Have you or your loved one experienced infertility? If your answer is yes, I am sure you can validate that it is a daunting, overwhelming and scary process. So many couples experience both explained and unexplained infertility, and are left feeling hopeless, sad, and ashamed. http://www.resolve.org/about/fast-facts-about-fertility.html . Couples are quick to blame themselves thinking that they “should have” or “could have” done something differently in their past to prevent their current situation. They may internalize feelings of inadequacy, which can lead them to feel disconnected from one another and from their loved ones. Familial and cultural expectations may make it even more difficult for a couple to live with infertility. For example, they may get to a point where they dread family and friend gatherings because “well-meaning” or “well intentioned” family members might ask them when they are planning to have a baby.
Today, I want to talk to YOU well-intentioned family/friend member. You probably think that your family or friend would make an excellent parent. Perhaps you have referred to them as “naturals”…naturally “motherly” or naturally “fatherly” and thought that you were paying them a compliment. You have most likely witnessed the way they are with children and are just excited for them to take this next step in their lives. Or maybe you just want your friends/family to join in on your experience of being a parent so that you can bond over all the frustrations and joy that come with this role. While these remarks may come from a well-intentioned place, they can also cause a lot of stress for couples experiencing infertility. With that, here are some common statements to steer away from:
1. Stop stressing! It’s going to happen.
2. What’s meant to be will be. It’s in God’s hands.
3. This is happening for a reason.
4. Maybe you need to change your diet and exercise more. Do you eat organic?
5. Maybe you need to quit your job.
6. I know someone who got pregnant after they adopted a child!
7. I know someone who is going through the same and can’t get pregnant.
8. You waited too long! You should have started trying earlier.
9. You just need to go on vacation, relax and not think about it.
10. Have you considered adoption?
11. What is your next step? Has your partner’s fertility been tested?
12. Look on the bright side! It’s cheaper not to have kids! You two can just enjoy yourselves!
If you have expressed these sentiments to your loved ones, do not beat yourself up. These phrases often come from a well-intentioned place in an attempt to take the pain away, and make it better for your loved one. I know that it can be hard for us to sit with someone’s suffering and experience it fully with them! However, know that sometimes when you are well meaning, your advice could be invalidating, leaving your loved one feeling even more isolated. It can be problematic to try to solve their infertility concern with your suggestions because they have probably thought of all the points you have mentioned already, and have most likely engaged in beating themselves up over all of the possibilities.
If your family member or friend has confided in you about their experience with infertility, I encourage you to practice the following tips instead, and see if you notice a difference!
1) LISTEN EMPATHICALLY: Here I am asking you to put yourself in their shoes. Ask yourself: How would I feel if I were experiencing infertility? Sit with that feeling for a moment and take a breath. You have just scratched the surface of how your loved one might be feeling. With that, I encourage you to listen with care. Sit with how they are feeling, hold what is going on for your loved one, and do not try to fix it.
2) ACKNOWLEDGE that what they are going through is hard: simply say to the person you love something like: “You have been going through a lot” or “you have been going through a very hard time.” Note that they are under a lot of pressure. This experience in it of itself is extremely validating and can help your friend/family member to feel relieved, and that they can take a breath and let it out/process their experience with you.
3) ASK your friend about what they need from you: Simply ask: “What do you need?” Your friend may not know at the moment, or maybe they just need you to listen and be in it with them. Maybe they need something more practical like a grocery run or help with household chores. Maybe they need you to distract them for a while and take them out to have fun. Whatever it may be, make sure to ask for what they need. It can feel empowering for them to decide since so many decisions are being made for them already, and life overall and particularly their bodies may feel so out of control.
If you feel that implementing these or other strategies are not enough, and are thinking about reaching out to a counselor for support or would like to refer your loved one who is experiencing infertility, I am happy to talk to you. My specialty area is working with women and their partners who experience infertility. Please feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 917-969-9560. To get more information about my work, please visit my website at: www.unitypsych.org. Sign up for my email list to receive newsletters and blog posts! I look forward to hearing from you and being helpful on this journey!