So often in the world of infertility, those suffering seek out support, love, and comfort from family and friends, only to find that those people do not even know where to begin. And I don’t blame them; it’s not their fault. It can be incredibly difficult to know how to support someone through something that you have never personally experienced yourself. When that happens, though, well-meaning people can end up saying things that sound helpful and supportive on the surface, but actually hurt more than they realize.
Some of the most common responses that sound helpful—but are actually hurtful—start with the words “at least.” I will never forget when I had my second miscarriage; I was sitting in the ER, having an ultrasound to confirm the loss of my pregnancy, and the ultrasound technician looked and me and said, “Well at least you can just try again! Who knows, maybe you’ll just get pregnant naturally now! Your body is ready for it, right?” Clearly, this is an extreme example, and it was very inappropriate and not at all the correct thing to say in that moment (or ever), but I think she said it because she was uncomfortable and wanted to try to make me feel better by putting a positive spin on the situation. At that moment, I did not want positivity; I wanted comfort, love, and support. I wanted permission to be sad and grieve, and I wanted to get out of the ER as quickly as possible and go home.
It can be difficult to understand that people do not always want positivity in moments of pain, and I think this is a major source of confusion when trying to offer support. So often, people think that if they say something positive or give a suggestion, it will make their loved one feel better. But put yourself in their shoes for a moment: if you lost a child, would you want to hear that you can ‘just have another one’? First, you need time to grieve for the child you have lost; and second, it is not necessarily a fact that you will be able to get pregnant again. So saying something as simple as “you can just try again” may sound nice, but in reality, it dismisses the loss, the pain, and everything else that person has gone through to get to that point. Instead, it is best to just say you are sorry and let them know you are there for them if they need you.
For those who want to offer support, it can be hard to know where to start. One of the best things you can do is to offer to help your loved one, with no strings attached. This can come in many forms, but people can feel deterred from asking for help because they do not want to be a burden, and they do not want to have to explain themselves too much.
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When I was in the depths of trying to have our second child, I would constantly need help with our first son so that I could go to my many doctor’s appointments, but I did not want to have to talk about what happened in the appointments, and many times I did not want to have to even admit we were starting another cycle. I wanted help while retaining my privacy, so I really appreciated it when family members offered to watch our first child without expecting any information from me in return. If you can offer to help the person, in whatever way they need, and assure them that they are not a burden, and they do not have to tell you anything they are uncomfortable sharing, that can lift a huge weight off of their shoulders!
Another way you can offer support to someone going through infertility is to do your own research about what they are going through. It can be difficult to understand something you have never experienced yourself, but if you look into the details it can help bring you closer to understanding without asking them too many questions. For example, if they have mentioned they have something called “PCOS,” but you have no idea what that is, you can look into it yourself to keep them from having to explain it. When you are the person going through infertility, it is top of mind all of the time and a constant source of discussion; it can be draining to continue to talk about. If that person knows that they do not have to educate you, but that you are still trying to learn more about what they are experiencing, that will show them how much you care and that you want to offer support in the best way you can.
With that said, while it can be extremely helpful to do your own research to learn more about what your loved one is going through, that does not mean that you should use that information to offer suggestions about what they should try next. Very likely, they have tried everything you can think of and more, and they are just looking for love and support. They have a team of doctors, and they are not looking for medical recommendations from their friends and family. While you might think your advice and ideas come from a positive, helpful place, they usually have the opposite effect. Instead, just let your loved ones know that you are there for them and that you are sorry for everything they are dealing with.
These are just a few tips for how to support someone going through infertility, but there is so much more to it. In my new book, called “How to Help Friends and Family Through Infertility,” I try to educate people on the realities of infertility and help them understand what to say and what to do so they feel better equipped to offer support to their friends or family members who are going through it.
Chapters include "What Not To Say," "Triggering Words,” and "How to Share Pregnancy News,” and there is even a full chapter on doing research! By just opening this book, you already getting a great head start on supporting your friend, family member, or loved one through one of the most difficult times of their lives.
Remember, it’s okay if you have accidentally said the wrong thing in the past; you are human. But once you realize that there is a better way to offer support to someone who is struggling, it is great to learn how so that you can feel like you are helping as much as you can, and so your loved one feels as comforted as possible on their fertility journey.
Alex Kornswiet shares her journey through infertility, pregnancy loss, surrogacy, and motherhood on Instagram at @ourbeautifulsurprise. You can find her book, “How to Help Friends and Family Through Infertility” on Amazon.