10 Things Your Infertile Friend Needs From You
There is a lot of talk about what women trudging through the minefields of infertility DON'T need. You already know that they don't need anecdotal advice on how to relax or reminders to "not think about it" [it being the very thing that occupies their brains 24/7]. They do not need to hear that it will happen "when you least expect it" OR- my personal favorite- "you just need to really want the sex you are having"...the sex that has the primary goal of procreation - a goal that with each passing cycle gets further and further away. After opening up about decisions to pursue advanced fertility interventions, infertile women do not need questions like, "Are you sure there's no chance of it happening naturally?".
Are we all in agreement that infertile women do not need that kind of wisdom?
GOOD. Now let's move on.
10 things Your Infertile Friend Needs From You:
Stick with her. This may sound like a no-brainer, but I promise it isn't that clear to all. Your infertile friend needs you, even if you haven't been through a similar experience. Struggling with infertility is difficult enough as it is; to have to sort through the emotions that come with friends and/or family distancing themselves in this time often feels like another blow.
Gift her. Remind her that it's not just women who have just had babies who need a little something nice. Ideas include: pregnancy friendly tea, chocolate, a hand-written note, flowers, a journal, warm socks, a cozy blanket for when she's bed bound, a home-cooked meal around specific fertility treatments (egg retrievals, embryo transfers, no-fun diagnostic testing, or...JUST BECAUSE!), neck rubs, pedicure dates, etc.
If you don't know what to say, say THAT. A woman going through infertility craves honesty and authenticity from others. As she's exploring the depths of her experience, she craves depth in her friendships. If you don't know what to say, admit that you're at a loss. That's honest. And guess what? Your infertile friend is at a loss on the R-E-G, and she wants to know she has company in the "not knowing". Oh- and most of the time you need to say very little. Most of the time, she just needs a listening ear.
Ask her how she feels. Your infertile friend already feels some level of powerlessness over her circumstances. It can be incredibly empowering to have someone simply say, "I don't know how this feels, but I care about you, and I'm here for you and want to know how you are feeling if you want to share."
Remember her at baby showers or in the midst of pregnancy announcements and big life moments. This infertility journey can make your friend incredibly sensitive. Although she can be over-the-moon excited for another woman's pregnancy journey, your infertile friend can also be devastated for her own continual loss. She's likely been dreaming of her own pregnancy announcement or shower or similar momma-to-be ritual, and often times these occasions can both be a reminder of incredible HOPE, and they also might bring on fear that she won't get to experience them or sadness that she can't experience it right now with you. A simple, "Hey- I'm thinking about you and understand if you can't attend the shower" means that on some level YOU GET HER. Giving her a heads up and telling her personally before you post your amazing news means you're sensitive as to how she'll receive it. Remembering her fertility journey on her birthday or holidays means you're sensitive to the fact that another year is passing, and she doesn't have a baby in her arms. Any amount of sensitivity is appreciated. None of us are perfect, and while she doesn't expect perfection from you (promise, she doesn't), these gestures are surprising tokens of kindness in this heartbreaking journey.
Don't take things personally. When your friend doesn't make it to your baby shower or doesn't comment on your Facebook pregnancy announcement or the 5638925 photos of your baby, please don't take it personally. When she can't make it to your house warming party, because she's sick from her meds regimen or she can't plan that summer trip that is still 5 months away because she has no clue what the next month might hold, she is not doing these things to spite you. She is likely taking care of herself. If you are hurt by her, tell her, but please remember that most of the time, it's not about you. She's going through a roller coaster of emotions and doing her best to live through experiences she never could have anticipated having to live through.
Pray or send positive energy her way. Whatever her belief system, I think your infertile friend will tell you that she will take ALL the prayers and positive vibes you can muster up. She is always thinking about her babies-to-be and knowing that others are as well is such a gift.
Ask to accompany her to an important appointment if she has no one to go with her. Reproductive specialty clinics really aren't that scary, and it could mean the world to your friend that you even offer. If she's vulnerable enough to take you up on your offer, you'll be a real part of her journey in a special way. If it's a particularly emotional appointment, she might not remember everything her specialist is saying, and she may need you to listen and take notes. Sometimes these appointments get very routine and methodical, but sometimes they're filled with bad news, a turn of events, a new "issue". I'd bet that the majority of infertile women have had an emotional breakdown of sorts in their clinics. Many have been alone. She might need support.
A break. Sometimes your infertile friend will need a break from being stuck by needles, from timed intercourse, basal body temperatures, invasive diagnostic procedures, ultrasounds, failed interventions, negative pregnancy tests, cramping, mystery physical symptoms, side effects from countless medications, weight gain, bloating, consultations with doctors and acupuncturists and naturopaths and ON and ON. Sometimes she needs a break. Sometimes she wants to see a chick flick with her girlfriends and drink an adult beverage free of the guilt that comes after questioning how much sugar it contains and then wondering how this one beverage will affect her glucose levels...her eggs..her fertility... It's exhausting. Sometimes she just doesn't want to be the infertile friend for a night.
Ask her what she needs. If you don't know what to say, how to help, or how to be there for her.... ASK HER WHAT SHE NEEDS. Just as every infertility journey is different, every woman has different needs at different points in her journey. Just ask her. Little means more than being given her voice back in this way.
Special thank you [and many blessings] to the fertility warriors who contributed to this piece. May we honor your journey whole-heartedly and love you along the way.
For more information on infertility support for yourself or for a friend, email Megan at firstname.lastname@example.org. Resolve is another great national resource that can link you to local resources and help navigate this journey that is infertility.