How to Support a loved one through their fertility journey.

Dear Family or Friend of a Fertility Warrior (Part 1)

If you are reading this, it means that you care enough to educate yourself on how to support someone you love. Thank you for attempting to cross these murky, unfamiliar waters. I know that you would wish a baby into existence for them, if it were possible. I know your heart literally breaks for them.

I have written this in partnership with NISIG (National Infertility Support and Information Group) to help you cross these waters and provide a situation by situation guide to supporting those you love.  NISIG recently carried out a survey asking their members to tell them about comments that they found difficult to handle.

Do, remember that stressful times can make the cracks of existing family issues larger so seek professional help early and address those cracks if they appear.

There is so much to tell you that we have split this article into two parts to make it easier for you to process and digest.

Situation 1 You notice something is off/ you are curious about baby plans

What to say/ doWhat not to say/ do – all quotes in this column are from a survey carried out by @NISIG
NOTHING! Absolutely nothing!  

Look, we have all done it, made the joke to someone about getting pregnant. It is the hardest thing to hear when you are suffering in silence. Its like a kick in the stomach and then you must laugh, act like it’s funny and manage the emotions that come flying up to the surface.  

There is a huge amount of shame involved in not being able to do what seems to be the simplest and easiest thing to do for much of the world around you, the badly timed comments and questions just add to that shame.  

Infertility is a medical, financial and emotional crisis. We face a loss month, after month. Would you be able to “just relax”?  

Your reaction now will pave the way for how much your loved one tells you in the future. Be their rock – solid, strong and quiet (rocks don’t say much!)
“Please don’t talk to me about being tired, you’ve a great life with no kids.”

“You’ve only yourself to look after.”  
“Have had people ask am I pregnant when I’m bloated from

“Why haven’t you started having kids yet? Would you not get a move on, you’d want to start!”  

“Would you not just get pregnant, go off on maternity leave to get a break from work?”  
“Would you ever get your finger out and start having babies?” (a response to another holiday)

“Are you not leaving it a bit late? Are you too focused on your career?”  

You’re lucky you don’t have kids; they just stress you out.”  

“How come you never had kids? Did you not want them?”  

“You have such a big house, such a pity you have not filled it with children.”  

“Mother in law gave me baby stuff and said I’m hoping you’ll need them soon.”   “Are you not going to give your partner a baby?”

Situation 2 Your loved one tells you their difficult news.

What to say/ doWhat not to say/ do
It’s hard to say that you are struggling to get pregnant, had a miscarriage or are having IVF out loud. Saying it out loud makes it more of a reality.  

If you don’t know what to say to someone who tells you this news, say nothing.

Own it and say it. “I don’t know the right thing to say. I don’t want to say the wrong thing. Please tell me what you need or what I can do. Until then I am here to listen”.  

The best thing you do for your loved one is learn to sit with your discomfort and the not knowing.

Take a breath. Listen. Empathise and do not sympathise. Empathy is the ability to understand other people’s feelings as if we were having them ourselves. Sympathy means feeling sorrowful about their news.  

Become informed, educate yourself and don’t talk in myths. Telling me about the miracle you heard about in a magazine/ from a friend does not help. It’s a miracle, that’s why it’s being talked about.  

My advice is the same as for situation 1. Be the rock and ask what your loved one needs from you.
“It’ll happen” – If I hear that one more time!  

Don’t trivialise it “I’d give you one of mine!”  

Don’t tell me to relax.   “Stop stressing about it and it will happen.”  

“Just wait it will happen naturally like it did for my cousins’ friends’ neighbour’s sister!”  

“I cannot imagine my life or marriage without my children.”  

“You’re still young, you have plenty of time.”  

“My husband just has to look at me and I get pregnant.”  

“If you just lose weight, you’ll be fine.” – PCOS says no!  

My nana constantly saying, “just let him have his fun and it’ll happen.”

Situation 3 Going deeper

What to say/ doWhat not to say/ do
Fertility struggles can be likened to grief. The grief however is reoccurring; therefore, it is hard to move forwards and is like living in limbo where life is on hold.  

Do you have children? Then do this exercise. Imagine you don’t have them (a horrible ask, I’m sorry). What would you do, how would you feel in your quest to get those very kids? Now use that knowledge to empathise with your loved one.  

Infertile couples are imagining real kids, in real situations.  Every month we are not pregnant, every failed IVF attempt, every miscarriage is like losing a real child, not an imaginary one.  

Boost my self-esteem, this struggle can make me feel worthless.   Keep an eye on your loved one’s mental health. Gently suggest seeing a counsellor and find opportunities to practise self-care together.
Please, please don’t do the sad eyes when you sidle up to me at the water cooler/ family gathering as you say “well, any news?”  

Don’t turn me into a piece of gossip.  

Don’t point out all the amazing things I can do kiddie free. My life is on hold.  

“Would you not just go on a holiday and relax, that worked for my friend.” – many couples can’t afford a thing outside of essentials. IVF is a very expensive pursuit.  

I hope part one was a good introduction on how to support your loved ones through this very difficult time. In part two we go deeper, helping you to navigate the even more challenging areas of treatment, miscarriage, and secondary infertility.

Don’t hesitate to reach out to NISIG (National Infertility Support and Information Group) or StephBe (Instagram, Facebook, Linkedin), we are always happy to advise and support. Together is better.

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