Couples struggling to conceive can experience levels of stress and anxiety as extreme as patients undergoing cancer treatments. The process reminds us that we don't have absolute control over our bodies or our fertility. It is frustrating, to say the least, and can be excruciatingly painful the more time goes on. The experience can be tough for friends and family members, too, who may not understand the intensity of this journey. According to resolve.org, one in eight couples will struggle to get pregnant, so there is a good chance someone in a couple's life may know how difficult it can be, but for those who don't have an experienced friend, co-worker, or family member, it can make this process even harder. Below are some tips that may help you create a more supportive interaction with your loved ones who are struggling to get pregnant:
1. Don't assume what worked for you, your friend, your sister, your mother, a celebrity or anyone else will work for them.
Each fertility case is different, and there are many reasons a couple may struggle to conceive. What worked for one person will not work for everyone. Unless your friend asks, try not to give advice or assume you know the reason she's not conceiving unless she asks.
2. Her infertility is not a result of her stressing about her fertility, so please stop telling her to relax.
While intense long-term stress can create hormonal changes that can contribute to infertility, it is typically not the cause. A couple does not usually start out stressing about their fertility, so implying that they are causing it with their anxiety will likely make them feel worse. This is a process that cannot be controlled yet even with the most advanced technology, so assuming a woman can control her fertility in any way, including by just not caring anymore, is reinforcing her stress. Relaxing may improve her quality of life, but reminding her about how unrelaxed she is will probably not help her get pregnant.
3. If you don't know what to say and feel uncomfortable or sad that she is suffering, just listen.
It's hard to see a loved one suffering, and we often want to help. Unless you are an expert in fertility medicine, however, trying to offer medical advice or saying it will happen when they stop thinking about it probably won't help. If you aren't sure what to say to someone who confides in you that they are struggling, just tell them you are there to listen if they need to vent or cry or if they just need a distraction.
4. Don't ask if they are pregnant yet.
If you know your friend is trying to conceive and struggling, it may be tempting to want to check in with them frequently for news. Please trust that when they do become pregnant, they will tell you when they are ready. Even if you suspect they might be pregnant because they are avoiding alcohol, hitting the bathroom every 20 minutes, or are in bed by 8 p.m., it's better to wait for them to share the news on their own timeline than to ask.
5. If your friend or loved one is type A or a perfectionist, this is even harder for her.
This journey is hard because it is something we cannot control. No matter how much money you throw at IVFs or how many herbs you pound, you cannot force a pregnancy. Type-A personalities are hardworking and used to feeling in control. This process can be even harder for them as they are usually smart, successful women who go after what they want and often don't stop till they get it. Most couples who keep trying and exploring all their options for fertility intervention will succeed eventually, and all couples can become parents one way or another, but type A's want to call the shots on how and when it happens. This creates a lot of frustration and fear and, in turn, suffering. Be patient with them. This can sometimes be the hardest thing a couple goes through.
6. If you are struggling with your fertility, too, try to limit the fertility talk and prioritize fun things.
If you have a friend who is struggling at the same time that you are, or you are also trying to get pregnant but just started, make sure you aren't focusing your friend time solely on fertility talk. Make sure to balance your time together with fun activities and chats about other things too. If you find you really need to talk about this a lot, you may want to reach out to a qualified therapist for extra support. Many specialize in infertility, and it can be an incredibly helpful addition to your self-care instead of unloading on your friend.
7. If you are or become pregnant before your friend, it's OK to tell her, but share your exciting daily updates with someone else.
When a woman is struggling to conceive, it usually seems like everyone is getting pregnant except her. If you have a close friend or relative who's struggling to conceive and you become pregnant, you will clearly have to reveal the news eventually. It's OK to be excited! But know that even though your friend is super happy for you, it is still going to sting a bit for her. She may be able to act 100 percent excited, but that doesn't mean she'll want every detail or daily updates about your pregnancy. You don't have to hide it, she'll want you to enjoy your growing bump, but she won't want it to become the thing you talk about most. She may even want some distance, so don't be offended if she withdraws a bit.
In general, be sensitive, open, and communicative. It's a good rule of thumb to think about listening more than talking and to ask what she needs and how you can support her. It's a hard time, but she'll be so grateful that your actions are caring and considerate.