Inform Yourself Knowledge is power. The more you know about processes by doing your own research, the fewer questions and possible awkward moments you might have.
Don’t Tell Them to Relax Reverse psychology. The more you tell them to relax the more anxious a person maybe come. Did you know that there is recent research showing how little stress and anxiety impacts fertility? Nearly all fertility issues are caused by a biological or medical cause…. it is not “all in their head”.
Don’t Minimize the Problem You don’t always know the full story, because some details maybe difficult or embarrassing to share. To them, at that moment, it is all consuming. It has not only just a medical problem, but it has also likely become part of who they are. It can also cause couples a great deal of grief. They are grieving the loss of the possibility of a family (by traditional means), the body they thought they had, sense of self, and future dreams/goals. Not only is this an issue of infertility, but the rest of their lives maybe put on hold until they sort out what they are going to do to expand their family. This can push other goals/dreams aside, especially career goals for the woman who wants to be a mother. To them, this may be a major crisis.
Don’t Push Your Own Values or Religious Beliefs Just because you may or may not believe in particular medical interventions for fertility, adoption, or surrogate doesn’t mean that it isn’t the right choice for the couple. Often times it is difficult enough for the couple to come to terms with what is the right choice for each of them. Give them space to make the decision on their own. This doesn’t mean that your guidance or advice is not appreciated, but it maybe best to wait for the couple to come to you for guidance before offering it.
Don’t Say There Are Worse Things That Could Happen Although this maybe true, it may not feel like it at the time.
Respect Boundaries and Privacy of the Couple They are often there for self-preservation.
Don’t Say They Aren’t Meant to Be Parents This is a question the couple probably has already faced if they are looking at alternative ways to expand their family. They clearly feel that they are meant to be parents, and if they are willing to sacrifice what is required to pursue alternative options. Biological or medical factors that prevent individuals from becoming pregnant, do not mean a person would or would not be great parents.
Don’t Ask Why They Aren’t Trying IVF In-Vitro Fertilization is expensive, invasive and not guaranteed to work. This may not be the best option for the couple. There may also be other interventions that are less expensive and invasive that they can try first. Not everyone is a candidate for IVF. There may be medical reasons why IVF is not their best option.
Don’t use the term “Test Tube Baby” This is a label that is inappropriate to use. It is simply not PC.
Don’t Be Crude or Joke About It Some may use humor to cope or mask with what they are going through, but it may not be appropriate for you to joke back. It is a sensitive subject, and if you are not a part of it, you may not fully understand.
Don’t Complain About Your Pregnancy Ok, this one is tricky. I am not indicating that you should not talk about your pregnancy, talk about complications or medical issues, etc… I am simply saying you should use a little sensitivity. Individuals experiencing infertility would give anything for morning sickness, swollen ankles, or feeling that baby kick. Individuals experiencing infertility still want to share the joy of your pregnancy, but it maybe a little difficult for them to hear all the details.
Don’t Treat Them Like They Are Ignorant Chances are that if they find out they can’t get pregnant, they have taken the time to figure out how they can change it.
Don’t Gossip About Your Friend’s Condition Infertility is a sensitive topic and one that many don’t understand. Educate yourself. Think of fertility similar to sexual orientation. If a person confided in you to come out of the closet and explain their fertility issues, it is not appropriate to gossip.
Don’t Push Adoption (until the couple open to considering that option) There may be a time where adoption is something that the couple should consider, but it may not be their best option in the beginning (or ever). Some people feel that it is very important that their child is biologically theirs, they want to feel what it is like to be pregnant, and they want to see themselves in the features of their child.
Let Them Know That You Care Listen, empathize, and validate their feelings.
Remember Them on Mother’s Day & Father’s Day Ouch…. nothing like a reminder that you are not a mother or a father.
Support Their Decision to Stop Treatments or Try New Ones Everyone has a point where they feel like they have hit a wall. Support the couple when they have hit theirs and decide to move forward.
I personally know several couples who have struggled with infertility and have read of may others who chose to keep their struggles a secret from those closest to them until after they conceive, deliver, or adopt. Many of them have indicated that when they chose to disclose what they went through, their families and friends were hurt that they were not included earlier to provide emotional support. These individuals questioned why it was so hard for the couple to tell them about their struggles, and sometimes took it personally.
The couples who chose to keep their struggles a “secret” most often cited self-preservation as the reason why they decided not to tell. It was to hard themselves to cope when the fertility treatments did not work or an adoption fell through. To tell others about it made the heartache even greater. When you tell someone about your experience in some cases it feels more real.
The couple’s choice not to tell is not a selfish one. It is what they need to do to make it through this difficult time in their life. The couple oftentimes is struggling with grieving the idea of a natural pregnancy, trying to figure out “what is wrong with them”, and coming to terms with the processes that they must endure to accomplish their goal of a family. It is a very personal and often embarrassing time for the couple.
Be patient if you are supporting a family member or friend who is having difficulties with fertility. Their choice not to talk about what they are going through is not a negative reflection on how they feel about you. In most cases, it is actually harder to tell the people who you admire and respect the most.
Please read other myths about infertility that have been busted on Resolve’s website:
National Infertility Awareness Week® (NIAW): http://www.resolve.org/takecharge.*