(Honest) Mistakes Made by Friends and Family of Fertility Patients
June is World Infertility Awareness Month. It’s the perfect time for friends and family of the fertility community to join together in support of the people in their lives who are struggling to conceive. Infertility affects one in eight couples in the United States, which surprises many people, including those who think they do not know anyone who is infertile, although statistics say otherwise. Infertility is a deeply private issue for many, so it’s understandable that you may not know another person’s difficulties or only know the basics.
Frequently, despite best efforts, many family members and friends of those who are infertile say or do things that are not supportive or helpful. Of course, this isn’t for lack of trying – most people want to help and encourage those who are struggling. Unfortunately, our most common go-to advice or questions are often hurtful, counterproductive, and lacking in infertility etiquette. Here are a few examples of common conversations that may intend to help an infertile individual, but are actually discouraging:
Infertile friend of family member:
“We’ve decided to try IVF. I think this is our best chance to have a baby.”
Unhelpful, but common responses:
“Isn’t that expensive? How are you paying for it?”
“My cousin did IVF and she says you have to go to her doctor if you want to get pregnant.”
“Can’t you just adopt instead?”
“But you already have one kid, do you really need another?”
These questions or bits of advice may seem innocent, and likely are, but they are also inadvertently hurtful. Deciding to undergo fertility treatment is a big decision for many couples and individuals, requiring a great deal of effort, and to have this effort questioned or undercut is often painful. Imagine if you had recently made a tough decision about your private life and whenever you talked about it, someone questioned your logic or offered second-hand advice – how would it make you feel?
We know that you only want to be there for the person in your life who is going through a difficult time, but it may take some adjusting to understand how to approach infertility. Infertility is an unusual issue in that although many couples experience it, it often remains a private matter. This can create a period of pain and isolation between an infertile person and his or her friends and family. The key is to try to place yourself in an infertile person’s shoes – how would this question make me feel? Would I want to hear advice when I’m upset or frustrated? Is this really the best thing to say now?
Practicing empathy and being a good listener is a great start. Sometimes your friend or family member will only need time to vent – they’ll ask for help or advice when they are ready.