As part of my quest to be an advocate for infertility awareness and understand, I have, from time to time, shared blog posts related to what we have gone through that I felt worth passing on to others. One of the blogs that I loved the most was written by my friend Amanda and her husband Dan. They were going through IVF about the same time as us and shared their experiences. (They were blessed with a baby boy who is an adorably handsome young man whose pictures flood my Facebook feed all the time, much to my delight.) Other friends have also shared their successes along with their disappointments. I have also found a few articles about what not to say to those struggling with infertility that I have passed on to others, usually via Facebook or Twitter.
Then my friend Aubrey asked me a question this morning that made me realise something: all of these posts about what not to say never gave suggestions about what to say. And for a person like me who focuses so much energy on encouraging others to talk about what they are doing and not what they are not doing, I realised this was a grave oversight. I promised Aubrey that I would spend the day pondering the question and write a post for her and everyone else who has been wondering. So, with that lengthy introduction, here is my list, written in no particular order:
- Say how much you love your friends. This may seem like such a simple thing, but it really does mean so very much. Expressions of love and affection for your friends, shown to your friends, helps to remind them of the good things in life. When a couple is struggling with infertility, it can be all too easy for that struggle to consume their lives. Being reminded that friends and family love them as they are boosts the spirit considerably.
- Tell them you are willing to listen. One of the hardest things for us to do is to actually listen to others. Sure, we hear what other people are saying, but we usually spend most of our not-talking part of a conversation thinking about what we are going to say next instead of listening to the other person. If your friend wants to share, please be willing to listen to what she has to say. If you know that your friend has a particular diagnosis related to infertility, such as PCOS or endometriosis, take the time to educate yourself. There are wonderful resources online and in print that can help you understand what your friend may be going through and will also help you know what he or she is talking about as you are listening.
- Ask if they want to share or answer questions. Every couple, every person, has to decide for him- or herself how comfortable they are with sharing their experiences with others. Some may not wish to talk about it at all, while others may be very open about it, to the point that you may get more than you bargained for when you ask a question! Assuming that your friend has told you she is experiencing infertility, a good starter might be something like this: "You have shared with me that you are struggling with infertility. I want to be sensitive to your feelings; do you feel comfortable talking about it? If so, I am here to listen. If not, I totally understand! Let's just make brownies and watch The Big Bang Theory! Actually, let's make brownies anyway!" If you have learned something about your friend's specific condition and he or she is willing to share or answer questions, you could ask a question about something you read or heard and ask if that has been your friend's experience.
- Do tell them that they are remembered in your prayers. I use the term "prayers" to describe any number of ritualistic ways in which one can seek divine favour for a friend, including talking to God, seeking the intercession of the saints, lighting candles, or just thinking about your friend. Whatever it is you do, let your friend know that you are praying for them! One other thing with this: I believe that the most sincere prayers are those that are accompanied by action. After praying for your friend, ask him or her what you can do to help. They may say, "Oh, we're fine," so you may want to ask something more specific: "I know you are going through a lot right now; can I help out by making dinner for you tonight?" or "I was thinking about you earlier today and stopped by the grocery store on the way home. Do you like ice cream? I hope so, because I picked some up for you!" or "I remember when I was feeling persistent nausea once and the things that helped me, so I put together a basket for you. I hope this helps!" or "We were praying for you guys this morning and made this card of positive messages just to let you know we care."
- Do invite them to be a part of your life. Infertility is not a contagious disease. Infertile couples do not wish to spend all of their time along. Yes, we have other friends who are infertile and yes, we do have gatherings with our child-less friends, but we also love being invited to join your family for special or not-special events. This is especially important for those friends whose family members live far away. Are you making a pot of spaghetti and realised that you've made enough to feed an army three times over? Call us up and see if we'd like to join you! Are you looking for someone to join you for a game or a movie? Make the invitation! Some couples may be uncomfortable around other people's children, especially if it is during a particularly challenging time, so be aware that your invitation may be turned down. Also, inviting your friends without children to come to your home is often easier for you than for them to invite you over, since you will need to either bring your children along or find a sitter. And speaking of finding a sitter, ask your friends if they would be interested in watching your children for you from time to time, not in order to "get practice" or because they "don't have anything else to do" but because they are your friends and you trust them.
There are so many posts shared about what not to do and what not to say when it comes to infertility that many people become terrified of saying or doing the wrong thing, so much so that they don't say or do anything. My hope is that this post gives you a starting point for breaking that fear by expressing and showing your love for your friends and family.