This month, I planned to write a Q & A article about dealing with infertility. It’s a common condition but one that doesn’t get talked about easily. And like many of life’s difficult situations, it’s impossible to know what infertility feels like if you haven’t experienced it. I wanted to share some of my own story and answer common questions.
I informally polled a Facebook group of mom friends to find out what questions they had. About half of the responses were questions about navigating tricky situations: How do I tell you I’m pregnant? Will you want to come to my baby shower? Am I saying things that are offensive or hurtful? All great questions. But it turns out the internet already has some great resources addressing these questions.
What was surprising to me is that half of the posts were responses from mom friends who had their own infertility stories. These are women I’ve known for a year. I entered motherhood alongside them. I know how long their labor was and what their kid’s poop looks like. But I had no idea they’d also experienced infertility.
Why don’t we talk about it?
For some of us, dealing with infertility is an unexpected challenge. We start trying to have a baby, and it just doesn’t happen. Before we know it, we are caught up in a world of early morning doctor’s visits and confusing abbreviations (IUI! IVF! TWW! PUPO!). And we don’t want any of it to be happening. Month after month, we face disappointment. We feel left in the dust as seemingly everyone around us builds their families. We put other plans on hold as we figure out how to attend countless doctor’s visits and how to pay for it all. Infertility can bring up feelings of shame, anxiety, depression, and failure. We build up walls to keep these big feelings inside while we deal with the rest of our lives, and it can be scary to let the walls down, even to a trusted friend. In short, it’s not easy to talk about.
Let’s Talk About It
If you’re under 35 years old, “infertility” means trying to get pregnant for a year with no luck. If you’re over 35, you get six months to try before you’re eligible for a diagnosis and treatment. Treatment options depend on the diagnosed cause of infertility as well as what is covered by health insurance. Some people are able to conceive with a little or a lot of help, and others do not. Some have trouble conceiving their second or third child when the first came naturally. For some, infertility is a little speed bump on the way to having a child. But for many, infertility causes years of trauma with wide-ranging and long-lasting effects.
Why We Should Be Talking About Infertility
Pregnancy and new motherhood are hard, but think about how much support women get. People send homemade meals for the freezer, they text just to see how mom is feeling, they literally “shower” her with their love. Infertility is hard too, and often comes without any of this support. The overwhelming message I got from moms on Facebook was that they wished they didn’t feel so alone.
Think of your friends. If there are more than 8 of them, chances are at least one of them is all too familiar with infertility. They may currently be childless, have a child who was adopted or conceived with help, or be struggling with secondary infertility. They may choose to keep it private, but they may want or need to talk about it.
How to Show Support
Infertility can be a rollercoaster, full of hopeful days (like after a promising procedure) and absolutely devastating moments (like another negative pregnancy test). It can be really tricky to navigate as the person going through it, so it’s normal to feel unsure how to navigate it as a support person. The best advice I can give on how to support your friend?
Learn a little
No one expects you to be an expert, but knowing some basic terminology will show that you care and help you engage in conversations. Visit the Resolve website for basic facts. On your next Netflix night, watch the documentary One More Shot or the movie Private Life. Learn why IVF isn’t for everyone, why it can be so hard to know when to stop treatments, and why “just relaxing” doesn’t work. And since you’re not an expert, avoid offering unsolicited advice. No one wants to hear about your cousin’s sorority sister’s new neighbor who went gluten-free for exactly 55 days and miraculously got pregnant.
Text just to say hello. Send her funny GIFs. Tell her about the new reality TV show you can’t stop watching. Offer to talk as much as she wants about her latest infertility treatment or about literally anything else if she needs an escape. If she tells you she’s nervous about test results coming back in a few days, check to see how she’s coping with the wait (there is SO MUCH WAITING), but don’t bug her about the results. She probably doesn’t want to hear you complain about your kids, but she does want to hear from you.
Send her a gift card for her favorite takeout restaurant. Celebrate her job promotion or other life milestones. Should you tell her you are pregnant? Yes, but tell her privately before you make a big announcement on social media. Give her space to process the announcement and react in her own time. And save your pregnancy complaints for other friends. Infertility treatments come with similar side effects – nausea, headaches, raging hormones- but there may be no baby at the end to make it feel worth it.
Infertility can make us feel powerless. Put some of the power back in her court. Invite her to your baby shower but add a personalized note that you know she may choose not to come. Let her decide, rather than deciding not to invite her. If she skips it, offer to get together when it fits her schedule. Create a supportive environment for her so she knows she can talk to you, and let her decide how much to share.
And when in doubt, send chocolate.