It's not easy when one friend gets pregnant while the other is having trouble. But you can celebrate your pregnancy while being sensitive to your friend's infertility challenges. Here's how.

By Darci Swisher
March 25, 2021
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Credit: Getty Images. Art: Jillian Sellers.

The same week I found out I wasn't pregnant, again, one of my closest friends peed on a stick and saw a plus sign. Even in her excitement, she couldn't help but think, "How am I going to tell Darci?"

Dana broke her good news over Thai carryout in her living room. I bawled into my pad see ew while she cried into her pad thai, both of us knowing that our tears were about my sadness, not her happiness.

More than 13 percent of U.S. women aged 15 to 49 have "impaired fecundity," or difficulty getting pregnant or carrying a pregnancy to term, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That's roughly about one in eight women—making the odds pretty good that while you're celebrating being pregnant, a friend may be dealing with infertility.

My friends often walked a razor-thin line during my years of trying to get pregnant and then grieving the loss of the dream of motherhood as they realized theirs. At times, this road was paved in eggshells. But with some sensitivity and understanding, you can navigate being #blessed when your friend isn't.

Don't be a Fixer

Your friend may have a medical condition, such as endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and ovulation issues, that they haven't disclosed. Or your friend may have "unexplained infertility," meaning a doctor can't identify a reason for why they can't get pregnant, or their partner may have male factor infertility.

Regardless of why your friend hasn't been able to conceive, suggesting they relax or try a specific sex position isn't the magic answer. Even if you mean well, it's not helpful to try and "fix" the problem, especially if you have not dealt with infertility or miscarriage.

Also not helpful: "Advice of what your mom's college roommate's daughter did to get pregnant," says Rebecca Flick, chief external affairs officer for Resolve: The National Infertility Association.

Avoid the 'Shoulds'

"Any sentence that includes, 'You should just,' isn't a good idea," says Flick. "Like, 'Maybe you should just adopt,' or "Maybe you should just try IVF.' When you're struggling to get pregnant, yes, these are options. But they are options that come with a tremendous amount of thought and consideration, not to mention out-of-pocket expenses that may be too much for your friend."

Research shows about 40 percent of those under 35 who pursue treatments like in vitro fertilization will be successful, a number that decreases with age, and each cycle can cost as much as $15,000, depending on insurance coverage and other factors. Adoption can be similarly cost-prohibitive, with private domestic adoptions ranging from $20,000 to $45,000 and international adoptions often costing even more, according to the Child Welfare Information Gateway.

Skip Well-Meaning Expressions

Even when well-intentioned, phrases like "God has a plan," "Maybe it's not meant to be," and "Everything happens for a reason" only serve to minimize your friend's pain, according to Flick.

Try empathy instead and acknowledge that you likely can't understand what your friend is going through. "You can still empathize with their pain," she says. "Sometimes, simply, 'I love you, friend' can make all the difference."

Keep Pregnancy Woes to Yourself

Your friend may have a hard time mustering sympathy for your morning sickness, swollen ankles, and varicose veins. Even those most unappealing pregnancy symptoms are a reminder that she's being left behind, says Meredith Resnick, LCSW, co-author of All the Love: Healing Your Heart and Finding Meaning After Pregnancy Loss. "It can and does downright hurt when someone experiences what you hope to experience. There is no shame in that whatsoever."

Don't exclude

As much as baby showers and gender reveal parties might be an emotional minefield for your friend, let them choose whether to attend. "Perhaps give them a call—not text—and let them know that invitations are being sent out and that you understand if it's just not a good time for them," says Flick.

If she chooses not to attend or doesn't like or comment on baby-related posts, she's not trying to rain on your pregnancy parade. "She's probably protecting herself a bit," Flick says, and might appreciate some pregnancy-free one-on-one time. Try not to take it personally.

Keep checking in

I'll admit to going dark at times when I was at my most vulnerable. I also know that even my dearest friends similarly struggled with how to react as my husband and I embarked on yet another fertility treatment.

"Rather than confront or ignore or assume that either person knows exactly how the other is feeling, check in with your friend as you would on any other day," says Resnick. "Ask if they'd like to talk about it, let them know that their friendship means the world, and that you'll get through this together. This shifts the focus back to the relationship, which is really what is at stake."