It’s pretty obvious that I like to talk about my baby and my pregnancy. While this is not generally everyone’s area of interest, it’s my passion and it takes up the bulk of my life right now. I will even go as far to say that some days my brain doesn’t stray far from thoughts like feed baby, soothe baby, play with baby, hold baby and repeat 12x a day. Sometimes there is no more room in my brain for other thoughts and that’s the reality of being a first time mom to an 8 month old.
But I do also strongly feel that it is important to support, encourage and pray for those that are going through difficult challenges in their lives. As a Christian, I am not called to remain in my bubble and be self-serving, I am called to step out of my comfort zone and demonstrate love for everyone, and especially those who are going through difficult circumstances and who are broken. Amidst the whirlwind of thousands of mom blogs, articles and posts about momhood and babies and children, I am guilty of not opening my eyes and my heart enough to those couples and individuals who are going through fertility challenges and infertility. It is a topic that is dear to my heart. I worked (briefly) at an infertility specialist’s practice and I learned a lot about what women and men go through when they consider and commence infertility treatments. It is equally a physical and emotional ordeal, but one that people are willing and ready to go through in order to get pregnant and grow their family. As I learned the different types of infertility treatment from least invasive to most invasive, the process that women have to go through within their cycle to prepare their bodies, and the fact that infertility is 1/3 female issues, 1/3 male and 1/3 unexplained, my heart went out to all the women, men and families investing their time, money and bodies going through this process. I feel like I was especially sensitive since at the time I was working there, we were also trying to get pregnant.
So this morning when I browsed through my newsfeed, it caught my eye that this week, April 24-April 30 is actually National Infertility Awareness Week. I thought, how is this not more on the forefront of awareness weeks? I could have almost missed this. And I realized it is because it is an issue that people are not comfortable sharing, which is totally understandable, but also an issue that many people, including myself, do not know how to talk about provide sensitive and effective support. I have known a handful of couples who have gone through infertility treatments, and I am sure there are couples that I know that have/are going through them that I had no idea. Not that it is any of my business anyway, but I feel like maybe there are some days when the treatment or the emotional burden is so heavy and people want to talk about it, but they are afraid of sharing because maybe they have had not so positive experiences sharing with others in the past. I guess what my prayer is, is that God grants me the wisdom and love to support and encourage people going through infertility challenges and treatments. People love to talk about how “easy” it was for them to get pregnant in a joking manner and while there is nothing wrong with sharing one’s experience, my heart would feel crushed if I was not aware that my words made someone else feel inadequate or hopeless. I want to be sensitive and loving to everyone’s experience. And just like trying to conceive is not easy for everyone, likewise not all pregnancies are easy either and that can also touch the lives and experience of couples who got pregnant through infertility treatments as well.
Today I wanted to share the fact that it is National Infertily Awareness Week and that this would be an opportune time to reach out and encourage those in your life who may be going through infertility challenges and find it difficult to share or talk about. Below was an informative and helpful guideline that I got from the National Infertility Awareness’s website, RESOLVE, which is a movement to help promote National Fertility Awareness Week. This was copied and pasted but if you visit the link, you can click for further resources and information on how you can support and encourage others.
Let them know that you care. The best thing you can do is let your infertile friends know that you care.
Do your research. Read up about infertility, and possibly treatments or other family building options your friend is considering, so that you are informed when your friend needs to talk.
Act interested. Some people don’t want to talk about infertility, but some do. Let them know you’re available if they want to talk.
Ask them what they need. They may also appreciate if you ask them what the most helpful things to say are.
Provide extra outreach to your male friends. Infertility is not a woman’s-centric issue; your male friends are most likely grieving silently. Don’t push, but let them know you’re available.
When appropriate, encourage therapy. If you feel your friend could benefit from talking to a professional to handle his or her grief, suggest therapy gently. If you go to therapy regularly, or ever have, share your personal story.
Support their decision to stop treatment. No couple can endure infertility treatments forever. At some point, they will stop. This is an agonizing decision to make, and it involves even more grief.
Remember them on Mother’s and Father’s Day. With all of the activity on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, people tend to forget about those who cannot become mothers and fathers. Remember your infertile friends on these days; they will appreciate knowing that you haven’t forgotten them.
Attend difficult appointments with them. You can offer to stay in the waiting room or come into the appointment with them. But the offer lets them know how committed you are to supporting them.
Watch their older kids. Attending appointments may be difficult if they have older kids at home.
Offer to be an exercise buddy. Sometimes losing weight is necessary to make treatments more effective. If you know they are trying to lose weight, you could offer to join them because it would help you achieve your personal fitness goals as well.
Let them know about your pregnancy. But deliver the news in a way that lets them handle their initial reaction privately – email is best.
Not To Say:
Don’t tell them to relax. Comments such as “just relax” create even more stress for the infertile couple, particularly the woman. The woman feels like she is doing something wrong when, in fact, there is a good chance that there is a physical problem preventing her from becoming pregnant.
Don’t minimize the problem. Failure to conceive a baby is a very painful journey. Comments like, “Just enjoy being able to sleep late . . . .travel . . etc.,” do not offer comfort. Instead, these comments make infertile people feel like you are minimizing their pain.
Don’t say there are worse things that could happen. Who is the final authority on what is the “worst” thing that could happen to someone? Different people react to different life experiences in different ways.
Don’t say they are not meant to be parents. “One of the cruelest things anyone ever said to me is, ‘Maybe God doesn’t intend for you to be a mother.’” Infertility is a medical condition, not a punishment from God or Mother Nature.
Don’t ask why they are not trying IVF. Because most insurance plans do not cover IVF treatment, many are unable to pay for the out-of-pocket expenses. Infertility stress is physical, emotional, and financial.
Don’t push adoption or another solution. So often infertile couples are asked, “Why don’t you just adopt?” The couple needs to work through many issues before they will be ready to make an adoption decision or chose another family building option.
Don’t say, “You’re young, you have plenty of time to get pregnant.” Know the facts. It’s recommended that women under 35 see a fertility specialist after being unable to conceive for one year. Being young increases your chance of fertility treatments working, but it does not guarantee success.
Don’t gossip about your friend’s condition. For some, infertility treatments are a very private matter, which is why you should respect your friend’s privacy.
Don’t be crude. Don’t make crude jokes about your friend’s vulnerable position. Crude comments like, “I’ll donate the sperm” or “Make sure the doctor uses your sperm for the insemination” are not funny, and they only irritate your friends.
Don’t complain about your pregnancy. For many facing infertility, it can be hard to be around other women who are pregnant. Seeing your belly grow is a constant reminder of what your infertile friend cannot have. Not complaining can make things a little easier for your friend.
Don’t question their sadness about being unable to conceive a second child. Having one child does not mean a couple feels they have completed their family. Also, a couple may have had their first child naturally and easily but are now experiencing secondary infertility – infertility that comes after you’ve already had a child.
Don’t ask whose “fault” it is. Male or female factor. Just because a friend has told you he or she is experiencing infertility as a couple, does not mean he or she wants to discuss the details.
On the other hand, don’t assume the infertility is female factor. 1/3 of infertility is female factor, 1/3 is male factor, and 1/3 is unexplained.