From UIRC Therapist, Annie Hamilton
Approximately 1 in 8 couples struggle with infertility (RESOLVE, 2019), although some studies show that this number could be higher. With infertility rates going up, it is more likely than not that you know someone who is struggling with infertility (or several people). The stress and grief of infertility can be difficult to understand when you haven’t personally been through it, making it hard to know what to say or how to support these friends or family members. To put things into perspective, Alice Domar, Ph.D has conducted studies that show a woman going through fertility treatments experiences stress levels similar to those of a cancer patient. Keep reading to know what NOT to say and what you can do instead to be a positive support system.
What NOT to say to your friend or family member struggling with family building…
“Just Relax…” or “Don’t Worry…”
You may mean well, but to a person trying to start their family, hearing this statement feels as though you are not taking them seriously. While there is some connection between fertility and stress, it is important to understand that infertility is a medical issue and not something that can go away by relaxing more. Besides, has anyone ever been able to stress less because someone told them to?
Any sentence beginning with “At least...”
“At least you can sleep through the night,” “At least you have less Christmas presents to buy!” Any sentence beginning with “At least” can be extremely invalidating and is better left unsaid.
“It will happen when it’s supposed to.”
This statement isn’t very comforting and similar to the “At least” statement, it can feel unsupportive and invalidating.
“Have you tried (fill in the blank)?”
Usually, a person who opens up about their infertility isn’t asking for advice. Chances are, they’ve already received a lot of unhelpful advice from others and more advice can make the couple feel more stressed.
“Maybe you just aren’t meant to be parents.”
Ouch! Infertility is already a painful experience that can fill a person with intense amounts of shame (ex. “Why can’t we have a baby? Am I a bad person? What’s wrong with me?”), this statement just confirms to the person that something IS wrong with them.
“Why don’t you just adopt?”
While adoption is a great option and a huge blessing in many peoples’ lives, it’s also a stressful process and gets expensive (anywhere from $5,000 up to $60,000!). In addition, working through the grief of not having a biological child is not an easy task.
“Do you want my kids?”
Don’t be surprised if they answer, “yes.”
“Whose fault is it?”
Ouch, again. This question is extremely intrusive and can be very hurtful. Depending on the couple’s situation, this can bring up feelings of shame.
“‘So and so’ had infertility and then had (insert number here) kids!”
We know you are trying to be encouraging, but like many of the other comments, it makes one’s stress feel invalidated.
So, what should you say? Luckily, there are just three simple phrases to remember that work in almost every situation.
“That sounds (pick a word… ‘frustrating,’ ‘stressful,’ ‘difficult’).”
Simply saying this can help a person feel so validated and like someone is listening to them. You are letting them know their feelings are valid and being heard. To someone struggling with infertility, having this support is so comforting. Even if you don’t understand how it feels to struggle with family building, you can let them know you care with this simple statement.
“What can I do to be helpful/supportive?”
This can mean a lot to a couple because you are asking for their input on what they need, and not trying to give unsolicited advice. Many times they won’t know what you can do, but having someone ask can make all the difference.
“You’re not alone, I’m here whenever you need someone to listen.”
Infertility can be one of the most lonely, isolating journeys a person goes through. Knowing there are those who love and support them no matter what goes a long way! And having someone who will just listen to their fears and frustrations brings the loneliness down a notch.
Thanks for taking time to read through these, we hope these suggestions are helpful to you and your loved ones.