When you’re struggling to conceive, it can feel overwhelming. And as you’re navigating your way through the uncertainty of fertility investigation and treatment, it’s easy to become mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausted. But what about the people on the side-lines? How can friends and family ensure they are doing everything they can to make the person or couple living through this challenge feel loved and supported? Fertility issues are often treated as taboo and people worry that it’s better to say and do nothing than risk causing embarrassment and upset. The truth is that this is a time when it’s more important than ever to step up and be a friend. We’ve brought together some essential advice for supportive friends and family, below.
Do Your Research
When your friend confides in you that they are struggling with infertility, one of the best things you can do is increase your own knowledge around their condition and treatments. This doesn’t mean you should be doling out medical advice, but taking the time to understand what they are facing is a way to show your support for their situation. It may also allow you to have more meaningful conversations and avoid common assumptions and myths around infertility.
Don’t Act Like You Have all the Answers
One of the worst things you can do is try to ‘fix’ the problem. Statements like ‘you just need to be less stressed’, ‘you just need to eat X, Y, or Z’, and, ‘why not just adopt?’ can be incredibly harmful. Everyone’s situation is unique, and the only person qualified to offer meaningful advice on a solution is their fertility specialist. Offer support and comfort but never presume to know what’s best for them. It’s likely to cause upset and could seriously harm your friendship.
Ask What They Need
Simply asking what the person needs can be incredibly meaningful. This puts the person dealing with infertility in control of the type and quantity of support you offer and prevents them from feeling overwhelmed. It is also important to hear and respect any requests for space. Offer support freely but be prepared to take a step back if asked.
Don’t Forget Men
We often think of fertility as a women’s problem, but it’s just as likely to be a man suffering or sharing in the pain of fertility challenges. The taboos around discussing fertility are perhaps even greater when it comes to men, which means it’s more important than ever to communicate your support. It’s also important to avoid placing blame or asking who is ‘at fault.’ For couples facing infertility, the challenge is a shared one.
Don’t Try to Placate Them
It’s natural to try and find the positive in a difficult situation, but, when it comes to infertility, this can do more harm than good. Saying that ‘children are more trouble than they are worth’ to an infertile couple or telling someone who has suffered repeated miscarriages, ‘at least you know you can get pregnant’ can be deeply hurtful. There is a balance to be struck between hopefulness and dismissal of a very real problem. Remember to think before you speak.
Do Offer Practical Support
Practical support such as looking after older children, sharing a home-cooked meal or picking up household chores can be a great way to communicate how much you care. Taking on some of the burden of daily life while someone goes to fertility appointments or recovers from invasive treatment or testing is often a very welcome form of support. However, it’s still important to ask what help is needed and respect requests for time alone or space.
Be Sensitive with Your Good News
When you’re struggling to conceive, it can be hard to hear pregnancy announcements from friends and family. This doesn’t mean the person doesn’t care, just that it is difficult to process baby-related news when you have been trying so hard to have a baby of your own. If you have good news to share, it’s best to do it in a way in which the person can process their reaction privately. Email is often a good way to share your announcement in this situation.
Don’t Share Confidential Information
Your friend has shared deeply personal information about their fertility journey. It’s important to respect that trust and resist the temptation to discuss their challenges with other people. Make sure you only share information with their explicit permission. Even then, it’s vital that you proceed with sensitivity.
Apologise if You Get Things Wrong
In sensitive and emotional situations, it’s easy to say the wrong thing at the wrong time. The important thing is to recognise when you have caused upset or made a mistake and apologise sincerely. No one is an expert in navigating infertility, so don’t beat yourself up if you don’t always know how to provide support. Often, just saying that you’re there for someone is a great place to start.
Support an Infertility Charity or Good Cause
There are several infertility charities across the UK that provide resources, information, and support groups for men and women who are struggling with infertility. The Fertility Network UK are committed to fighting for fair funding and providing support for those living with fertility issues. While the Fertility Foundation provide IVF grants for those who struggle to access treatment. By taking part in sponsored events, fundraising at home or work and buying items from online shops dedicated to fertility charities, you can support people across the UK who face fertility challenges.