Ways to support a friend dealing with infertility

how to support a friend through infertility or IVF
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.

Injection help
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.

Babysitting help
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

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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!

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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! 

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  1. Karen wrote:

    Thank you for this article! Loved it! I often feel alone and uncomfortable talking about this but so many friends reach out and ask how they can help and i simply don’t know what to say. This article really hit all spots of what women going through this feel and support they need!

    Posted 11.13.18 Reply
  2. A wrote:

    Very well put. 100% agree. Thank you for this.

    Posted 8.24.18 Reply
  3. i loved this post not because you are helping so many women out there, but because there is not enough help out there and you are making an honest effort to reach out to the women who need help!

    Posted 7.28.18 Reply
  4. Anonymous wrote:

    Thank you for this post. I know that Mother’s Day has passed but it’s still such a good read. I begin my secondary infertility journey tomorrow. My first was born after many MC and finally a round of IVF. And even though I have been through it and know what to expect, in terms of injects and apts. I am still extremely nervous and sad that I begin my journey again. I know I have to go with the flow and be calm through this journey but it’s still so very hard. You’re words inspired me and I do hope that some of my friends have read what you’ve written. I hated so many comments that people made during my first round of infertility.
    Thank you for this post.
    To all of you, I hope everyone had a wonderful Mother’s Day!

    Posted 6.4.18 Reply
  5. Myleen wrote:

    Organic Spas uses non-toxic fumeless nail polish. They use mixed choices of orange slices, fresh grapefruits, lemon, olive oil, jojoba oil, lavender flowers, brown sugar, salt etc. to gently scrub your arms/legs as part of mani-pedi.

    Posted 5.28.18 Reply
  6. Pam wrote:

    I love this Jean! You know, with this post you are helping a lot of women out. Thank you for sharing your shine on gloomy situations xoxo

    Posted 5.24.18 Reply
  7. v wrote:

    Oh, Jean, what a lady with grace and thoughtfulness. I started following you many years ago since even before you got your CPA. I was touched by your thoughtfulness in everything you do, and this post cemented my perspective. You were able to turn this season of your life into lessons to be learned and shared with your readers, so we all could be better human-beings. How awesome is that?! I am taken aback by that act of selflessness. Please know that we are all praying for you. BTW, that blanket of prayers – oh my world – I shed some tears! You are so lucky to be surrounded by thoughtful and kind souls. The best has yet to come!! Have a great journey ahead, and I am here supporting you.

    Posted 5.22.18 Reply
  8. Chris wrote:

    We have opened up to a few friends about our infertility journey, and stories have come out of the woodwork! At one memorable dinner, all three couples had gone through treatment. Had we not been open, none of us would have known. Two good friends are currently struggling, and neither said a word to us, until we were honest with them.

    It’s so important to remove the stigma around infertility. You can feel so alone going through the process, while in truth you may be surrounded by people in a similar situation.

    Posted 5.16.18 Reply
  9. Anonymous wrote:

    Thank you for this post. I have struggled with unexplained infertility and there is so much emotional baggage that goes along with that. I’ve been so appreciative of my friends that don’t try to offer “answers”, where there isn’t one, but who have listened with an open heart. Unless you’ve been through it, it’s truly impossible to understand how devastating it can be. That said, the more we talk about it, and share our experiences hopefully the less stigma/guilt/shame will surround it and we can all be more empathetic to the struggle. Thank you for sharing your experience!

    Posted 5.16.18 Reply
  10. Karen wrote:

    Hi Jean,
    I must say I like that you have a post for how others can help or what to say to those who are having difficulties getting pregnant.
    For me, my husband and I have decided not to go through IVF due to the costs and the stress of going through the process. While we would have loved to have children, sadly we have somewhat accepted that it may not happen to us.
    For me, I think a little bit of understanding, consideration and patience from other people makes a big difference.
    I used to get so upset when people would say they have been blessed with a child. It makes me question why I wasn’t blessed. Or what I have (or have not) done that God hasn’t blessed us with one. Although I understand their sentiment and am sincerely happy to anyone whose family is growing, it is still very painful to hear.
    Sometimes just watching a family or looking at children at the mall, in church or anywhere in public affects me so that it makes me so sad I’d cry.
    We may not have been proactive to try other methods of getting pregnant, but people should stop asking when are you getting pregnant. Or, are you not trying?
    Another thing that helps for me is when my friends who have kids let me love theirs. They give me time to play with their kids and allow me to shower them with my love.

