Dealing with a friend's infertility: What to say

If you know someone who is dealing with infertility, it can be difficult to know what to say to comfort her. Here's a few ideas you might use to provide some small piece of comfort that could help dull the ache she feels.

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  • There are a wide variety of trials that people go through in this life — some of them more painful than others. Some people experience difficulty in finding a spouse, others are afflicted with a life-altering illness, others deal with the death of a loved one at a young age. Of all these trials, the trial of infertility is one that is often misunderstood.

  • With infertility, each month that passes without the appearance of that second pink line on the pregnancy test represents a death of sorts. It is the death of hopes, dreams and the possibility of some future baby who could have mommy’s eyes and daddy’s nose. Infertility is a trial with its own special kind of pain. If you know someone who is dealing with this trial, it can be difficult to know what to say to comfort them. In truth, there is no perfect piece of advice or words of wisdom that will ever take their pain away. But the following are a few ideas you might offer to provide some small piece of comfort that could help dull the ache.

  • Wait until they’re ready

  • If you know your friend is having trouble conceiving, don’t bring up the subject until she or he does first. You might guess that there is a problem when your friend starts avoiding child-related activities, becomes reticent when you talk about babies or pregnancy or seems less interested in topics or pursuits she once loved. However, no matter how sure you are that your friend might be suffering from a fertility problem, don’t try to broach the topic before she is ready to talk about it. She'll let you know by starting the conversation herself.

  • Don’t question another's methods

  • If your friend decides to open up to you about such a sensitive subject, you should not immediately start prying into all the ways she's attempted to conceive. The process is different for every couple. Some couples will start fertility treatments early in their quest to have children, others might not have the finances to ever do so. In the long run, there are only three options for people who struggle to conceive: They eventually do have a baby, they stop trying and remain childless or they pursue other routes to become parents like adoption or becoming foster parents.

  • Avoid complaining about your own pregnancy

  • It’s hard enough for your friend to watch you going through pregnancy, it’s even worse for her to hear you complain about it. One woman who experienced what it was like to be infertile said when she heard her friends complaining about being nauseous, she was thinking, “I’d gladly throw up for nine straight months if it meant I could have a baby.” Or when her friends talked about all the weight they’d gained, she'd think, “I would cut off my arm if I could be in your shoes.” So before you start talking about stretch marks or labor pains, think about who you’re talking to and what they might be feeling.

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  • Don’t downplay parenthood

  • Some people might think the best way to comfort an infertile friend is to tell her she's better off, children take too much time and money anyway and parenthood isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. She will probably just think you don’t appreciate parenthood because you already have it. It will engender the same feelings in her that are brought on when a pregnant woman complains about her pregnancy: bitterness, disappointment and jealousy.

  • Remember your friend on Mother’s Day

  • Mother’s Day is a joyous occasion for those who are lucky enough to conceive. But for others, it is a painful reminder of what they might never have. So, think of an infertile friend on Mother’s Day. Give her a call or send her a letter so she knows she's not forgotten.

  • The most important thing you can do for a friend who is experiencing infertility is to offer a listening ear or a shoulder to cry on. Let her grieve for the children that might never be without restraint. She may not need you to say anything at all — just be there for her during this, one of the most difficult challenges anyone can face.

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Katie Nielsen received her bachelor's in English with an emphasis in technical writing. She has taught English and is a published writer.

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