How to Talk to Friends and Family About Infertility

Starting Off Incognito

For some women, it may seem easier to talk to strangers first. This may sound odd, but it's something to consider when you are going through infertility. One of the first places you may go to when you realize that you and your partner are having problems getting pregnant is the Internet. What's going on? Why are we not getting pregnant? You want to find some answers, and the Internet is full of advice.
Blogs, online chat rooms for couples going through infertility, online support groups -- there is a whole cyberworld out there where you can immediately find someone who may be experiencing some of the same issues you are running up against. Getting on the Internet allows you to be anonymous, but you can still get some answers or at least some helpful suggestions.
This may be a good starting point for some couples -- maybe just to see how others have talked to their family and friends. Reading about the personal decisions of others can help give you some ideas on how much you want to share with those closest to you and help you to know how to explain to them what you need them to do.
Some couples may also seek a counselor, someone who is trained in dealing with these situations but who can also help ensure your privacy is intact. A counselor may be able to steer you in the right directions as far as communicating to each other about how you want to share this information with others. He or she may also give you some helpful tips on how to explain to your friends and family what you need them to not do or say.

Anticipating the Responses

Don't expect that your family and friends have ever looked at the etiquette guidelines for how to talk to those going through infertility. However, you can beat them to the punch. Even the most caring and compassionate family member or friend may feel that they are responding in a "helpful" way, but instead it may come across as incredibly insensitive. Although everyone is different and their response will be different, there are some common reactions that people have when first hearing the news that a loved one is having difficulties getting pregnant.
By being prepared to hear some of these responses, it can help you decide in advance how to handle talking to your friends and family about this delicate issue. Some of the common and, unfortunately, insensitive (although not necessarily intentional) responses may include:
  • "You need to just relax. If you stop thinking about it, it will happen." Although this can be said with the absolute best of intentions, it is one of the hardest lines to hear. This comment only adds more stress for an already stressed-out couple. It makes those going through infertility feel that they are doing something wrong, when, in fact, it may be a physical or medical issue that is not within their control.
One way to help prevent people from giving this response is to explain the situation to them first, before they say anything (they may be thinking it, but you can be a step ahead of them). You can explain to them that you have been going through this for a certain amount of time and that it isn't something that can simply be fixed by "relaxing." You can also be up front with family and friends and tell them not to say things like this to you and your partner, and then explain that relaxation itself cannot cure medical infertility.
  • "You should just enjoy being able to sleep late…going to the bathroom by yourself…traveling…etc." Again, although they are trying to point out some positives of not having children (a good intention), this response minimizes your pain. It's like telling someone who just lost their mother, "Well, at least you don't have to buy a Mother's Day card again." It does not bring comfort to someone who longs to hold a baby in their arms.
To help prepare for comments like these, it may help to first explain that you don't necessarily need your friends or family to point out the good things in your life. Explain to them that the best way they can offer support for you is just to listen, or whatever the case may be for your particular needs.
  • "Well, there are worse things in life that could happen." This is similar to the previous comment. What may be the definition of the "worst" to one person may not be the same definition to someone else. For a woman whose sole goal in life is to be a mother, not being able to become pregnant very well may be the "worst" thing that could happen.
If you feel your friend or family member may have a response like this, you can stop them before they say it. Try explaining to them that you understand that you have many good things in your life as well, but to have a baby means the world to you right now. It's not that you are taking the good things for granted; it's just you want this more than anything right now and are facing difficulties in getting there.
  • "Maybe it's not meant for you to be a mother." Ouch! This one is brutal and incredibly insensitive. This "it's just not meant to be" comment comes with a price tag of punishment, as if you have done something that warrants you to be childless. It also strips you of hope.
Sometimes our family and friends will blurt out something without thinking first. This may be one of those comments. However, if this comes up (or before it does), try to encourage your loved one that you need them to help you keep this hope of a child alive and that you truly believe it is "meant" to happen.
Heading off some of these common reactions before they even come out of your loved one's mouth can make talking to them easier. Before talking to them, however, be prepared to tell them what you need from them. For example, tell them that you don't need them to figure out what's going on or to fix it. But you do need them to care. Even if it's a card, a shoulder to cry on, prayers, or simply just listening, be specific with your loved ones about how they can give you the best support. When you're going through infertility, some of the best support comes from those who just want to make sure you aren't going through this dark road alone.
Also, plan on reassuring your family and friends that you want them beside you. In many cases, people aren't sure what to say or do to help you, so they end up unintentionally avoiding you. Let them know that it's okay for them to ask how your infertility treatments are going. Tell them you want them to be involved in your journey, which includes the good, the bad, and the ugly feelings that will come up.
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
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