    Posted 5.15.18 Reply
  11. Sweet November wrote:

    I miscarried few years ago. We suffer from severe case of infertility. And then one day my acupuncturist – a lovely and kind lady – was talking to me through my infertility treatment. Somehow it came up that I own two cats and a dog. She gently said “oh you are already a mother”. I almost cried. It felt good. She acknowledged my love and care towards my pets and my even though I am not a mother to a human child, I am still capable of showering motherly love to my pets. In my own little way it made me feel good.
    Right now I am almost 14 weeks pregnant. A spontaneous pregnancy, a miracle 🙂
    Thanks for your lovely post.

    Posted 5.14.18 Reply
  12. A.P. wrote:

    Thanks for sharing your story here, Jean. I lost my baby at 7 weeks two days after I found out I was pregnant. My husband was traveling for work and I didn’t tell him until he got home (I was in shock, just absolutely devastated, and couldn’t say it outloud over the phone). I told him while sobbing after he came through the door. He hugged me tight and quietly said, “I am so sad.”
    It was so simple, but perfect; it allowed me to deal with how I felt, all the emotions, and know that I didn’t have to put on a brave face until I was ready. And I knew that I wasn’t alone.

    Posted 5.14.18 Reply
  13. Candice wrote:

    What is wrong with adopting orphan children?I am genuinely curious about this.Why do most people want to have biological children so badly?I don’t mean any offense.I just genuinely want to understand.

    Posted 5.14.18 Reply
    • Pam wrote:

      Biologically it is how we’re built. We have the sense of nurture based off of our own body and wanting to carry our own child. The idea of creating a human from the love of a couple who has possibly had the idea for a few months to years. Not being able to carry is a loss in its own, and when given it might be the right choice to give it your physical all before you go on different directions. And the simple fact that adoption can cost over 45K. 🙂

      Posted 5.24.18 Reply
  14. Nasim wrote:

    Thank you for this post! My sister has been dealing with infertility, and it has been hard for me to know what to say. I love her so much & I feel guilty that I’ve always gotten pregnant on the first try. It’s helpful to read from the perspective of women who have gone through this.

    On a somewhat related note, I did experience a miscarriage with my second pregnancy, and found my sister to be a great source of comfort. One of the first things I did to get over the pain associated with this experience was get a mani/pedi. I think giving a gift certificate is a great idea 🙂

    Posted 5.14.18 Reply
  15. Carmen wrote:

    Thank you for writing such a beautiful post. When you are in that type of situation people sometimes don’t know what to say and get to hurt you with some of their comments.

    We have tried for 8 years with in vitro, and even surrogacy and it hasn’t worked out. We have decided to adopt and are starting with the legal process but it can take a lot of time until we are assigned a child.

    Congratulations on your pregnancy and may God bless you and your baby.

    Posted 5.14.18 Reply
  16. Corinne wrote:

    Hi Jean, thank you for your positive and informative post. This is real eye opener xx

    Posted 5.14.18 Reply
  17. Stacey wrote:

    I’ve been struggling with infertility for the last year and a half and only recently opened up to my friends, family, and coworkers because I needed surgery. The most helpful thing has been the compassion they’ve shown me. So many people just listened, acknowledged how hard it is, and let me express my feelings. They also offered to support me in whatever way I needed. A friend even cried with me when I was struggling with some really difficult news. When I’m feeling down, remembering their kindness and empathy is such a comfort. The least helpful things have been offering advice, minimizing or dismissing the issue, or sharing opinions on what to do or how to feel. Responses like that just make the person struggling feel like they can’t open up about a journey that already feels very lonely and isolating. Thanks for this post and to all the sweet people who requested it.

