Sometimes, it can be hard to find the right words. But there are so many ways that you can show your support for a friend going through a tough time
While some people may have always dreamed of having a family, the journey of falling pregnant is not always straightforward or easy, and infertility – defined as when a couple cannot conceive, despite having regular, unprotected sex – can be extremely distressing. This could be due to a number of factors including, but not limited to, sporadic ovulation, endometriosis, or low-quality semen.
With around one in seven couples in the UK having difficulty conceiving, anyone going through this is most certainly not alone, and the likelihood is that either you may have some personal experience, or know someone who has had an infertility diagnosis. For some, this can be an incredibly difficult thing to talk about – so if a friend finds the strength and courage to open up to you, how can you best support them?
It may have taken a great deal of strength for your friend to start a conversation about their infertility diagnosis. The best thing you can do is to just listen to them, without interjecting or voicing your own opinions. Actively listening to your friend will help them to feel that they are not alone.
Counsellor Karen Schumann says: “Your friend has just received devastating news, and could be feeling sad, vulnerable, and experiencing a huge sense of loss.
“There is no need for suggestions, or a ‘fix it’ approach, even though it may feel like you want to. Listening with kindness, openness, and understanding is the best thing you can offer.”
Offer words of comfort
Rather than providing opinions and ‘solutions’, stick to offering words of support.
Karen says: “Offer them words of comfort, such as acknowledging their pain, the fact they are grieving, and that nothing is their fault. You could also advise them to try to take each day as it comes, so that they do not become too overwhelmed.”
Acknowledge their grief
Your friend will be experiencing a maelstrom of emotions – anger, depression, shock, denial, all stages of grief. An infertility diagnosis can trigger grief, as hopes and plans for the future are suddenly thrown into doubt.
Karen says: “Acknowledge that what they’re experiencing is grief. It might be helpful to share the stages of grief with them, so they know what to expect, and can understand what they are feeling.”
Remember grief is non-linear, and there is no ‘right’ way to grieve. The process can’t be hurried, but letting your friend know you are there can help.
Avoid unhelpful comments
When speaking to your friend about their diagnosis, consider your words carefully. An unhelpful comment can add to someone’s pain, even if there are good intentions behind it.
Karen says: “From my experience, saying such things as ‘Try to be positive’ or ‘It might happen for you’ can be really unhelpful. As much as they are not meant with any ill intent, they can make someone feel unheard and dismissed.
“Try to avoid making any positive suggestions too soon, such as getting a pet, or adopting. Your friend needs time to process.
“Also be mindful of making flippant comments about having children – ‘You’re better off without kids anyway, they’re too much hard work/mine are a nightmare!’ These sorts of comments could be hugely painful for your friend to hear.”
Offer practical help (if wanted)
“If there is anything that they don’t understand from the diagnosis, you might offer to find some information out for them, but only if this is something they would like,” says Karen. “When they are ready, you could suggest thinking of the things they can do in terms of fulfilling that need for nurture. This could be helping them through the adoption process or supporting them to be around other children – nieces, nephews, godchildren, and family friends.
“It’s important to note that this should come from your friend, when they are ready, not as a suggestion, as they need time to come to terms with their news,” says Karen.
Your friend may face some tough choices further down the line, e.g. whether to undergo IVF, use an egg or sperm donor, seek the services of a surrogate, adopt, or decide to remain childless – all of which can be difficult choices if this is not the future they had originally envisioned for themselves. Whatever they choose, it is important to respect their decision, regardless of your personal views.
If you would like to seek support, visit the Counselling Directory or speak to a qualified counsellor.