Human reproduction is about as complicated as the discussions that surround it. So it's not always easy to know what to say to someone struggling with infertility. And, of course, since no two people are the same and no two situations are identical, what would comfort one person could potentially make things worse for someone else. In the end, the best thing anyone can do for someone who is struggling with infertility is to listen and follow their lead.
I spent four years navigating the often heartbreaking, unpredictable, frustrating ups and downs of secondary infertility. In the four years between the birth of my first son and the eventual birth of my second, I experienced three miscarriages and an ectopic pregnancy. And during that time period there were a few very specific things people could do or say that would help... and a slew of things people could do or say that would make me feel like a damn garbage can.
I didn't expect anyone to know how to discuss infertility with me. After all, I didn't really know how to navigate it. So if you're wondering what to say to a loved one or friend, know that your words don't have to be perfect. It truly is the thought that counts, but if your thoughts are in the right place then the following sentiments probably won't hurt, either:
"Your Feelings Are Valid"
Infertility can churn up a wide variety of feelings, including but certainly not limited to sadness, anger, and jealousy. They are all valid. When I was in the throws of secondary infertility, dealing with my third miscarriage in two years, I didn't want someone to tell me I had to feel a certain way or that my feelings were somehow making the situation worse. When I was angry, I wanted the space to be angry. When I was sad, I wanted the time to be sad.
"Do You Want To Talk About It?"
Infertility isn't widely discussed in a way that's engaging and supportive. But infertility isn't always something someone wants to talk about, either. So instead of bringing it up without a warning, ask the person in your life if they want to discuss their struggles. Perhaps they are dying to talk about their feelings, the next treatment, any diagnoses, etc. Or maybe discussing infertility is literally the last thing they want to do, and instead they want to talk about Game of Thrones. Give them the chance to take the lead, and then follow them.
"You Don't Have To Feel Hopeful"
The whole "everything happens for a reason" platitude? Yeah, you can just go ahead and avoid it. When I was dealing with infertility, the last thing I wanted was for someone to tell me to "keep my head up" or that "it'll get better" or that "one day you'll get pregnant, I know it." Because people didn't know if it was ever going to get better, and people had no idea if I was ever going to get pregnant. Asking someone to remain hopeful as they deal with infertility is selfish at best. We do not have to slap a smile on our faces for other people's benefit.
"You're Not Alone"
A reported 10 in 100 women will have trouble getting pregnant, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Population Affairs. That's 6.1 million women.
In other words, someone who is struggling with infertility is not alone. It can feel like an incredibly isolating experience, yes, but that doesn't mean you must sequester yourself to a proverbial island. There are millions and millions of people who can understand what you're going through. Reach out to them if you need to.
"There's Nothing Wrong With You"
Just because you are having trouble getting pregnant doesn't mean there's something fundamentally wrong with you. Even if you receive a diagnoses that pinpoints why getting pregnant is going to be either difficult or impossible, nothing is "wrong" with you. You are incredible exactly how you are, there are multiple ways to start and have a family, and there are so many people in the world who love you for who you are, what you think, how you make them laugh, how you love them, and every other incredible part of yourself.
Having a baby doesn't define you, and the inability to have a baby doesn't mean there's something innately wrong with you.
"Lets Take A Vacation"
No, seriously. Like, let's get the you-know-what out of here and away from anything that might make you think about babies. Let's find a secluded beach or let's go into the woods or let's go literally anywhere that will take you out of your head and into a place of serenity and peace.
"What Can I Do For You?"
No, I probably can't snap my fingers and make you pregnant, but I can bring you coffee, or pre-made dinners, or babysit any other kids you might have so you can focus on yourself. I can talk about my own personal bullshit so you have something else to focus on, I can take you to a movie, or dinner, or a bar. I can listen intently and go with you to appointments, or I can distract you. Just let me know what you need, and I am there.
"I Support You"
There's nothing I wanted to hear more than that someone supported me wholeheartedly and without question. Whether it had to do with my potential medical decisions or my state of mind, I needed to know that people had my back, 100 percent.
"Here's Some Wine"
Heavy drinking is associated with an increased risk of ovulation disorders, according to the Mayo Clinic, so someone who is actively trying to get pregnant probably wouldn't want to go on some bender, or whatever. But a night with a few glasses of wine is probably called for, because infertility is stressful. If the person in your life who is actively trying to get pregnant is up for it, bring over a bottle and help her relax.
"This Is Not Your Fault'
You are not broken. You have not caused this. You are not the reason why having a baby is hard. Human bodies are incredible and simultaneously trash and intricate and complicated and a million very specific things have to happen at very specific times in order for a sperm to fertilize an egg, and for that egg to implant into someone's uterus, and for that implantation to remain for 40, more or less, weeks.
This is not your fault. You, yes you, are doing great.
"I Love You Exactly How You Are"
With kids, without kids. With one kid, with more than one kid. Happy, sad. Annoyed, joyful. Frustrated, relaxed. No matter how you feel throughout this process or what ultimately happens, know that you are loved and you are valued and you are making people's lives better by simply existing.