It is a hard job to support and strengthen someone who has challenges with infertility. As with any trial, it is difficult to know exactly what to say and how to say it in such a way that exhibits compassion and sincerity without offending or causing an overwhelming emotional response. In fact, you may have already experienced the wide range of emotions caused by infertility.
Infertility is a touchy subject, just as divorce, pornography, death, or any other trial of mortality. Whether you are a friend, a family member, a Bishop, an Elder’s Quorum President, a Relief Society President, a home or visiting teacher, you are in a unique position and have a valuable opportunity to help your friend find the capacity to endure this trial with greater success.
This part of the website is dedicated to you as you strive to create positive and helpful relationships with those you know who are bearing the weight of infertility. May you be blessed and inspired as you move forward in love and respect.
Things to Consider…
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- Our Church world is a difficult place to be for infertile couples. Here is an excerpt from my book that you might find helpful:
“Remember that the gospel is family-oriented, as it should be, but it is often hard for a couple dealing with infertility to be reminded of it so often. We find joy in our relationships with those we love and feel comforted that family relationships continue eternally. It is important to remember that families are not just moms and dads with children. A family can be just a husband and wife. A family begins with a husband and wife. A family continues through the experiences of life whether there are no children, one child, or ten children. Children grow up and move on to lives of their own, leaving the core family behind—husband and wife. The husband and wife relationship is at the center of family life. Make sure that, in cases of infertility, you help couples feel that they are a legitimate family,” (Daynes, pg. 236-237).
- Think about what you have to offer. Think about times in your life when someone reached out to you in a way that you appreciated. Consider how you could apply those acts of love to the situation with your friend or family member.
- Consider learning more about infertility. Since the statistic is that 10% of the reproductive-age population is affected by infertility, could we say that 90% of the reproductive-age population does not have first-hand experience with infertility? That same population might not know that infertility affects so many people, what the causes of infertility are, the treatment options that are available, and how to help others cope with the despair of it all. To 90% of the population, fertility is what is known. Review the Learning page on this website for more information about what infertility is, what treatment options are available, and much more. Ask your friend or family member to help you understand some of the issues related to infertility.
- Be sensitive to the fact that baby-related functions are difficult for couples facing infertility to be a part of. Invite them to family events such as baby showers and baby blessings so they feel included, but understand and accept that it is their choice to come or not. Try not to put extra pressure on them to attend.
- Life is not all about conceiving, giving birth, and raising children. Have conversations around infertile couples that are related to things other than families. It is hard to be in an environment where everyone is talking about breast-feeding and you have no way of relating. We would probably all benefit from conversing about more varied topics.
- Recognize that every case of infertility is different. Many of my friends and I deal with infertility, however, because our diagnoses are different, our paths to building a family are different. It is very easy for every infertile couple to be lumped into one category and for others to assume that what worked for Couple A will surely work for Couple B. Telling your friend about someone else’s experience can be far from comforting. Instead, focus on what your friend is talking about and learn about their specific experience. Ask questions if you would like clarification.
- Try to not suggest solutions to the couple’s issue. When you are living with infertility, life is very complex and difficult to understand, and, when you are not living with infertility, it is nearly impossible to comprehend the complexities of it all. It is so easy to suggest a fix to a couple’s problem because that is how we are–we want to take away the cause of a friend’s pain. Without knowing the depth of the circumstances, suggestions from onlookers are can be far from helpful. Additionally, suggesting that a couple read the scriptures more, pray harder, or attend the temple more frequently can cause additional frustration, as these solutions would suggest they are doing something wrong in these areas. Instead of having suggestions thrown at them, couples need more love, acceptance, understanding, and love. Try listening to your friend. Ask questions to understand their situation better. Reach out to show that you love them despite the challenges they are facing.
- Infertility causes a legitimate reason to sorrow. I have known many people who are intolerant and insensitive of couples dealing with infertility. It can be greatly offensive to anyone struggling with disappointment to feel as though their suffering is diminished, devalued, and ignored. Acknowledging infertility as a trial, just like any other trial across the life span, is very powerful in helping couples feel normal and as though their sorrow is not in vain.
I remember loving Elder Holland’s reference to infertility when he said: “Brothers and sisters, my Easter-season message today is intended for everyone, but it is directed in a special way to those who are alone or feel alone or, worse yet, feel abandoned. These might include those longing to be married, those who have lost a spouse, and those who have lost—or have never been blessed with—children,” (Ensign, May 2009, 86). When he made this statement, I felt understood. I felt like infertility mattered and was known by more that just me–by an Apostle, no less! That moment was very powerful for me as my suffering was noticed and acknowledged.
As you recognize infertility as being a reason to sorrow, also recognize that it causes couples to experience a cycle of grieving. Psychologist Dr. Beth Cooper-Hilbert explains that with infertility, “there are multiple losses: loss of children, genetic continuity, pregnancy, control, and loss of an important life goal” (Infertility and Involuntary Childlessness, 34). Keep in mind that every couple dealing with infertility will go through a process of grieving, the length of which will vary from couple to couple. Understanding the process of grief, acknowledging their specific grief, and allowing room for healing to take place will help your friend or family member cope more effectively.
