How to Support a Friend or Family Member with Infertility

National Infertility Awareness Week 2013

Our National Infertility Awareness Week blog continues! Every day this week, we’ll feature one of our Circle of Support Sponsors as they share helpful information and advice about infertility, your options and coping. Today’s post is brought to us by Silver Sponsor Fertility and Reproductive Health Department at Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates.

National Infertility Awareness Week Blog How to Support Family and Friends with Infertility

photo credit: advertisingelyse via photopin

By Christine Skiadas, M.D and Sharon Steinberg, RN, MS, CS

Family members and friends can unintentionally hurt the feelings of couples struggling with infertility. Although it may seem natural to ask couples when they plan to have children, even this question can be hurtful. If you ask and don’t get a straight answer, drop the subject. If your friend confides in you about fertility issues, listen without judgment.

Here is a “top five” list of things NOT to say or ask someone trying to get pregnant.

5. “It’s just stress.”

Stress may not help the baby making process, but—infertility is a medical condition. Stress doesn’t cause tubes to be blocked, sperm counts to be low or ovarian reserve to be diminished. It is very stressful to try to get pregnant and most patients are already trying to minimize stress.

4. “Is it you or your partner that has/is the problem?”

This question may be asked innocently, but it is not helpful. Although the source of infertility may determine what treatments are indicated, it is private information and generally not supportive of the couple or their attempts to build a family together.

3. “Maybe you should stop doing…”

(…insert “exercise, drinking milk, eating soy, drinking coffee, working, etc.”) Infertility patients ask themselves these questions all of the time and work with their physicians to identify factors that may help their individual circumstances. Taking away some of these factors (such as exercise or working) may either increase stress or diminish self worth for patients.

2. “Have you considered adoption or egg donation?”

Patients may think about adoption, but may not be ready to consider alternatives to conceiving with their own eggs/sperm. Egg donation brought up at an inappropriate time may be devastating to the female patient, if she isn’t comfortable with the idea or hasn’t explored all options for using her own eggs. If you don’t have complete knowledge of where your friend may be in the decision-making process, avoid bringing up alternative options for parenting.

1. “Are you sure you really want to put yourselves through all of this?”

This question is one of the hardest that my patients mention to me. No one wants to put themselves “through all of this.” I have yet to meet a single patient who is hoping that they need IVF to get pregnant. People undergoing treatment for infertility—by definition—are not getting pregnant the way that they wanted to and are making the best decisions that they can.

It is clear that there are many unhelpful things to say and do, but having a few key people to confide in may be invaluable to infertile couples.

Ways to support a couple struggling with infertility include:

  • Listen. Give your friend space – don’t bombard with questions. Share your concern and support. Wait for them to tell you what is going on, and listen to what the couple is experiencing.
  • Offer to be a source of support, but respect their need for privacy.
  • Recognize that infertility treatment can take years to resolve—and that resolution can have many forms. Don’t minimize the pain and grief, and don’t offer false hopes.
  • Reassure your friend/family member that you love them no matter what—and this is not related to their ability to have child.
  • Try to make time for activities with friends that don’t involve children.
  • Cut your family some slack around family/baby centered events and holidays. Don’t take it personally if couple decides to skip family events. The winter holidays, anniversaries of pregnancy losses, Mother’s day and Father’s day all are often hard for couples with infertility.
  • Support whatever decisions couple makes regarding treatment. A patient told me that one of the most supportive things a friend said to her was, “Whether it is through pregnancy or adoption, I know that you will be a great mom someday.”
About the Authors

Christine Skiadas, M.D. is a board-certified Obstetrician and Gynecologist and Reproductive Endocrinologist. She completed her training in Obstetrics and Gynecology, as well as Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Dr. Skiadas has been at Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates for 2.5 years and focuses on prioritizing the patient experience while delivering focused medical care with a personalized, caring approach to treatment.

Sharon Steinberg, RN, MS, CS is a psychiatric advanced practice nurse. She is the mental health consultant to the Center for Fertility and Reproductive Health at Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates and has worked with fertility patients for over 20 years, in addition to running our Mind/Body program.

The Center for Fertility and Reproductive Health at Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates prides itself on providing comprehensive fertility care, including advanced Reproductive Surgery and IVF with a seamless transition to OB care and other specialty services. To learn more about our team, please visit www.harvardvanguard.org/fertility

Comments

  1. Amy Murray says:

    This was a great peice. I agree with everything you say. I get all of those comments and questions daily. It is tuff not being able to start a family. Like you said, it does take years for some people. It stinks cause some people cant even afford 1 cycle of IVF. Thats what im dealing with know. Im trying to raise the money just so we can try atleast one cycle of IVF. Wich I read and study all the time… It could take up to 10 cycles of IVF and then we might not be able to have a family of our own. I would rather have one chance then no chance… My mind always wondering …..geeee would this of worked? My thoughts and prayers go out to all women and men and their family and friends to those suffering from fertility issues <3 If anyone would like to help me make my dreams come true you could help me by sharing my page and donating 1 doller to my site. IF i could get 50,000 people to donate just 1 doller that may give me 3 almost 4 cycles off IVF. If I have any funds at all left. Im going to pay it forward to the next person suffering with fertility issues…. if anyone would like to help you can donate at http://www.giveforward.com help amy with IVF. thanks for your time and listening <3 Everyone has the right to have a family…I feel like the goverment should allow Insurance Companys to pay for IVF for every state in the US. I hate how they can pick an choose according to state!!!! If we cant have the baby we desire so bad..Then maybe i can atleast change the laws for others….

  2. I would also add to this another hint:

    – Don’t talk about the couple struggling with infertility to friends and family! While we may be smart enough not to hurt feelings in person, I think we often forget that what we say ABOUT the couple, rather than to them, can be just as damaging.

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