In Part 2 of our Practical Advice for Friends and Family series, we offer advice on how others can be helpful and supportive of your journey.
A RESOLVE New England volunteer
How You Can Be Helpful and Supportive to Us
What can you do to support your sister, daughter, or friend? While I know everyone means well and that people are genuinely concerned about our well being, it doesn’t always translate well. Here is a list of practical ways that you can support us and help us feel better through this strenuous process:
- Respect our privacy and don’t bring up our infertility. We live it every day; we don’t need friends and family reminding us of our situation. Our friends have been truly comforting in this area. When we lost our son, they expressed their sympathy in a genuine way for an appropriate amount of time. Since then, they have never asked us once about our plans for further children. I know I can enjoy spending time with them and just be myself, without being labeled as “infertile” or having to defend my situation or re-live the losses.
- If you would like to know how your sister is doing, just ask her, in a sincere and gentle way, “So, how are you?” It is also helpful if you ask in a private setting. That provides her the opportunity to share what she’d like you to know and it will be immediately apparent whether she wants to talk about things or not. If she doesn’t expand on her situation, don’t press for more information. It is our sensitive topic; let us bring it up.
- When your friend shares something with you, treat it delicately. It is her information to share and she is expecting you to keep it confidential. Don’t bring it up again at a later time, unless she brings it up. Resist the temptation to pass along the information to family members or other friends. It is not the least bit comforting to be “the topic” of family gatherings or friends’ grapevines.
- If your daughter offers information that she just got bad news from a failed procedure or suffered a pregnancy loss, tell her that you are very sorry for her loss, sad for her and her partner, and ask her if she’d like to tell you about it. It’s best not to offer solutions or look to the future because right now, she just needs to grieve this bad news or this particular loss. Let her be in the moment with her pain and her frustration. She probably needs a hug and a shoulder to cry on.
- If you inadvertently say something painful or insensitive, say you’re sorry.
- You may wish to suggest that your friend see a loss counselor, but that, too, is a sensitive subject unless you yourself have done therapy or counseling. Dealing with infertility is so physically and emotionally consuming that most women don’t have any capacity left to find an effective counselor and miss even more time from work to keep those appointments. Through my own journey, I have met women who have taken an entire year off from work in order to deal with the stress and disappointment of infertility. Seeing a counselor has been quite helpful to me, but it is a personal choice.
- If you hear that someone you know has suffered a significant loss, such as a stillbirth, write a condolence letter. If you have social plans to see the friend and still want to acknowledge the loss in person, follow the lead of my friend, Jackie. Jackie waited until the end of the evening, right before we said our goodbyes for the night, to speak up about my loss. It was incredibly sensitive and comforting and didn’t derail the entire night. (Additional advice on how to support a friend or family member through loss and miscarriage can be found here.)
- Include your friend in activities. She may be sad or distant and may not feel like she would be good company while dealing with her private pain. Let her know that you still want to spend time with her even if she is sad.
- Invite your sister or friend to baby showers, but if she sends her regrets, don’t question her, judge her, or hold it against her. It can be astonishingly painful to be forced to celebrate a friend’s upcoming bundle of joy when it is such a sharp and painful reminder of what is missing in our own life.
- Know that if we are lucky enough to have good news, we may not be willing to share it until we are sure we are completely in the clear, which may not be until well into the second trimester. Your sister is probably very scared that things could still go wrong because she has been there before when things didn’t work out.
- It may be that you need a few sessions with a loss counselor if your daughter’s or sister’s situation is really upsetting you. Have the self-awareness to know that it may make you feel better to talk about your sister’s situation, but it may not make her feel better to talk about it.
What advice or suggestions do you have about how family and friends can be helpful and supportive of you while on your infertility journey?
For additional support, come to one of our many peer led support groups throughout New England.