Infertility can be a hard and lonely struggle. It's not something pleasant to go through, let alone talk about, so most people simply avoid discussing it. However, while it's a hard thing to talk about, when you're going through it your thoughts are completely consumed by it. I was the first of my close friends to encounter infertility, and it was only a few years in that I realized what helped me get through it and how I could help a friend struggling with infertility.
My husband and I had been married for a few years when we decided to start our family. After more than a year of not becoming pregnant, we started visiting doctors and trying to decide which way we would go forward, all while watching literally every single person we knew get pregnant. We eventually decided to choose what we affectionately called the path of most resistance — moving to a different country to try to adopt a baby — rather than beginning medical fertility treatment. We now have a beautiful daughter, but the traces of pain of infertility still revisit me every month, and I still wish these tips were circulated more regulated.
Each person struggling with infertility copes (or doesn't, as I've also realized) differently, but these are the suggestions I'd offer anyone with a friend struggling with infertility.
Ask How They Are
I think most people who know someone with infertility err on the side of not asking about it, for fear the person will be more hurt having to discuss the problem. This is true for some, but I think it's generally more helpful not to ignore the topic altogether.
I wouldn't ask about it every time you see your friend, but occasionally and if there's a quiet moment, ask how she is doing and whether she'd like to talk about it. The hardest thing for me was feeling like no one cared, but typically that was because they were nervous to ask.
If your friend is ready to share what they're going through, just listen thoughtfully. If they're ready to talk about it, they're probably not looking for you to help solve the problem. Having someone to hear what they're going through makes them feel much less alone.
Even though I'd steer clear of offering what may seem like helpful suggestions (asking, "Have you thought about adoption?" isn't helpful before the person is ready to hear that solution), definitely acknowledge that what they're going through is valid and hard and sad.
I had a very difficult time feeling like what I was going through deserved the amount of time and sadness it took up in my head. Having friends acknowledge that it was, in fact, actually quite hard really helped me not feel so much like I was making a mountain out of a molehill.
Ask About Their Partners
Infertility isn't something most people enjoy talking about, but women certainly manage to talk about it more than men. If you're talking about infertility, ask about how their partner might be managing, too. If your partners are close, encourage your partner to check in with them. Men tend to internalize infertility struggles and my husband felt so relieved when he could talk about it a little.
Give An Extra Squeeze Around The Holidays
Holidays are the worst when you're going through infertility, and Mother's and Father's Day might take the cake for hardest to get through. You don't need to go overboard, but I always appreciated being included in Mother's Day celebrations as a mother-to-be, eventually. An extra squeeze from friends and family on those days went a long way.
Tell Them Your'e Pregnant Softly And Privately
The first time a close friend told me she was pregnant was just when my husband and I were realizing we needed to get tested to see why we hadn't been able to get pregnant. I was happy for her, but I could not stop crying. I wasn't even aware how viscerally sad I was about potentially not becoming a mother, and how viscerally jealous I was even though I was overjoyed for my friend.
As years went on, I developed anxiety about being out with friends in groups because I was worried that someone would announce that they were pregnant and I couldn't control my reaction. I did get better, eventually, but I so appreciated when friends would share their news with me via text or email, or even just in person. That allowed me to be able to respond and process my emotions and then show my happiness better in person later.
Don't Tell Them "Everything Happens For A Reason"
Just don't. I'm the kind of person who actually believes my partner and I were "supposed to" before having biological children. I did not want to be condescended about what a great thing it was to go through infertility. I needed to get there on my own and some people don't get there at all (nor should they have to).
Don't Complain About Your Pregnancy Or Kids
My two closest friends were pregnant at the same time while my husband and I were in the beginning years of infertility. I was so grateful that neither of them ever complained about their pregnancies to me. Rationally I know that you should still be able to complain about your pregnancy or kids not sleeping to me, but it was hard to hear when that's all I wanted.
Don't Joke About Giving Your Kid Up For Adoption
Seriously. This actually happened, after my partner and I had adopted our daughter, and after we had gone through five years of infertility. I nearly punched the person in the face. Never, ever joke about giving up your children when people who would give their left arm to have children are present.