It wasn’t until I was pregnant with my first baby that I suddenly became aware of just how many women around me were facing infertility. It was hard to know what to say about my own pregnancy and how to support a friend through her own challenging times because, while we both had babies on the brain, it was with very different emotions. In fact, since one in eight couples in the U.S. needs some form of help conceiving, according to RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association, there’s a good chance that you might find yourself in a similar situation with one of your BFFs. Here are some tips that may help.
Take the issue seriously.
“Infertility can be an uncomfortable topic, so people often try to minimize the problem when talking to friends with infertility,” says Barbara Collura, President and CEO of RESOLVE. Try to avoid making a comment such as “Just relax,” as it can suggest that you aren’t giving the situation the degree of attention that it deserves. “The woman often feels that she has somehow created this situation, when, in fact, infertility is a disease that affects women and men equally and has many causes,” Collura explains.
Don’t complain about your own pregnancy.
Your blossoming belly can be a painful sight to a woman who’s been unable to conceive, but there are ways that you can make it easier. “The number one rule is: Don’t complain about your pregnancy. You have every right to vent about the discomforts to anyone else in your life, but don’t put your infertile friend in the position of comforting you,” Collura says. Of course, if she specifically asks how your pregnancy is going, or expresses concern because you seem worn out, tell her the truth — but don’t use her as a sounding board for your random pregnancy gripes. Remember: Your infertile friend would give anything to experience the discomforts you are enduring because those discomforts come from a baby growing inside of you.
Offering to listen to a friend talking through her struggles can be incredibly meaningful, as can understanding if she needs to pass on a baby shower or other baby-centric events. It can be all too easy to simply keep your distance when things become difficult, but consider how you’d feel if the situation were reversed. Continuing to include these friends in your life will make it much easier to sustain the relationship in the future — when you might be the one who needs someone to lean on.
Back her up.
“The medical protocol for infertility is between a doctor and a patient, and getting in the middle of your friend’s treatment is not a wise decision,” Collura says. “However, infertility medical treatments can be stressful, and standing by your friend with emotional support during this time is critical,” she explains. The path that your friend chooses to become a parent, whether it’s aggressive fertility treatments, surrogacy, or adoption, is her decision to make. “The best thing you can do is let your infertile friends know that you care. Send them cards and let them cry on your shoulder,” Collura says. Often just knowing they have someone to turn to for comfort can help to make the situation a lot easier.