Today marks the first day of Infertility Awareness Week. I know there are lots of days/weeks/months dedicated to various causes, but this infertility is very dear to my heart, and very much in need of some awareness. I know we have all heard the stats: nearly 1 in 6 couples suffer from infertility, yet for some reason it is still a very taboo subject (and certainly not good dinner conversation). So what is the problem? Are these couples suffering in silence because they do not want people to know, or are they suffering in silence because they know their friends and/or family may not understand? My guess, (and my experience) is that the latter is true. But, in defense of those friends and family members, it IS really hard to understand infertility unless you have been there yourself.
This is what Infertility Awareness Week is all about: shedding light on the subject so that even if you have not walked the infertility walk, you can talk the infertility talk and be a better friend to someone who could really use one. Below is a list of information I wish my friends had known when I was going through infertility. I hope this serves as a tool or a guide for anyone who knows someone dealing with this diagnosis. May you be the reason they finally come out and tell their story; may you be the reason this topic becomes a little less off limits.
1. Be an open ear: The first thing your friend will need is someone to listen to them. Chances are they have bottled up some pretty heavy stuff that will need to be unloaded on the first willing participant. I can not tell you how happy I was when someone would JUST LISTEN; no advice, no anecdotal evidence, just an open ear. Which coincidentally brings us to our next piece of information:
2. Lose the advice: Whenever I would tell someone what my husband and I were going through, the first words out of their mouth was a piece of advice. “You just need to relax” or “you need to go on vacation” were the most common, (and if I was lucky I would get some advice on sexual positions to try – eek!). None of this advice is helpful. In fact, all it does is make one feel as though they are at fault for their struggles. The truth is, they probably have a real physical reason why conception has been a challenge so the advice of “legs up the wall” for 45 minutes after sex is probably not going to help a blocked tube. If you wish to give advice, make sure it is SOLID advice based on fact.
3. Remember them: On important days, such as mothers day and family day. These days can be extremely difficult for woman who are desperate to have a family. You may want to send along some flowers or even a bouquet of ovulation predictor kits (infertiles go through these like water). Chocolates are good too….preferably dairy free as chances are they have long ago cut dairy (along with many other things) out of their diet.
4. There is no such thing as JUST adopting: Don’t ever say this! While it may be a viable option, it is just that, an option. Just like every option, the pro’s and con’s need to be weighed before making a decision – adoption is not one to be taken lightly. Besides that, adoption is not easy either; it takes a lot of time, a lot of money and for many, a lot of heartache. It may also not be the way your friend had envisioned starting their family. They may choose this road, but if they do they will first need time to mourn the loss of a biological child – one that has their eyes, their sense of humor and their talents.
5. Practice Kind Pregnancy Announcements: I can not say this enough, surprise baby shower invitations and ultrasounds on facebook can be very hurtful. I am not saying you should not be happy for yourself or other pregnant friends and family members, but be responsible. Contact your infertile friend and let them know there is an invite in the mail or that a BIG announcement will be made at the next dinner party. They will be grateful to have someone soften the blow. For myself, this could have saved me from a lot of hours crying in random bathrooms.
6. Please don’t offer your children: PLEASE! We will take them. No matter how unruly you think your children are being that day, please do not offer them to your infertile friend. All you are really saying is, “Look what I have and you don’t”. Your infertile friend would give ANYTHING for what you have, and is probably in the process of doing so. In the same vein, do not offer your uterus or your husband’s sperm, unless you really mean it. You may also want to shy away from comments such as, “well, at least you can sleep in”. Like I said before, your infertile friend would give ANYTHING to wake up to someone calling her mama.
7. Try your best and don’t give up: To tell you the truth, being a friend to someone who is trying to conceive or going through infertility treatments is NOT easy. Somedays it may feel like you can’t do or say anything right; something that would cheer them up last week can make them burst into tears this week. This is because the ups and downs of infertility are ongoing: 2 weeks of trying, 2 weeks of hoping, followed by days of loss (on a never ending cycle.) If your infertile friend has become upset with you or has decided to build themselves a cave of solitude, just let them know that you will be there for them when they are ready to come out. Trust me, your efforts will not go unnoticed, and soon your friendship will fall back into place.
In a nutshell, what I am trying to say is be there for them, listen to them and when in doubt, ask them what they need in that moment. I wish things could be a little easier for people struggling with infertility as well as for their friends. However, like any other diagnosis or illness, it can be very hard on everyone involved. Right now, my hope is to spread some awareness around infertility and how to talk about it, so no one ever has to suffer in silence again.
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Very well said. I can’t tell you how much I just needed someone to listen and not offer any advice. Also offering their sperm/eggs/childern was just down right mean. On the flip side I can understand how hard it is for someone to understand what we infertiles go through each and every month when they themselves have (thankfully) never been there. Thank you for your wonderful article.
Thank you for the insight. I’m trying to be the best support I can for my sister.