- Establish a relationship. Coming right out and talking to a couple about their infertility will certainly catch them off guard. Couples are more likely to discuss their infertility with those they feel they can trust, who they feel won’t judge them, and who are willing to listen and be understanding. Make sure that when you bring the topic up with a couple you are doing so with sincerity and love rather than just seeking the scoop.
- Remember that infertility is a couple issue. So often we think of infertility being a woman’s disease, which is incorrect. Male factor infertility is the cause of a couple’s infertility 50% of the time. Regardless of which spouse is the cause of the infertility, it affects both spouses.
- Give specific service. It is easy to say “Let me know if I can help in any way”, and I honestly believe in most cases, we would be willing to do whatever is asked whenever it is asked. But, I also honestly believe that most people will never take us up on those types of offers. The offers that are most meaningful and life altering (for everyone involved) are those that are specific and proactive. Here are two examples: “I would like to bring you dinner on Wednesday night. Could I drop it off at 6:00?” or “I have been wanting to try out that new frozen yogurt shop. Would next Thursday or Friday evening work? I’ll pick you up.” When you offer a specific act of service, you are saying that you have been thinking specifically about your friend and have determined what you can specifically do for him. At the same time, you reduce the chance for backing out or giving an excuse. You show that you genuinely care and want to reach out to her. A small, but specific offer could make a large impression for a very long time. I wish I could be better at this!
- There are lots of different ways you can show you care.
- Write a note. It is always a fun surprise to receive a note in our mailbox (not just our “in box”).
- Send a gift.
- Make a phone call and just say hi.
- Give a hug.
- Go on an outing.
- Remember them on particularly hard days: Mother’s/Father’s Day, Christmas, after a treatment fails, the anniversary of a miscarriage, etc.
- Be careful about the comments you make. If you are anything like me, I live in fear knowing that as I approach someone with a difficult topic, I will either stumble all over my words or say something that unintentionally offends. Of course you then add the element that every person will respond to a comment differently, setting you up for complete disaster, right? Here are some things to think about before you make comments:
- Acknowledging that you don’t know what to say or how to say it can be most effective. Followed by an “I really want you to know that I care about you. I sometimes just don’t know what to say. What can I do that will be helpful to you?”
- Like mentioned above, focus on the person you are talking to. We often bring up stories about someone else or about an experience we had, simply because it is what we are familiar with and because it fills the conversation.
- Be simple. Use only a few words. Write them down and review them before the conversation. If you open the door, your friend will talk if they feel comfortable.
- Making light of or joking about infertility can be offensive. Some couples joke about their situations, but let them be the ones to initiate that type of conversation.
- Don’t be afraid of putting your arms around them. There is something soothing in human contact and we don’t do it enough…maybe because we are scared? A hug can calm a troubled heart. It can also fill in where words lack.
- Pray. Pray for your friend or family member. And, pray for yourself so that you can be guided to be, to say, and to do those things that most effectively build your relationship with those you love who are dealing with such a hard trial. I know you will be inspired. I have seen it work many times.
- Always show love. All of us need to feel like someone loves us and cares about our happiness and well-being in an unconditional way. Do all that you can to love your friend or family member no matter what. As you deliberately seek ways to show love, your actions, thoughts, and words will be more sincere. You will see that both of you will be blessed, strengthened, and your relationship will be given greater dimension.
It is always easier to understand some concepts when you have an example. I want to share one more excerpt from my book that will perhaps give you something to think about…
“When we learned that our second IVF (In Vitro Fertilization) cycle was not productive, Joel and I cried together. We spent the rest of the day alone. We ate out for lunch and for dinner. We laid low and watched a movie that night. We discussed our sorrows. We wondered why Heavenly Father had allowed us to spend thousands of dollars on something that would not work. We agreed that we did not understand His particular plan for us, but that there must be some sort of a plan. We allowed ourselves to mourn that day. Were we back to normal the next day or the next? No. The sting of sorrow was still there, but we did not feel like crying every two seconds. Why? I think three things contributed to our ability to handle the situation…
“One, I truly believe that we gathered strength from prayer. When we arrived home after receiving the news, we prayed for comfort, peace, and a greater understanding—quite honestly, that was a very hard prayer to offer. Two, I think that sharing a day of mourning allowed us to release a good portion of our emotions. Three, the wonderful support of family. My compassionate sister invited us over to dinner the following day. She did not force us to join them. And, our loss was not the topic of dinner conversation. Allowing time for our hearts to heal enough to continue on was pivotal in our ability to cope with these feelings of great sorrow,” (Daynes, pg. 104-105).
Other Resources to Check Out:
For Friends and Family at resolve.org
What Can Family Members do to Help? at foreverfamilies.net
How Can I Help? at 2ofus4now.org
A Guide for Family & Friends at myinfertilityguide.com
Dealing With Infertility: A Guide for Family & Friends at sharedjourney.com