While going through infertility treatments, I was surprised at the lack of compassion and understanding of some friends – and surprised at the compassion and understanding of some who I didn’t even know very well. This made me realize that people’s reactions had less connection to how good friends we were, and more to do with their innate or learned sympathy for others’ feelings. In honor of National Infertility Awareness Week‘s theme “You Are Not Alone,” here are ten ways to be a better friend to an infertile.
1. Remember: It’s not about you. She’s going through something terrible, so cut her some slack if she wants to distance herself from you if you’re pregnant or have kids. It’s not personal – it’s about self-preservation. Yes, it’s hard to be the friend of an infertile, but suck it up. What she’s going through is way worse.
2. Let her be selfish. Don’t pressure her to come to your kid’s first birthday party or your baby shower. It doesn’t mean she’s not a good friend. And if she acts on edge, is irritable or is even a downright bitch, remember that she’s acting out of frustration at the shitty situation she finds herself in. Let her vent, even if it’s about you, without taking offense. Forgive her for being mean. Remember that she’s on lots of hormones!
3. Ask how she’s doing. Many times infertility is the elephant in the room. Gently broach the subject and see if she’s interested in talking. Maybe she is, maybe she isn’t.
4. Tell her you’re pregnant through text, email or FB message. It seems impersonal, but it will give her time to react privately before offering up a smile and a congratulations. This is much better than telling her in person, or even over the phone, when she’ll have to hide her initial reaction.
5. Don’t complain about your pregnancy or your kids. Yes, pregnancy can be rough, and (as I’ve been learning lately) children can be a challenge. But she would give anything to have them. Don’t even joke, “Do you want my kids?” Because she does (well, not yours, but her own).
6. Speaking of joking, don’t. It’s really hurtful to hear stuff like, “Are you sure you want kids?” I promise you, she does, even while watching yours misbehave. It’s just not funny.
7. Make an effort to read about infertility. There are resources out there for friends and family of those going through infertility treatments. Educate yourself so you have a better understanding of what her life is like. Check out resolve.org.
8. Remember her on Mother’s and Father’s Day. Those holidays are especially rough on couples who can’t conceive. A “thinking about you” note or phone call is totally appropriate.
9. Realize you don’t know the future. It’s tempting to promise, “It will happen for you someday,” but the truth is, you don’t know that. Stay away from platitudes. They’re just not helpful and not reflective of reality.
10. Rephrase “I can’t imagine what you’re going through” with “I can only imagine what you’re going through.” This is one of my biggest pet peeves (I may devote a whole blog post to it some day). The first sentence makes the listener feel excluded and isolated, like what she is dealing with is so horrific that someone cannot even attempt to understand because it is so out of the realm of normality. The second one implies that even though you haven’t been through it yourself, you can utilize the skills of your creative mind to attempt to understand. This is a notable difference, so please use the latter phrasing.
You can imagine what it’s like. Put yourself in your friend’s place and think about how you would want to be treated. Just like with any other health issue, having simple compassion, sympathy and forgiveness for a friend dealing with the hell of infertility will go a long way in giving her the strength and support she needs to make it through.