    Posted 5.14.18 Reply
  18. SK wrote:

    Thank you for posting about this! Though I am not ready to have kids myself yet (not for a long time!), I have many friends that are at this stage in their life and are dealing with infertility issues. As much as I wanted to offer some condolence, I never knew what to say, so it’s really nice to know that sometimes admitting that you don’t know but just being there for them is the right answer. I’m sure this is a very difficult and personal topic to discuss openly with strangers, so I applaud your bravery!

    Posted 5.14.18 Reply
  19. Andrea wrote:

    Thank you, Jean! Love your blog so much! Happy Mother’s Day 🙂

    Posted 5.14.18 Reply
  20. Jay wrote:

    Thank you so much for sharing this. My husband and i are trying to conceive and it’s just not working and sometimes I feel so alone in this! And when people say things like « just be patient » or offer other recommendations I too wanted to tell them to be quiet! I felt petty for feeling this way but I’m glad to see that apparently I’m not the only one who feels that these comments are not useful. Thank you for sharing your story and happy Mother’s Day to you!

    Posted 5.14.18 Reply
  21. E wrote:

    Jean, Thank you for this post and for always thinking of others with such sensitivity. I am so happy for you and Nick and grateful you let us celebrate with you!! My husband and I tried on our own for a long time and decided to seek fertility treatment in January after our good friends announced they were pregnant. We were filled with joy for them but I couldn’t stop the tears that came as I thought about our own disappointment and defeat. I later found out they had been through grueling failed fertility treatments before conceiving on their own. There are so many stories out there. Three weeks later, we were at the fertility clinic reviewing the options from IUI to IVF. We decided to start with medication only the first month despite the very low success rate and were shocked to get pregnant that month. As I read your post, I so felt grateful again and reminded that everyone’s journey is different but we can all relate and show kindness to each other wherever we are on that path. I am 14 1/2 weeks now and still wake up every day reassuring myself it is real.

    Posted 5.14.18 Reply
  22. Julie Z wrote:

    TY Jean you’re they only one I follow that’s acknowledged how tough a day like this is for women struggling with IVF. We’ve tried for the last 4+ years and have recently decided to be adoptive foster parents. We’re very excited about the future but it’s very common that multiple times a day, when I allow my thoughts to wander and I think about all our heartache, pain, our children that well never meet, my eyes start to well up. Mother’s Day is bitter sweet for me bc on one hand, I’m so grateful for my incredibly strong mom and mothers out there. On the other hand, it’s a day that I’m reminded of how excluded I am. The kicker is when people post how motherhood is the best thing that’s ever happened to them and how they’ve never knew what happiness was before.

    I wholeheartedly agree that for friends that struggle with what to say, the genuine acknowledgement you are going through something incredibly difficult is powerful. Some people make the mistake of never bringing it up and asking how your are feeling. They mean well and try not to bring up a painful topic. But by ignoring such a big part of your life, it can add to the pain instead of helping. Overtime, I’ve decided to be much more vocal about what I’m going through. I don’t know if the pain will ever goes away but at least now I feel more seen and heard, which for me is a much better place to be.

    Posted 5.14.18 Reply
  23. Liz wrote:

    Very well put! As someone who has been struggling with infertility, Mother’s Day is a difficult day to be happy and celebrate despite all the love and blessings in my life. So many people mean well but fail to understand that those struggling with infertility need support and just need someone to listen. I don’t want to hear any advice, I just want to vent without judgment. I don’t expect anyone to understand or imagine what it’s like to want a child so bad but it just doesn’t happen. There is a huge void in my heart and is a constant struggle and jab at my heart when people start asking , “when are you going to have a baby? Are you pregnant yet?” When little do they know, we have been trying for over a year. Thank you for your words of wisdom. I truly needed it, especially today!

    Posted 5.14.18 Reply

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