They always talked about having children, yet three years of marriage brought no babies. She was pregnant last year, but it ended in loss. Infertility and other family building challenges are quite common yet hardly ever discussed. When these situations happen to someone you love, what can you do to help?
Finding the balance of respecting privacy, breaking isolation and showing support can be a challenge. The best place to start is asking yourself some questions and checking assumptions. Below are some questions to guide your support for someone who is facing infertility or other family building challenges.
1) What business is it of yours?
If you are not sure how to answer that question, stop right here. If you feel vested in this matter, ask yourself: How close am I to this person? Do I talk about personal issues with him or her? Do we have a level of trust and are we in a context that invites such a conversation?
Being a relative or acquaintance does not entitle you to intimacy or information. An appropriate relationship does. Do you have it? If you are still unsure, consider the next question.
2) What are you hoping to accomplish?
Curiosity is not a good enough reason because it is about your interest and not helping the other person. What do you know about her/his/their plans or attempts to have a baby? Do you have an opinion on what they ought to be doing? What is your motivation for getting involved?
You cannot make a baby for someone. You cannot force someone to give up, move-on, seek treatment, lighten up or keep trying. You likely cannot change his/her desire to have or not have a child either. People need to do this for themselves. Only your care for their well-being will be appreciated. And if your motivation is to share your opinion, don’t do it.
3) What can you offer?
You cannot force help upon anyone. Infertility can be isolating and painful and some people do not want to open up, impose on others, or appear weak. However, if you are truly prepared to give support and flexible about when, here are a few ideas you can offer:
- Distractions – processing the emotions and getting medical treatments are all necessary, but so is a full life. Offer to be there for the rest of their life too. Offer a movie, massage, lunch or whatever you would normally do. Keep offering it. Time together is invaluable.
- Be involved – you can help find support groups, learn together, ride to an appointment, etc.
- Learn on your own – Don’t know what IVF, ICSI, PGS vs PGD, PCOS, IUI or TTC mean? Look it up. Knowing what someone is going through shows them you care to understand their pain. Then you can spend more time focused on them rather than their diagnosis.
- Listen – without advice. Reflect on what you hear. Or offer a set time for them to unload. Just be present.
4) What can you do?
You can help someone feel less isolated. You can help them understand themselves. You can nurture a sense of wholeness while he or she is in the process. What could that look like?
- Email and text to stay connected. This gives them the space to answer when it is comfortable for them. If someone really is struggling with infertility, bringing up the topic may feel more like an ambush than support. Take advantage of technology when appropriate.
- Tell them you care. “I’m sorry this is happening to you. It makes me sad and angry at times. I hate that you are going through this. You don’t deserve this. I care about you no matter what happens and I just want you to know that.”
- If someone does share and says something like, “I don’t know what to do,” or asks what do to, resist answering with advice. Some of the hardest and most important work to be done when facing infertility is keeping priorities and boundaries. Each person has to set their own. How many months/treatments/dollars/medications are the limit for you? Is there only one way for you to become a parent ? Where in this process is your marriage, mental health, social life, finances, etc? Help someone find their own way, not yours.
- Follow up on all of those offers above when they let you!
The most important way to show respect comes down to knowing your place, putting their interests in focus, staying connected and supporting them as they find what is important for them. May you be a source of strength and may those facing infertility and other family building challenges be strengthened!