Written by Kelle Salle
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The path to becoming pregnant can be a difficult one. If you have a friend who is going through fertility issues, it can be difficult to know what to say to them. While you’ll want to support them in any way you can, you don’t want or say or do anything that will make them feel worse about things. Fertility issues have been stigmatised in the past but things are changing due to the fact that people are having more open conversations about their struggles.
According to recent research, infertility affects around 1 in 7 or 8 couples. While it looks different for every person, it is defined as a couple not being able to get pregnant (conceive) despite having regular unprotected sex. 84% of couples should conceive naturally within a year if they have regular unprotected sex every 2-3 days and when this doesn’t happen, the duration of the infertility can lower the chance of getting the outcome you want (so the longer it takes you to get pregnant, the less likely it is to happen). If a friend tells you they are going through fertility issues, the most important thing you can do is be a safe space for them. We’ve asked award-winning fertility specialist and surgeon and Medical Director of IVI London, Dr Cesar Diaz-Garcia to share some more insight on this topic.
How can someone be there for a friend who is going through fertility issues?
Don’t blame them – Women can often be made to feel like they are to blame for fertility issues and while their friends can help them work through these feelings, it’s important to avoid using negative language. Using negative language when talking to your friend about their fertility issues can make them feel much worse than they already do. Remember that you have the opportunity to empower your friend without judgement or misunderstanding, so try your best to keep all interactions positive. They need it.
Listen – Listening to your friend when they talk about what they’re going through is important. You don’t have to fill silences or offer platitudes. Understand that simply being there for your friend is more than enough. It’s normal to have something to say when someone is talking about something they’ve gone through, especially if we can relate in some way, but only offer advice if you are asked for it. Infertility isn’t something that can be ‘fixed’, so try not to offer solutions when your friend shares their experiences.
Avoid ‘at least’ – Now this doesn’t just apply to fertility because we all have a habit of encouraging people to look on the bright side when they’re going through things and these statements usually start with ‘at least’. The term ‘At least’ can invalidate a person’s feelings and you don’t want to do that. Avoid saying things like ‘at least you can adopt, at least you have each other’. Hold space for what they’re feeling in the present moment without trying to put an alternative spin on things.
Be kind – You don’t need to have had a fertility issue to be there for someone who is going through fertility issues. Try to empathise with your friend’s pain. Most times, kindness isn’t telling that person what you think they want to hear. It can be just letting the other person know that you are there to listen to them whenever they need someone.
Don’t compare – We are living in the age of comparison thanks to social media, so the worst thing you can do is compare your friend’s journey to someone else or offer them solutions. Statements such as “All that stress is causing your infertility” or “I know someone who…” can make someone feel like they’ve done something wrong. Calling out comparison is also important because fertility issues are still stigmatised in some communities. If you hear someone saying something inappropriate or insensitive to your friend, you can find a respectful way to challenge their behaviour. Don’t be afraid to advocate for your friend.
Going through fertility treatment can be all-consuming. It’s a lengthy, emotionally charged process. While you might be able to empathise with a friend who is going through fertility issues, you’ll never really know what it’s like because everyone’s experience is different. Every milestone that might seem small to an outsider (every scan, phone call, blood test or consultation) can be the difference between a fertility patient getting one step closer to having the family they’ve always wanted. If someone who is going through fertility issues knows they aren’t a burden on their friends and family, this can lift a huge weight off their shoulders.
their friends and family, this can lift a huge weight off their shoulders.
The Language of Fertility movement, which is spearheaded by London clinic IVI, has been designed to combat the common words and phrases used by healthcare professionals, family and friends that can indirectly inflict pain on someone who is struggling to have a baby. For more information, please visit their website.