How to Be a Friend to Someone Experiencing Infertility
Most people find it difficult to speak about their afflictions. We are hard wired to avoid pain like the plague, whether it is emotional or physical, ours or someone else’s. Most people would rather go about offering, “How are you?” as a form of general greeting, rather than a genuine question. Treading in safe, shallow conversation does not offer the same level of connection as striding in deeper discussion filled with authenticity and corresponding empathy. We live in a fast pace world and it is all too easy to forget relationships are what matter most. Having real conversations and being there for one another makes life meaningful.
Infertility falls in that taboo subject, a pain that is difficult topic. There is not going to be one blanket statement that is the golden ticket in making everyone feel loved and validated. But, there are some skills that can be learned to best support the person in the way that THEY need versus the way WE think that they need.
I am one to think systematically and have carried a tool I learned in nursing school termed “APIE” to different areas of my life. We will use this approach here.
Test out the water to see how comfortable your friend is with talking about infertility. On Mommytobeprep’s Instagram story I questioned my followers, “Do you think it is appropriate to ask someone if they want kids in the future?” 76 people responded, 63% said it was OK while 37% said it was NOT okay. This is not a huge sample size but it is fair to conclude that people do not all think on the same page regarding fertility and boundaries. Something key we can gain from this is to try not to take offense when people ask questions. It is best to assume people are truly trying their best. On the other hand, it is important for people to also be sensitive with their words.
Where to Begin?
If you suspect your friend is struggling with infertility saying something like this puts the ball in their court. “I just wanted to check in with you because our friendship means a lot to me. How are you doing? What has been on your mind?”
You cannot force someone to open up, but you can create a safe, open environment. Evaluate yourself. Do you often gossip about others? If so, people will not feel safe to share their feelings with you. Ask yourself how often you open up with this person and do you actively listen when they speak? When they do open up, do you express empathy? The ability to be open in a relationship is fueled by trustworthiness, active listening, empathy, and vulnerability.
What Empathy is by Brene Brown:
Ask Your Friend What They Need
A person’s most useful asset is not a head full of knowledge, but a heart full of love, an ear ready to listen, and a hand willing to help others.” – anonymous.
What you think your friend needs versus what they need may be dramatically different. Your friend may not know what they need or want in the moment but give them a day or so to think about it and then follow back up. Ask them what their love language is. Gary Chapman’s philosophy on love language is not just for lovers but also friends, family, and co-workers.
Set a part time to show your friend love in their language. Below are examples of how to show your friend love according to their specific language.
Words of service:
Attack your friend’s door with sticky notes and let them know how strong and wonderful of a person they are. Call them or shoot them a text on random days letting them know of your love, as well on big days, including tests, procedures and transfer days. If they are taking injections buy a box of alcohol swabs and write a note on each one! Some examples may be: “You are so strong!” “You are one step closer!” “You can do this!” “I’m thinking of you!”
Acts of service:
Infertility appointments are time consuming. Offering to bring dinner by, pick up groceries, walk the dog, or any other chore that may be neglected from the extra time spent away from home is very helpful.
Send a card, flowers or a care package! My sweet sister sent me this package during the process of our In-Vetro Fertilization. It included Brazil nuts (supposedly to help with implantation), dates (helps with constipation), socks (keep the feet warm in the stirrups), alcohol swabs (for all those shots), HCG tests, propel packets (it is very important to stay hydrated with electrolytes), chocolate and a very thoughtful card. To be honest, what was in the package wasn’t what made it so meaningful- although all of it was super helpful! It was the act of her taking time out of her hectic life to put it together and ship it to me!
Some more ideas to include in an IVF care package
- Ice pack to numb the location of the shot.
- Over the counter stool softeners because the procedure and pain medication cause constipation and add to the abdominal pain.
- Water bottle because it is very important to stay hydrated.
- Heating pad because the cramping is intense.
Make a lunch date somewhere private enough that the person feels safe to open up, go for coffee, a picnic, or a nice walk. Show up at their house just to hang out and be with them. Invite her out for a movie night or an exercise class.
Put your arm around them as you walk. Give them a hug. Offer them a back or foot massage as you chitchat.
Show up for that person and carry out your plan. Just one small gesture can go a long way. For many, the most difficult thing about infertility is feeling alone.
Continue to keep tabs on your friend, circling back to the assessing what he or she may need.
Service is often referred to as the secret to happiness and benefits the giver more than the receiver. Do something for someone else today and be proud of it! Please share your thoughts in the comments below! What have you done for a friend struggling with fertility or what is something that a friend has done for you?