What You Should *Never* Say to a Friend Struggling With Infertility
An honest look at the ways women are taking care of their minds and bodies in 2018.
Infertility, defined as the inability to establish a clinical pregnancy after a year of trying, affects one in eight couples, according to RESOLVE, the National Infertility Association. That’s 7.4 million women who have received infertility services in their lifetime. And yet, despite its prevalence, the experience of infertility commonly leaves women feeling misunderstood, isolated, and exhausted. Barb Collura, president and CEO of RESOLVE, says that in addition to offering resources and advocacy for people as they navigate the ups and downs of infertility, the organization also aims to equip family and friends of those facing infertility with practical ways to support their loved ones, including how to talk about infertility — and how not to.
“Instead of making comments on where someone is in their infertility journey or what they’ve decided to do, ask ‘how can I support you?” she advises. Especially harmful, she adds, are well-meaning attempts to “solve” a person’s infertility by making unsolicited suggestions of how to handle it.
“While other people’s success stories might sound great, they can actually be really hurtful. Infertility is so personal, and there are so many different variables.”
Medical experts cite a number of underlying causes for infertility, such as endometriosis, polycystic ovary failure or other ovulatory disorders, or menstrual cycle defects. In 30 percent of cases, infertility is related to a male issue, but we tend to think of it as a women’s problem — and one that can feel incredibly discouraging.
Depending on the medical issue involved, some women are able to conceive after implementing simple lifestyle changes like weight loss or taking inexpensive medications like Clomid, a hormone treatment that supports the body in producing higher-quality eggs. For other women, the process of growing a family is more arduous, resulting in more costly, time-consuming treatments like in vitro fertilization (IVF) or even surrogacy or adoption.
But no matter the root cause or course of treatment, infertility can be a major stressor on women and their partners. Financial stressors and insurance issues, relational tension, and physical side effects of treatments — coupled with the emotional strain of uncertainty — make infertility an all-consuming process.
Brianne L., 33, who has been trying to get pregnant for a year and a half, says she’s been open with loved ones about her struggle with infertility, which has been helpful in preventing isolation. But, to Collura’s point, her openness has also come at an emotional cost.
“Sharing your journey opens you up to people’s opinions or unsolicited advice, or stories about their friend or cousin or mom who stopped trying and immediately got pregnant, or changed jobs and got pregnant, or after adopting got pregnant,” she tells Brit + Co. “I have stories like that too, but it doesn’t mean that’s how my story will end.”
Well-intentioned loved ones have gone so far as to suggest adoption to Brianne. “That suggestion hurt for a lot of reasons, but mostly because as an adoptee myself, I’ve always dreamed of having a family who looks like me, who I can see myself in, who I know will love and accept because they are mine without complication or reason to doubt,” she says. “Starting the adoption process feels like giving up hope. We aren’t there yet, and that’s something my husband and I will decide together, so please don’t ever suggest to someone that they ‘should just adopt.’”
Infertility, and the pain that comes with it, looks different for every individual. After having two sons, Kelli Ghenov, 34, is facing secondary infertility, or the inability to conceive after previously having a baby. Though they’ve been aware of the issue for three years, Ghenov and her husband have decided IVF isn’t an option for their family, so she’s hopeful surgery on her fallopian tube will increase the likelihood of conception. Throughout her journey, Ghenov has been surprised by how many people suggested she just “stop stressing and trying” for a period of time, and “it just might happen.”
“The choices involved with infertility are highly difficult, personal decisions and even the slightest disapproval can be wounding and shaming,” Ghenov says. “Instead of sharing your opinion on the chances or financial impact of different options, listen as we process our loss, emotions, and options. Acknowledge and grieve the disappointments. And celebrate the hopeful moments with us.”
Do you have an infertility story? We’d love to hear from you @BritandCo.
(Photo via Getty)