Good advice for supporting a friend with infertility
Melissa Stephens | 5th Aug 2016
Infertility and fertility treatment is understandably a very sensitive area. In order that we can all show more understanding to women and couples that are having difficulties conceiving, the following advice can be invaluable.
How a couple having difficulties conceiving is feeling
When someone you know is having difficulties conceiving, and in particular when they’re going through fertility treatment, it can feel like they’re on an emotional rollercoaster.
Women and couples having difficulties conceiving are likely to be feeling sad, frustrated and sometimes angry. Fertility issues can have a huge impact on self-esteem and many experience feelings of guilt and shame at being unable to easily achieve something that they expected to be able to do naturally.
It can also be an isolating time particularly if friends and family are at the same life stage and falling pregnant.
What not to say to a couple coping with infertility
Common phrases that we hear people say, almost always innocently enough, that can actually be quite hurtful to the people involved:
So, when are you having kids?
Having a baby is a very private and personal event and the couple may not want to discuss it publicly with others, particularly if they are having difficulties. If in doubt, its best to avoid asking these sorts of questions, as harmless as your intentions may be.
Just relax and it will happen / Go on a holiday
The reality is that most couples only have 12 chances of falling pregnant each year, so ‘just relaxing’ is not going to help them have a baby. Sex at the right time of the month is essential for conception, which is why some women keep a close track of their likely ovulation date. Although a holiday might be fun, it’s not going to help them become pregnant any more than frequent sex and good timing.
Have you tried “insert old wives tale”?
Couples having trouble conceiving have often done a lot of research on anything and everything that may help them fall pregnant. Old wives tales are also mostly widely unproven and of little help.
You have to think positive!
None of us can be positive all the time, and if couples have experienced a lot of disappointment while trying to fall pregnant they may find it harder and harder to be hopeful. Positive thinking is not going to help them get pregnant but worrying about any negativity they are feeling only adds to the overall emotional load.
Have you tried IVF?
While IVF treatment is behind 1 in 23 births in Australia, it is not always successful and often requires more than one cycle before you fall pregnant. This creates its own emotional rollercoaster combined with the physical discomfort and financial pressure. If they are already undergoing IVF treatment, they may also be worried that it will be unsuccessful and the more people who know, the more people they have to tell at the end if it doesn’t work.
What about adoption?
The reality is adoption is a very lengthy and difficult process and there are not many adoptions each year in Australia. This sort of question also minimises and dismisses how much the couple may want to have their own genetic child.
You’re young it will be ok!
The reality is you don’t know what the outcome will be and you probably don’t know their exact situation and medical history. Again, it may be an innocent comment but best to avoid these sorts of statements.
How best to communicate with a couple that’s having difficulties starting a family
If you are talking to a woman or couple that’s having difficulties having a baby, recognise that the person you’re talking to may be grieving. Unthoughtful comments may minimise or even dismiss the experience that they are going through. You are better to say nothing at all, or acknowledge that there is nothing that you can say, than to make light of what can be a very painful situation.
If you do have a friend or relative trying to cope with infertility or fertility treatment, try to follow this advice from expert counsellors:
- Be open to communication and truly listen when they feel like talking – listening means not giving advice or judging their decisions. Allow them to raise and change the subject.
- Always think before you speak. They are in pain. If you realise you may have made a tactless remark, apologise and keep listening. Be honest, just tell them you don’t know what to say.
- Sense when they need to be involved in an activity that distracts them or when they need to have a heart-to-heart. Respect their wishes and be mindful of particularly painful occasions such as pregnancy announcements, christenings and mother’s day.
- Keep information confidential. Infertility is a very private matter. If they trust you enough to share, do not betray this trust.
- Remember what they need may change over time and be sensitive and reactive to this.
Some fertility clinics offer free counselling not only for patients but for their family and friends. If you feel like you need extra support, contact the counselling team at your local fertility clinic.