Did you know that 1 in 8 couples struggle to have children and build their families due to the disease of infertility? This statistic represents a colleague, a friend in your book club, a couple at your Thanksgiving dinner table. Having infertility can feel embarrassing and isolating, but you can help your friends feel less misunderstood and alone by resolving to know more about infertility this week, April 20-26, during National Infertility Awareness Week.
Learn how to be there for your family and friends with this list of 25 things to say (and not to say) to someone with infertility.
- Let them know that you care. The best thing you can do is let your infertile friends know that you care.
- Do your research. Read up about infertility, and possibly treatments or other family building options your friend is considering, so that you are informed when your friend needs to talk.
- Act interested. Some people don't want to talk about infertility, but some do. Let them know you're available if they want to talk.
- Ask them what they need. They may also appreciate if you ask them what the most helpful things to say are.
- Provide extra outreach to your male friends. Infertility is not a woman's-centric issue; your male friends are most likely grieving silently. Don't push, but let them know you're available.
- When appropriate, encourage therapy. If you feel your friend could benefit from talking to a professional to handle his or her grief, suggest therapy gently. If you go to therapy regularly, or ever have, share your personal story.
- Support their decision to stop treatment. No couple can endure infertility treatments forever. At some point, they will stop. This is an agonizing decision to make, and it involves even more grief.
- Remember them on Mother's and Father's Day. With all of the activity on Mother's Day and Father's Day, people tend to forget about those who cannot become mothers and fathers. Remember your infertile friends on these days; they will appreciate knowing that you haven't forgotten them.
- Attend difficult appointments with them. You can offer to stay in the waiting room or come into the appointment with them. But the offer lets them know how committed you are to supporting them.
- Watch their older kids. Attending appointments may be difficult if they have older kids at home.
- Offer to be an exercise buddy. Sometimes losing weight is necessary to make treatments more effective. If you know they are trying to lose weight, you could offer to join them because it would help you achieve your personal fitness goals as well.
- Let them know about your pregnancy. But deliver the news in a way that lets them handle their initial reaction privately -- email is best.
Not To Say:
- Don't tell them to relax. Comments such as "just relax" create even more stress for the infertile couple, particularly the woman. The woman feels like she is doing something wrong when, in fact, there is a good chance that there is a physical problem preventing her from becoming pregnant.
- Don't minimize the problem. Failure to conceive a baby is a very painful journey. Comments like, "Just enjoy being able to sleep late... travel... etc.," do not offer comfort. Instead, these comments make infertile people feel like you are minimizing their pain.
- Don't say there are worse things that could happen. Who is the final authority on what is the "worst" thing that could happen to someone? Different people react to different life experiences in different ways.
- Don't say they are not meant to be parents. "One of the cruelest things anyone ever said to me is, 'Maybe God doesn't intend for you to be a mother.'" Infertility is a medical condition, not a punishment from God or Mother Nature.
- Don't ask why they are not trying IVF. Because most insurance plans do not cover IVF treatment, many are unable to pay for the out-of-pocket expenses. Infertility stress is physical, emotional, and financial.
- Don't push adoption or another solution. So often infertile couples are asked, "Why don't you just adopt?" The couple needs to work through many issues before they will be ready to make an adoption decision or chose another family building option.
- Don't say, "You're young, you have plenty of time to get pregnant." Know the facts. It's recommended that women under 35 see a fertility specialist after being unable to conceive for one year. Being young increases your chance of fertility treatments working, but it does not guarantee success.
- Don't gossip about your friend's condition. For some, infertility treatments are a very private matter, which is why you should respect your friend's privacy.
- Don't be crude. Don't make crude jokes about your friend's vulnerable position. Crude comments like, "I'll donate the sperm" or "Make sure the doctor uses your sperm for the insemination" are not funny, and they only irritate your friends.
- Don't complain about your pregnancy. For many facing infertility, it can be hard to be around other women who are pregnant. Seeing your belly grow is a constant reminder of what your infertile friend cannot have. Not complaining can make things a little easier for your friend.
- Don't question their sadness about being unable to conceive a second child. Having one child does not mean a couple feels they have completed their family. Also, a couple may have had their first child naturally and easily but are now experiencing secondary infertility -- infertility that comes after you've already had a child.
- Don't ask whose "fault" it is. Male or female factor. Just because a friend has told you he or she is experiencing infertility as a couple, does not mean he or she wants to discuss the details.
- On the other hand, don't assume the infertility is female factor. 1/3 of infertility is female factor, 1/3 is male factor, and 1/3 is unexplained.
What is infertility?
Infertility is a disease of the reproductive system. One third (30 percent) of infertility can be attributed to male factors, and about one third (30 percent) can be attributed to female factors. In about 20 percent of cases infertility is unexplained, and the remaining 10 percent of infertility is caused by a combination of problems in both partners.
Infertility is defined as the inability to conceive or carry a pregnancy to term after 12 months of trying to conceive. If you are over the age of 35, the time of trying to conceive is reduced to 6 months. It is important to see a specialist, or a reproductive endocrinologist, or in some cases your OB/GYN or urologist for a complete fertility work-up and diagnosis.
Join the movement! Learn more about National Infertility Awareness Week.