Mother’s Day this year has taken on a special meaning for me. I’m so, so excited to continue sharing our journey toward parenthood, but I’m also keenly aware of how painful the topic might be to someone struggling with infertility.
I’ve gotten several messages from those of you who have a friend, colleague, or sister – someone close to you going through infertility, and you wanted to know how to support them. I was so inspired by these thoughtful requests, since one of my biggest regrets is not opening up sooner. When I was first going through fertility treatments, I didn’t want to burden others with an uncomfortable topic. I eventually realized that talking about it can help lessen the stigma, and that it actually impacted so many others around me.
I reached out to a few incredible women I know to add their insight to my post – these are women who are currently persisting through different challenges, including multiple IVF or IUI cycles, surrogacy, and unique infertility complications. So today’s post is dedicated not only to moms and expecting moms, but to women who are on the sometimes long and trying road of becoming a mother. I hope these women are constantly reminded that they are strong, patient, resilient – and definitely not alone.
What you can say or do
Closed mouth, open ears
It’s completely okay if you don’t know what to say, as infertility can be a whole different world to those who aren’t living in it. Just being a good listener and a simple, “I’m here for you” goes a long way. Don’t feel the need to rationalize the situation or dive into suggestions (see the bottom of this post), as more often than not, your friend just wants to talk in a judgement and advice-free zone!
“The best thing a friend can do is just listen, offer hugs and coffee dates. And agree that what you are going through sucks.” – Mary
“It helps when people admit they don’t know what to say, but they’re here to help.” – Anna
“There are so many highs and lows that can alter your mood, and sometimes you just want your friend to be in that mood with you. Whether it’s you want to be distracted by doing something fun, or just vent about how unfair the world is for an afternoon.” – Rebecca
Offer to drive or go to appointments as support
There’s a laundry list of infertility appointment types that could cause your friend to feel anxious, scared, or down. And for certain procedures like egg retrieval, they actually require that someone you know (no taxis / ubers) drive you home.
For someone you are very close to: offer to learn and assist with daily injections, in the event that they might need help. I met several women who self-inject (major hats off to them!), but I personally couldn’t handle it. I was in a ball of panic when Nick had to leave town for work, but my cousin stepped up and filled in, despite her own fear of needles.
For someone dealing with secondary infertility, offering to help watch her kid(s) could be a huge help with those frequent bloodwork and monitoring appointments, especially since most fertility centers ask you not to bring children.
Understand when a friend chooses to pass on certain events
Depending on where someone is in their process, events such as baby showers or kids birthdays can be emotionally taxing.
Acknowledging losses and setbacks
Infertility losses and setbacks can take on so many different forms. It can be infections or false positives, insufficient quality eggs or embryos, the heartbreaking unsuccessful implantation, or the absolutely crushing miscarriage (no matter how early) – just to name a few.
“It helps to acknowledge that something is a devastating loss to your friend and treat it how you would with any serious loss, like sending a thoughtful note or flowers.”- Rebecca
Heartfelt or practical gifts
I don’t think gifts are necessary, but if you feel compelled or if you have a friend who lives far away and want to do something for them, these are some things that would likely be appreciated!
A handwritten card
Don’t underestimate the power of a good old-fashioned handwritten card. Something simple and unprompted, letting your friend know you are thinking of them and there for them!
Pampering or date night
A gift certificate to a nearby nail salon or spa, or a little at-home pamper package can go a long way. Fertility treatments can take an emotional and physical toll, so it’s important to remind your friend to treat herself well.
“It helps to be reminded of the other things in life that I love. For example, an overnight stay at a hotel for a quick staycation, even to get away for just 1 night. Or a date night gift card to a restaurant we love (reminds me of my blessings: my hubby and good food).” – Anna
Home-made treats or cooking
This could be especially helpful after a specific treatment or procedure where your friend may be feeling lethargic or anxious, and cooking is the last thing on her mind. Also for post-embryo implantation during IVF, some wives tales recommend drinking warm fluids to keep the abdomen area circulating – I don’t really believe in these, but a delicious homemade soup delivered to a friend never hurts!
Reminders of hope
We received a small, baby-themed prayer quilt from Nick’s mom, where each square had a knot that was tied by someone with a prayer said for us. I would literally sit at my computer with this wrapped around my shoulders when I needed comfort.
“Something small but meaningful, such as jewelry with inspirational words like “keep going” or “you’ve got this.” – Anna
A cozy care package (in maybe a size up!)
Everyone’s body is different, but it’s very common to gain weight (~10 lbs or more) from infertility hormones and be extremely bloated after certain procedures. The weight gain can be a sucker punch for some ladies who are already feeling down about their bodies. A package with a cozy cardigan, stretchy leggings, plus maybe a book or movie (sent via an itunes/Amazon/Google play credit) will likely get a lot of use!
What not to say
I know mostly everyone means well, but there are some common things people say that have a tendency to send women going through infertility into a hormone-laden rage. I think the recurring theme with all these is simply remembering that everyone’s experience is different and unique to them, and you don’t know everything they may have tried or gone through already.
“Just relax and don’t think about it. It happened to so and so!”
“Have you tried acupuncture, no more working out, gaining / losing weight, putting your legs up after sex, bla bla bla? So and so tried it and got pregnant right away!”
“It just wasn’t meant to be.” “Each failed attempt is a reset on your emotions and how much you can handle. While I do strongly believe that there is a reason for everything, comments like this can make me feel as if motherhood was not meant for me.” – Mary
“You’re still young! You have a lot of time left to get pregnant.”
“Have you thought about adoption?” This is a deep and personal decision. I know the intentions behind this are good, but a woman should not be made to feel selfish for wanting to have biological children.
“You work too much / your career is too demanding! Of course it won’t work.”
“Have you tried these Asian fertility supplements?” (that happen to look like chopped, dried up genitalia)
“You’re lucky you don’t have kids. You can have one of ours!”
I’d love to hear what other women -who’ve been through their own unique experiences- have found to be helpful. Please share with us in the comments!