How to Help Someone Struggling With Infertility

The path to becoming a parent isn't always easy. Here's what to say to someone who can't get pregnant.

Group of smiling friends with a baby
Photo: JGI/Jamie Grill/Getty Images

When you're spending every waking moment trying to conceive, it seems like life is all downs and hardly any ups: Everyone around you is pregnant. Mother's Day sucks. A 50-something celeb is on the cover of your fave gossip magazine, holding her new daughter. And you know what doesn't help with infertility? When someone tells you to just relax, or that stress is probably the culprit. Or when you hear something along the lines of, "Maybe if you stopped working out so much/gained some weight/lost some weight/[insert blaming mechanism here], it would happen."

If you're lucky enough not to be one of the one in eight woman who struggle to conceive after a year of trying, it doesn't mean you need to ignore your colleague who's been shooting up Lupron in the office bathroom for months, or dance around the subject with your BFF because you feel guilty for conceiving on your first try. There are plenty of ways to show your support. Read on for helpful things to say to someone who's trying to get pregnant.

How to Talk About infertility

Take the issue seriously.

"Infertility can be an uncomfortable topic, so people often try to minimize the problem when talking to friends with infertility," says Barbara Collura, President and CEO of RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association. Try to avoid making a comment such as "Just relax," as it can suggest that you aren't giving the situation the degree of attention that it deserves. "The woman often feels that she has somehow created this situation, when, in fact, infertility is a disease that affects women and men equally and has many causes," Collura explains.

Don't complain about your own pregnancy.

Your blossoming belly can be a painful sight to a woman who's been unable to conceive, but there are ways that you can make it easier. "The number one rule is: Don't complain about your pregnancy. You have every right to vent about the discomforts to anyone else in your life, but don't put your infertile friend in the position of comforting you," Collura says. Of course, if she specifically asks how your pregnancy is going, or expresses concern because you seem worn out, tell her the truth – but don't use her as a sounding board for your random pregnancy gripes. Remember: Your infertile friend would give anything to experience the discomforts you are enduring because those discomforts come from a baby growing inside of you.

Be understanding.

Offering to listen to a friend talking through her struggles can be incredibly meaningful, as can understanding if she needs to pass on a baby shower or other baby-centric events. It can be all too easy to simply keep your distance when things become difficult, but consider how you'd feel if the situation were reversed. Continuing to include these friends in your life will make it much easier to sustain the relationship in the future – when you might be the one who needs someone to lean on.

Back her up.

"The medical protocol for infertility is between a doctor and a patient, and getting in the middle of your friend's treatment is not a wise decision," Collura says. "However, infertility medical treatments can be stressful, and standing by your friend with emotional support during this time is critical," she explains. The path that your friend chooses to become a parent, whether it's aggressive fertility treatments, gestational surrogacy, or adoption, is her decision to make. "The best thing you can do is let your infertile friends know that you care. Send them cards and let them cry on your shoulder," Collura says. Often just knowing they have someone to turn to for comfort can help to make the situation a lot easier.

The Best 6 Things to Say to a Woman With Infertility

"My best friend just did IVF—do you want me to introduce you to her?"

“When I had a tough time getting pregnant, anytime a friend offered to put me in touch with a fellow infertile, I leapt at the chance. More than a few times, I found myself in an hour-long phone call with a virtual stranger, sharing my most intimate fears, bonding over the grosser parts of fertility treatments, laughing about how un-fun sex had become. These women just got it in a way that someone who conceives without the help of a laboratory and something like $20,000 in medical supplies cannot. Offer to play matchmaker and bring two kindred spirits together,” says Leslie Goldman.

"Do you want to physically carry a child, or is it more important to be a mother?"

Words of wisdom similar to these helped Jordan, 40, open her mind to domestic adoption. She and her husband had been embroiled in the adoption process for years, their hearts set on a daughter from South Korea. Then Jordan visited a psychic who gave her this advice: "You want to be a mother. So strip away the expectations that are all about you, or about what you want and feel you deserve, and after you boil all that down, what do you come up with?'" For Jordan, the answer was, plain and simple: A mother. From that point on, the Danbury, Conn. couple expanded their search to include children of both genders, both abroad and within the United States. Six weeks later, they met their baby boy.

"I had a miscarriage (took Clomid/had multiple IUIs/used a surrogate); I'm always here if you need to talk."

Sharing your own infertility battles is a powerful gift. If you learn that someone—a friend, a colleague, or even the stranger sitting next to you on an airplane—is having trouble getting pregnant, and you have been in her shoes, consider sharing your own experiences with her so she doesn't feel so alone. Actress Jaime King recently did just that, revealing that she endured more than two dozen rounds of intrauterine insemination (IUI), five rounds of IVF and five miscarriages before finally carrying a child to term. "I was hiding what I was going through for so long," she told People magazine, "and I hear about so many women going through what I went through. If I'm open about it, hopefully it won't be so taboo to talk about it."

"I'm pregnant."

When Leigh Kolb, 32, of New Haven, Mo., was trying to get pregnant, she noticed that friends were reluctant to share their own good news; as a result, some would even avoid making plans with her, which only pushed her deeper into her own inner grief. "I could almost always separate my happiness for friends from my sadness for myself," she remembers. That said, she knew herself well enough to realize that tears were a strong possibility, so she suggests sharing the news via phone. "That way, I could be excited, and then we'd hang up and I could be alone with my thoughts."

"It's OK to be selfish right now."

Hearing those words granted Katie, 37, of Chicago, a feeling of relief, like she didn't always have to put on a brave face and could just, for lack of a better word, baby herself. "I used it as an excuse to get a massage, to sleep in if I didn't have to be up for anything, and also as an excuse for an extra fun dessert here and there as a pick me up," she explains. "I love exercise but as treatments intensified, I had to drop a lot of that, so instead I would walk to get a coffee and biscotti."

Say it with flowers.

Sometimes even the most carefully planned words can't express what a simple arrangement of white peonies can. It doesn't matter what they are or how much they cost—flowers brighten even the glummest of days, including days when a woman is feeling down in the dumps worrying about never being able to have kids. Shannon, 35, says the unexpected gesture made her feel about as good as anything possibly could during those months of trying and waiting. If your friend is having trouble, send her something lovely—after a miscarriage, on Mother's Day, or just because.

Updated by Leslie Goldman
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