It's National Infertility Awareness Week. As someone who has been dealing with an ongoing journey of infertility, I have pledged to #FlipTheScript and advocate and spread awareness. I find it very important to share about my experience, in hopes that it may shed light, hope, and strength to anyone else that like me, lives with infertility.
I thought long and hard about what I could write this week, aside from enlightening you on our personal journey, which is far from over. We are almost 3.5 years into trying to conceive with having failed continuous treatment cycles, suffered a miscarriage and having been diagnosed with conditions that may never lead to a biological child. But, I thought for today I would jot down some things that I think are important for friends and family to know when dealing with a loved one that is unfortunately, battling this battle.
Infertility is a very emotional and sensitive subject. There are words to be said to those suffering that can be extremely offensive, hurtful, but more importantly words that are very supportive and loving. Support is the number one thing that I have needed over the last few years. Because of the complexity and sensitivity surrounding the subject of infertility, I have found support and communication regarding the disease can be challenging for any and all parties. I would love to spread awareness and share my takeaways and personal opinions on how best to approach your friend or family member that is on an infertility rollercoaster.
1. Let both him and her know that you are there for them. Both men and women struggle when going through this experience.
2. Ask your friend if they would like for you to check in on them to see how they are doing and follow up with their ongoing journey. It may be hard for your friend to call you to bring up what feels like continuous depressing news, yet they still may want to talk to you about it and get your support.
3. If your friend would like you to check in on them, do not be afraid to talk to them and also listen to them. Call, text, send them a card, flowers, or give them any token of affection to show that you have them in your thoughts or prayers. It is especially important to reach out to your friend at times when you know they are having a most diffcult time, such as having just suffered a loss, failed treatment, or learned of a diagnosis or major letdown.
4. Some people may prefer to be more private. If your friend doesn't like to talk much about their situation, a note or email every now and then just saying "Hey, I have been thinking about you." would be a nice gesture. No need to go into too many details or questions, just drop a "Hi!".
5. Read or take the time to understand a diagnosis your friend has described to you. A little research or understanding of your friend's particular issues can go a long way in terms of being there for your friend. The better educated you are, the more comfortable you will be in speaking with your friend thoughtfully. In return, this will provide much deserved respect to your friend. For example PCOS is very different than POF, it may be worth understanding if one or the other may apply to your friend.
6. DO invite your friend to a baby shower, gender reveal party, or your little one's 4th birthday party (if you normally would), unless your friend has given you specific instructions not to. Do not be upset or take it personal if they decline - they may not be up for oohing and awing over baby clothes. If they do attend, it is thoughtful to take a moment (at another time in private) to acknowledge how hard you know it was for your friend to be there. I have a girlfriend that did exactly this, and it was a very heartfelt moment that I appreciated greatly.
7. Know that your infertile friend is happy for your personal successes in easily getting pregnant and having babies, if that be the case. Your friend is VERY happy for you and would never wish you or anyone to deal with what she/he is going through. Your friend's "congratulations" to you, is genuine.
8. Do not complain about pregnancy or the many difficulties about being a Mom or Dad to your friend. No matter how hard it is to parent or how miserable some pregnancies may be, please save that conversation for a different friend that may better relate.
9. Do not complain that kids are expensive or sleep depriving. Again, please save that convo for another friend.
10. Do not offer treatment recommendations unless you have been through the same thing and she/he is open to your recs, OR if they ask you for your opinion.
11. Do not tell them to "try not to stress". Stress in infertile people has been measured to match that of stress in cancer patients. It is sadly and relatively unavoidable.
12. Know that diets and stress are most certainly (often) NOT the reason for infertility issues. There are genetic disorders, diseases, infertile partners, other medical conditions, previous medical treatments, and unknown factors that may be the root of the case.
13. Do not ask if your friend has considered adoption. This is a very sensitive subject and chances are your friend has thought long and hard about 178469 options, adoption being one of them that she/he may or may not want to consider yet or ever. It is natural for a man or woman to desire a biological baby.
14. Do not tell your friend "it will happen". Truth is, it may not happen. Your friend may become a parent one day, but in a very different way than what was originally dreamed of. That's a tough thing to work through. At certain points in the journey, she/he will be hurt by hearing "it will happen", even if it is intended to be words of hope. Without being brash, acknowledge you know things are not happening the way your friend had dreamed or hoped. Honesty is often the best remedy.
15. Do not tell your friend to try and relax and just go on a vacation. Infertility treatment, adoption, etc. are all very expensive life investments. The vaca fund may have been sucked up by IVF already and maybe your friends are ready to go on a vacation as a family of 3 or 4. This recommendation may be pouring salt in the wound.
16. Try to be patient and accepting of your friend that may be feeling sad, mad, or confused. Please listen to them cry one more time, even though you have already a million times. In the end, those are the moments that your friend will be most grateful for your friendship. Please be that shoulder for the 2374689th time. Your friend is grateful for your never-ending support. Know that.
17. Lastly, buy an ice cream cone or a glass of wine for your friend. There will be days for smiles and ice cream and nights for tears and wine. Possibly, all in the same day. Infertility is quite complex and there are many mixed emotions on any given day.
It is important to maintain hope for your friend no matter what. There will be times that your friend may appear to lose faith at times in their journey, seem negative, scattered, and uncertain, but your steadiness of hope, strength and belief on behalf of your loved one struggling is what will be one of the greatest importances for your friend on their journey in the present and going forward.