By: Jen McWaters, Psy.D. | August 26, 2022
What to Say to a Loved One Struggling and How to Cope Yourself
Driving to work recently, I was surprised to hear an advertisement on the radio for an In vitro fertilisation (IVF) clinic. This made me reflect on how much more normative the topic of fertility or infertility has become. Given the increased prevalence of diagnoses and treatment options now available for infertility, it’s likely that you have a loved one or friend who is on that difficult journey. In full transparency, this was a journey that I was on, and I’ve walked alongside many friends who also experienced infertility (both primary and secondary). From personal and professional experience, I can say that there is no right or methodical way of handling the devastating loss and roller coaster emotions that come with this territory.
My hope is that I can offer some insight on how to best support your loved one, and, for those on the bumpy journey towards parenthood, how to cope yourself.
What to Say
As a support person or family member, it can be difficult to know what to say if you know or suspect your loved one is experiencing infertility. Do not let your discomfort discourage you from talking about it.
Your loved one needs to know that you see their suffering and that you are willing to step into it with them.
It is common for those going through infertility to not want to talk about it, given the number of painful emotions that it elicits. When you approach the subject, think about the timing and place of that conversation. In general, asking questions can be welcomed depending on the closeness of the relationship and the way the topic is broached. Avoid asking intrusive questions or trying to offer suggestions.
For example, say: “I want to respect your privacy, and I want you to know that if you are struggling with infertility/conceiving/etc., I’m here for you in any way that you want me to be.”
Avoid saying: “Haven’t you been trying for a while now?” or “Have you tried ______ to get pregnant?” Or “____ worked for me/Aunt Sally/your cousin.” Rest assured, if your loved one is going through infertility, given the amount of information now available, they are aware of, or have tried every intervention that’s out there.
As tempting as it may be to try to solve the problem for your loved one by offering advice, or attempt to alleviate their pain, what your loved one really needs is unconditional, nonjudgmental support. For example, it may be that for a season they choose to not participate in certain events, such as baby showers. This isn’t personal, and respecting their boundaries is a way to show respect for what they need and offer loving support.
How to Cope Yourself
If you are going through infertility right now, ask for support from safe people. Support can take on many different forms, such as asking a friend to text you regularly to check-in or asking a loved one to drive you to a doctor’s appointment. I recognize how impossible this may feel at times. It can be tempting to shut down, isolate, and focus on going through the journey alone. Oftentimes the person or couple pulls away to conserve their energy as they try to manage their grief. Every month or treatment cycle can have extreme highs and lows. The stress and demands of doctor’s appointments, financial strain, possible negative outcomes, and hyperfocus on health behaviors is legitimately overwhelming.
If you are on the difficult journey of infertility, there will be times that you need to conserve your energy and maintain your privacy. And there will be times that you will need to reach out to your community for support, even when it’s difficult. This will help protect you from experiencing isolation, depression, and anxiety, thus reducing stress, and possibly improving outcomes.
Please don’t neglect your mental health while you are on this journey. There are many Perinatal Mental Health Resources available to support you through this, including reading materials, support groups, and providers who specialize in infertility and general Perinatal Services.
If your mental health is being negatively impacted, please reach out to a professional San Diego Psychologist for help. In general, I recommend that everyone going through infertility seek support from a qualified therapist. Your therapist will help you develop the tools and resources you need to reduce your stress and help you feel less overwhelmed. Learning how to take care of yourself and ask for the support you need will help you move closer towards your dream of parenthood.
You don’t have to do this alone. Contact Us today.