s unlikely that you’ll suggest a route that hasn’t already been thought of, and some options might not be realistic; we’re not always aware of our friend’s personal, medical, or financial situation or history, nor their personal beliefs or values. Instead of working overtime to “fix” situations that are beyond anyone’s control, focus on making smaller decisions and stressors more manageable—drop off groceries or home-cooked meals or offer to drive a friend to one of their many appointments. These daily hassles tend to feel even bigger in the face of major life challenges like infertility.” — Psychology Today

how-to-support-a-friend-who-cant-get-pregnant

So, what can you do?

  • Listen.
  • Ask how you can better support them.
  • Validate their feelings.
  • Show compassion.
  • Let them know you care.
  • Do your own research and inform yourself on the topic.
  • Ask questions.
  • Support their decisions.

Often the most helpful support involves just showing up, being open to your friend’s experience, and recognizing the power of your presence, no matter how silent your conversations may be.
Psychology Today

“In the end, it’s all about being there: without advice, without judgment, without trying to find a solution. You probably can’t make us pregnant, but you can make us forget how much it sucks for a little while. After all, isn’t that what friends are for?” — Refinery 29

Infertility has taught me so much about empathy. It has shown me the importance of listening more, talking less, and simply being there for friends who are going through a difficult time. Even if you don’t completely understand, all that matters is that you show up.

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Katie Jacobs lives and works in NYC. She and her husband went through multiple IUIs and IVF before conceiving their miracle baby girl. Now that she’s technically on ‘the other side’ of infertility, Katie wants to continue to be a part of the community that got her through the darkest time in her life. For fun, Katie loves to travel, explore Upstate NY, write for her blog KatieLeeJacobs, go on long walks in Central Park, and take photographs, which usually end up on her Instagram account, @KatieLeeJacobs.