I get it, where do you even begin with helping? Yesterday, I posted three facts on infertility during this infertility awareness week and today I want to share a few things you can do to be of help to someone who is dealing with infertility. These are things I’ve learned as I’ve walked through infertility and as I’ve walked with others.
One of the best things you can do for a person is listen to them. Realize that it takes a lot of courage to open up to someone about infertility as there is a lot of false guilt surrounding the journey of infertility. When I say listen, I mean hear what they are saying without the attempt to solve what is happening. Although with good intentions, offering solutions often feels like you don’t see why the experience is valued or painful. And please know that your friend has probably already been on the search for every answer you are providing as a solution to the problem. What they really need is someone to agree that this sucks. Sometimes the best thing you can do is be present in the midst of it all. And please, unless the topic has been brought up by your friend, do not ask if they are going to adopt.
Be Patient and Sensitive
Sometimes, the grief of infertility comes out of nowhere. If you’re walking alongside someone dealing with infertility, understand that emotions vary from day-to-day. One of the best things a close friend did for me before announcing a pregnancy was to give me the heads up that they’d be making it public. I cried at the thought that she was caring enough to understand the mixed emotions of absolute joy at her news and sadness at the painful reminder. Just remember that the grief of infertility doesn’t only take hold when someone makes a pregnancy announcement, it can come from anywhere. I once cried in a movie theater because of an ad that depicted an Asian child trying to catch fireflies. Please don’t take this as you need to walk on eggshells around a woman dealing with infertility. But please do take this as a gentle reminder that emotions vary from day-to-day.
Allow Them to be Complex
Allow your friend to be a complex individual. Being defined only as an “infertile woman” is dehumanizing. No one should be known for only one aspect of their lives. So, understand that your friend may not always want to update you with the latest in her fertility world. Often times, there is no news and they’ve had to tell ten people before you the same unfortunate news. If they want to share, they will. But if they want to talk about the latest episode of This is Us, appreciate that they view your friendship as more than just a venting space.
It can be difficult, but please don’t assume that a woman dealing with infertility does or doesn’t want to attend an event. In the best of assumptions, you can cause a lot of damage. Instead, try saying things like, “I’m planning a baby shower for X and I’d love to have you join us. I know these events can be difficult, so know that I’d love to have you attend but I also understand if you have to cancel last minute.” Letting a woman know she is wanted is important. I know there have been times that I’ve wondered if I was intentionally left off the guest list of a baby shower in order to make it less difficult for me. It left me feeling like I was a burden to the guests and wasn’t welcome because I couldn’t have children. Just leave the ball in her court.
Understand Your Limitations
It’s important to understand how you, as part of a network of support, can be helpful to your friend. But it’s equally important to know your own limitations. Think through what you can and can’t offer to your friend. Sometimes what they need is someone who can remind them to have fun. Other times, it’s helpful to have someone to cry with. Just know what you bring to your friendship and excel at that. But, don’t think you have to fulfill all of the roles in their support network. Sometimes what your friend needs is a professional counselor and sometimes they need a friend, you can’t be something you’re not.
Don’t Shy Away From Truth
Some of the biggest lessons I’ve learned through infertility have come through conversations with trusted friends. And sometimes it has been because I needed to hear truth that I couldn’t seem to understand. If you’ve built a relationship with your friend, ask if you can share some things you’ve heard from your conversations. That can be as simple as saying, “it sounds like you’re taking the right steps” when there’s uncertainty. But please only offer this if you know it to be true. Your friend doesn’t need another voice confusing the situation. If that’s the case, it’s best to go back to #1 and listen.
Understand the Numbers
Statistics tell us that roughly 1 in 8 women will have fertility issues in their lifetime. Chances are you have a friend or several who are dealing with this right now. Understand that April Fools jokes about pregnancies reduces your ability to speak into their lives when they need it the most. And if you have already done that, know that your acknowledgement of the pain that could have caused someone will speak volumes louder than pretending it didn’t happen. So, know that you are among women who are very sensitive to this and you have an opportunity to help.
If you have more questions on how to help someone dealing with infertility, don’t hesitate to ask! I know this isn’t an exhaustive list, but I hope it helps. I am still learning how to be present and helpful for friends dealing with infertility. The best advice I can give myself is to listen and be gracious.