This week marks National Infertility Awareness Week (NIAW). If you don't know about it, that's ok, but consider this your official alert and opportunity to think about the people in your life -- family, friends, neighbors -- who might be struggling with infertility every single day. Chances are you know someone as more than seven million people or one in every eight couples in the US of childbearing age experience infertility.
This year's theme for NIAW, is #StartAsking. The support and advocacy group RESOLVE has suggestions about how you can help support and advocate for those struggling with infertility, and #StartAsking your employer, legislator and insurance company if they will consider adding fertility benefits. ARC Fertility has developed specific resources encouraging those struggling with infertility to #StartAsking about how they will #AffordIVF.
Despite the prevalence of infertility, most of us are ill-prepared to provide the support our loved ones may need during this painful time. Dealing with infertility may be isolating and those having trouble trying to conceive may want to express how they're feeling but find that issues of culture, religion and privacy -- theirs and others -- make sharing a challenge.
Social media has helped move issues such as infertility out of the shadows along with the willingness of some celebrities to share their own struggles of trying to have a baby. While the latter may be a conversation starter, what can you do if someone you know is having ongoing trouble trying to get pregnant?
As RESOLVE points out -- dealing with infertility may take years and your support over time is critical. "Most people don't know what to say, so they wind up saying the wrong thing, which only makes the journey so much harder for their loved ones. Knowing what not to say is half of the battle to providing support."
As with any life crisis, saying the wrong thing can make someone feel worse. So, think carefully about what you want to say and how best to express it. A couple of examples from RESOLVE of what not to say cover the etiquette:
Don't Tell Them to Relax
While everyone knows someone who got pregnant after they relaxed, most infertility specialists will not treat a couple for infertility until they have tried to become pregnant for a year. And, relaxation does not cure medical infertility.
Don't Minimize the Problem
Suggesting that without children they can sleep late and travel is not a comfort to couples who want to have a family but have been unable to conceive.
Don't Complain About Your Pregnancy
Women dealing with infertility must find a way to deal with pregnant friends, family and neighbors but complaining about the challenges of being pregnant simply makes a painful problem worse.
To be supportive, trying being informed about what your friend or family member may be going through. RESOLVE describes the experience of couples facing infertility as a death with grief a constant for every month they don't get pregnant. And, once infertility treatments begin there are more issues to face from tests and treatment to cost. You can look online for information geared to patients and family members, including support groups.
When our family and friends face problems, we may want to help solve them. Unless you happen to be a fertility specialist, the most helpful role you can play is to be supportive and to listen. RESOLVE offers a few suggestions:
Let Them Know That You Care
Let those facing infertility know you care and that they are not going through this painful journey on their own. Offer the same comfort and support as you would to someone who has lost a loved one -- make a phone call or visit, let them talk or cry, or send a card.
Remember Them on Mother's Day
It's hard to escape all the attention paid to Mother's Day but chances are your friend who wants to be a mom but has been unable to get pregnant feels left out and forgotten. Send a card to let her know you are thinking of her.
Support Their Decision to Stop Treatments
If a couple decides to stop fertility treatment -- an incredibly painful decision to make -- support them. Once they've reached a resolution to adopt or foster or live without children, respect their decision. Don't suggest they keep trying.
Ask your friends or family members how you can best support them as they cope with infertility. Respect their privacy and realize they may want to talk but not to share every detail of what they're going through. And, make sure that when you have the opportunity to talk that you are in a private setting and have time.
For more information and insight about dealing with infertility, check out the RESOLVE resources that offer advice, including how infertility may affect you as a family member. That's a first step in being supportive this week and every week of the year for as long as it takes.