Top tips for friends and family of someone struggling with infertility.
I was having a tea with a French oncologist colleague of mine who has been working with cancer patients for several decades. He mentioned that out of the blue, he was referred an IVF patient through a colleague in Paris, so he obliged. As we talked about the latest news in the fertility world he said something that struck me. He told me that he found it incredibly difficult to properly support the emotions of his fertility patient. (This, coming from a doctor who has treated thousands of cancer patients over the years.) Let me be clear, I am not comparing infertility and cancer, this is not a competition and I wouldn’t wish either on my worst enemy. What the comment made me realize, was that the strain and hardships that come along with infertility are widely misunderstood, underemphasized, and too easily dismissed. If an oncologist is awe struck by the emotional hardship of someone going through struggles with fertility, maybe it’s time we gave it the respect and sensitivity it deserves.
So here are my top tips for the friends and family of a person/couple struggling with infertility.
Don’t pry. If they want to tell you about their journey they will. Be available. Offer an open ear or a shoulder to cry on, take them out for tea, but if they choose not to share, then that’s their prerogative. Even if you are family.
Be very gentle around periods. For many women, a period can feel like a loss. They may need time to mourn this loss, which could last hours, days or even weeks. Don’t rush this process. It is important to recognize the disappointment, sadness or frustration, before ‘getting back on the horse’.
Birthday’s, baby showers and holidays are especially hard for people struggling to conceive. They can feel like a blaring reminder of what is missing in their lives. Please don’t take a decline to an event personally. It is less often about the family or friend and often much more often that it is just too difficult to be in that environment at that particular time. They still love you, so please don’t push, try to be understanding, and if you want to see them, plan for a little one on one at another time.
Under no circumstances tell them, ‘you just need a vacation’. Yes stress impacts fertility, yes some people get pregnant while on vacation. They know this. Trust me, you just come across like an insensitive jerk.
Men are not always as open about their emotions. Don’t assume because you haven’t heard anything, or that he does not appear to be having difficultly with not conceiving, that he is not struggling as well.
Think of it this way. If you feel frustrated and impatient for them to become social again, happy again, or to ‘get back to normal’….just imagine how frustrated and impatient they must feel. They would like to have a child, become social again, be happy again and ‘go back to normal’ too. They have not chosen this journey, but they are on it regardless. Support comes in many forms, be sensitive and observant, and often the key to how to support them will become apparent.