Boy meets girl. Boy marries girl. Boy and girl start a family. For many people, this is how they expect their lives will be -- or at least some version of this scenario -- but for a lot of couples, this just isn't reality.
Infertility is an incredibly common problem and according to the CDC, more than 7.3 million women have sought treatment for the condition, which is defined as the inability to get pregnant after six to 12 months of trying to conceive (TTC). This number averages to 1 in 8 women who are battling infertility every day, making the issue one that affects a significant portion of the population, as well as one that touches the lives of family members, friends and others close to those affected.
Couples battling infertility mourn the loss of the child they've not had the chance to know. They may never know if their baby will have mommy's smile or daddy's ears. Every month, the hope that they might meet their baby creeps into their hearts. That this time will be different. No matter how many times they've heard it or how much they've prepared, every time they hear the bad news their feelings of loss are renewed.
It's during these times of grief that TTC couples are most vulnerable and need emotional support from their friends and families. But many of my patients still find infertility hard to talk about, both for those who are TTC and those who would like to offer their support. In many cases, friends and family of those struggling with infertility try to be supportive, but say things that are unknowingly insensitive.
Here are what we find to be the four most common insensitive things said to TTC couples that should be avoided:
1. "Everything happens for a reason."
Suggesting someone's infertility is part of "the grand plan" or that "everything happens for a reason" will only reinforce negative feelings they may already have, making them feel even worse.
2. "You know a friend of mine was trying, then poof!"
Try not to tell stories of someone else who was TTC who then suddenly got pregnant. When a TTC person or couple hears these anecdotes, the sting of "what's wrong with me?" hurts even more.
3. "Have you tried...?"
More than likely, if someone is struggling with infertility, they've considered a long list of options. Assuming what they have or have not considered will make you seem more disconnected than you think.
4. "It's not that big of a deal. Kids are a hassle anyway."
Don't minimize your friend's crisis. Joking about how you wish you had an infertility problem because you're always pregnant or suggesting they'll change their mind if they babysat your own children can be insulting.
5. "When is the next baby coming?"
For couples who are secretly trying to conceive, this can be a painful question. Secondary infertility, which is defined as the inability to conceive a child or to carry a pregnancy to term following the birth of one or more biological children, can be difficult. Those struggling with this issue may be desperately trying to grow their family and feel uncomfortable going in details about why they haven't had more children.
Being there for a TTC friend is all about communication. Here are four great things you can say to show your support:
1. "I care."
Telling someone how you feel is the most direct way to show them you care. When TTC couples find out they are not able to conceive, they grieve similarly to those who have lost a loved one. Offer them the same support you'd give a friend who is in mourning.
2. "Can you tell me about...?"
Ask questions about the process. Become knowledgeable about the options they've considered without any assumptions. This will show your friend that you're just as invested in this as they are.
3. "I support your decision no matter what."
For TTC couples, uncertainty is an unfortunate part of the process. They often question their own judgment and having a strong support system will keep them from feeling overwhelmed.
4. "You're more brave than you realize."
Acknowledge how brave they are for facing this challenge head on. TTC couples have a lot of things to be afraid of, so remind them you're in their corner every step of the way.
If you know someone who is struggling with infertility, there are a number of non-profit organizations dedicated to providing additional support and resources. One such organization, The American Fertility Association, provides hopeful parents with services and educational materials free of charge to help grow their families.
It can take years for a couple or family to find the best solution to their TTC crisis and your loved ones will need all the emotional encouragement and support they can get. Knowing what to say during this time might turn out to be just what the doctor ordered.
If there comes a time when you just can't find the words, give them a hug. This small gesture can have the biggest impact.
Dr. Bohn, Dr. Hill and Dr. Park are chief medical consultants for Insight Pharmaceuticals, parent company of e.p.t. The advice and opinions expressed in this article are their own.
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