Chances are you have a friend or family member who’s dealt with infertility—the CDC says one in four women have difficulty getting pregnant or carrying a pregnancy to term. As a mom, it can be hard to know what to say or what not to say to someone struggling with infertility. How can you best support your friend who’s trying to get pregnant?
We got some advice from Laura Reyes, clinical medical assistant and diagnostic coordinator at Fertility Specialists of Texas. After starting her job there, Reyes herself began struggling with infertility; she now has twins and continues to work with women on a similar path.
1. Just listen.
“I just wanted that friend to hear me out and then be there as a support,” Reyes says. She explains that women struggling with infertility may not get the emotional support they need at home; after all, their partners are dealing with their own emotions.
Make sure your friend or family member knows you’re there if she needs someone to talk to. Follow her lead—she may want to talk frequently, or she may only want the occasional check-in.
2. Don’t offer advice or silver linings.
According to Reyes, comments like “It’s OK—just try again next month,” “You’re just too stressed” or “Maybe you need to lose some weight” are unhelpful. “That’s easy for you to say, but you’re not living through it,” Reyes says. Such “advice” can come across as judgmental or trivializing.
Also avoid “encouragement” that comes in the form of silver linings: “It’s nice that you have more time to yourself, though. I miss that…” or “Well, at least you were able to have one child.” Statements like these dismiss your loved one’s very real feelings about a difficult experience—and are so not what she wants to hear.
3. Ask how you can help
When Reyes was doing fertility treatments, her close friend would check in once a week with judgment-free encouragement (“Just do your best and follow your doctor’s orders”), reminders (“Are you taking your prenatal vitamins?”), or an offer to come over if Reyes needed help with injections. This was exactly what Reyes wanted, but every woman is different—ask your friend or family member what she needs. It may be a ride to her appointments, or just a listening ear on the other end of the phone.
4. Don’t press for updates.
Reyes felt pressured by some family members who wanted continual progress reports. “They’re wanting to know, ‘Well, what happened? Did you get a positive? Did you get a negative?’ Sometimes it could be too pushy,” she recalls; in fact, the questions stressed Reyes out even more. Be sure your loved one knows you’re available, and let her decide how much to tell you.
5. Provide distractions.
Your friend or family member could probably use a distraction to take her mind off trying to get pregnant—maybe a brunch date (Reyes enjoyed a few during her treatments), a night out or a care package with books or magazines she can read for fun.
6. Talk about your kids—some.
You might be afraid to talk about your kids around a friend who’s struggling to get pregnant. But that’s a big part of your life—ignoring it may only call more attention to the reason you’re awkwardly avoiding the subject. So it’s OK to talk about your kids, Reyes says, but keep it to a minimum.
And if you’re pregnant, don’t try to spare your friend or family member’s feelings by keeping your news secret. It’s better that she finds out from you personally than through the grapevine or a big announcement on social media. You’re important to her—she’ll want to know, even if she can’t fully share your joy. Consider telling her electronically so she can react in private.
7. Understand when she can’t share your joy.
When you have good news about your kiddos or, especially, a new baby on the way, your loved one will want to be happy for you, but it may be hard for her to summon the same exuberance you’re feeling. So if your baby shower invitation is turned down, don’t be offended—in fact, make sure she knows she doesn’t have to come. (Do invite her, though.)
And if she does get pregnant, understand that she may be less enthusiastic about it than you expect. “I didn’t want to get too excited about being pregnant, because I knew that far along I could lose them,” Reyes explains. Don’t tell the mom-to-be how she should be feeling, or that everything will be fine; celebrate with her where she is.
This article was originally published in September 2020.