Can you imagine what it would feel like if the sight of someone pushing a stroller suddenly made you feel angry, wistful, or depressed? If you’ve got a friend going through infertility—which can include frequent miscarriages or the inability to get pregnant—feelings like this are a daily struggle.
Couples who are experiencing infertility often go through extreme emotional ups and downs. Supporting a friend or family member who is going through infertility can be difficult if you haven’t gone through it yourself. Here is a quick primer on infertility facts and what you can do to support a friend or family member who is going through infertility.
Infertility Facts You Should Know
In the US, 1 in 8 couples experience infertility issues.
Infertility is medically defined as not being able to get pregnant after 12 months of unprotected sex (or after 6 months if you’re over 35), or being unable to carry a pregnancy through to a live birth.
In addition to the number of couples experiencing infertility issues, there are millions more who reach the mid-40s childless because of social infertility (not finding the right person to have a baby with, or being partnered with someone who doesn’t want children or cannot have them). These individuals, too, may be experiencing some of the emotional symptoms of infertility.
About 1/3 of infertility cases are related to the fertility of the male partner, 1/3 are related to the fertility of the female partner, and the remaining 1/3 are caused by a combination of factors or by unknown causes.
If a young couple (with both partners under the ages of 35) has not become pregnant after 1 year of having unprotected sex, it’s time to see a fertility specialist.
If a woman over 35 has not become pregnant after 6 months of having unprotected sex with her partner, it’s time to see a fertility specialist.
Having difficulty getting pregnant does not mean you are infertile. 98%-99% of couples who struggle with infertility at some point eventually have a baby, either with or without medical help.
Facing infertility is acutely stressful. Studies show that women dealing with infertility are just as likely to develop clinical depression as women who are going through cancer treatment.
Supporting Friends and Family
Knowing the basic facts about infertility can help you avoid some of the common mistakes people make when they’re trying to support friends with infertility. When talking with your friend or family member, keep the following do’s and don’ts in mind.
Do reach out to your friend. Show you’re thinking of her with an email, a card, or by meeting somewhere for lunch. She may need a good friend to talk to and help her remember interests and pursuits beyond her infertility treatments (which can feel life-consuming).
Don’t push her to make long-range plans. If you have a close friend who’s dealing with infertility, remember that his or her life is put on hold, to some extent, while undergoing fertility treatment. Pressuring them to make vacation plans six months out is insensitive, since they don’t know whether or not they’ll be expecting a baby at that point.
Do ask her how treatment is going. If your friend has opened up to you about infertility treatments she’s going through, be a good friend and ask how it’s going. Don’t pressure for more details than she wants to share, but be supportive and show you care.
Don’t complain about your pregnancy or children. This is one of the reasons couples going through infertility often have a hard time being around pregnant women and parents. Unless you really want to alienate yourself from friends going through infertility, don’t complain excessively about pregnancy symptoms or your toddler’s tantrums. Your friend is putting a huge amount of time, effort, and money on the line so she can become a mother. Don’t bash it.
Don’t compare your friend’s situation to someone else’s. Comparisons seldom help anyone, and there are so many complicating factors with infertility that bringing up someone else’s situation may just discourage your friend or make her situation feel worse.
Don’t try to solve the situation. Unless you’re involved in fertility research yourself at a top-rated medical clinic, you aren’t going to know of a groundbreaking treatment that her fertility doctor isn’t aware of. Please, don’t bring up holistic cures your friend’s friend used to get pregnant, or tell her that it might be time to accept childlessness or look into adoption. These are decisions your friend will be making with her partner. What you can do is provide much needed encouragement and support.
Do let your friend cry. Women going through infertility can be emotional and may burst into tears while at the mall shopping, at a restaurant, or while watching a movie that you don’t even find sentimental. Please understand that your friend is going through something very difficult and may need someone she can express her feelings to occasionally. Walking by a playground, hearing about a friend’s pregnancy, or seeing baby clothes at the mall may trigger some pent up emotions. Hand her a tissue, get her a glass of water, and help her through it.
Sometimes, supporting friends with infertility issues means listening, staying hopeful, and not making judgements. Remember that fertility treatments have progressed significantly over the years and only 1%-2% of couples who are trying to get pregnant end up being unable to conceive a baby. That means that chances are, your friend will end up getting pregnant eventually. Showing support and love during this stressful time will be much appreciated in the years ahead.