I went through infertility before I became a mother. Infertility is often a profound rollercoaster of hope, grief, loneliness and helplessness that overwhelms many who are struggling to have children.
If you know a friend or family member struggling – chances are you do as 1 in 6 couples in Canada face infertility – you might be wondering how you can show your support. I have come up with 8 tips that I found especially helpful during this difficult time:
- Offer to be a listening ear by asking an open question like, “How are you doing?” This way your friend can decide if she would like to share her feelings or if she would rather talk about other things.
- Let yourself off the hook by not offering advice. (“If it were me, I would never do IVF. I would just adopt!”) No one can really say what they would do in a particular situation unless they’ve actually been in it.
- Avoid offering anecdotes meant to cheer your friend up. Try not to say things like “It’s for the best,” “Relax, it’s just stress,” or even worse, jokes about offering your kids/eggs/sperm (I’ve heard it all!). You wouldn’t say things like this if someone lost a loved one. Your friend’s grief is real.
- Take your friend out on a fun date. This was the best thing a few of my friends did for me. One took me to dinner and a movie. Another came to my house and taught me how to bake. It was exactly the soul-replenishment I needed at the time.
- If you are close, offer to come to some appointments. My husband wasn’t always able to attend (there were literally hundreds of appointments) and having a support person there can make all the difference.
- Do continue to let them be your friend. I appreciated hearing about my friends’ lives, including their burdens. I was so wrapped up in my own that it was a relief to focus about something else. It gave me perspective. Of course you can talk about your kids, but it was nice when my friends talked about other things too.
- Continue to invite your friend to your baby showers, kids’ birthday parties and baptisms as you normally would. Let them know in an email that you understand if they are not able to come, and be understanding if they need to leave early.
- Announcing your own pregnancy: this is always a tough one. Personally I found it helpful when I knew ahead of time that someone was trying to get pregnant. Once they got pregnant, being told early and especially in private was far more preferable than me guessing or having to hide my feelings in a large group announcement. A text or a quick phone call with the news (when not at work!) gave me the chance to process in private. Please understand that first and foremost I was always happy for my friends’ good news (no one would wish infertility on their worst enemy) but I had my own very powerful feelings of grief, and yes, jealousy that I did not want others to see. As my friends’ pregnancy progressed, it was also helpful when they lowered their excitement around me, and avoided complaining about pregnancy discomforts.
Infertility “ends” in one of three ways: a biological child, an adopted child (or fostering) or living childfree. The journey is different for everyone, and the support your friend needs may be different too; ask them.
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For parenting information or to speak with a public health nurse (every Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) simply dial 311 or 905-825-6000.