Written by Monti Pal, LPC
This week, April 24-30, 2016, is National Infertility Awareness week.
As many of you know, our son was conceived via IVF. We pursued this process due to a rare genetic disorder that I am a carrier for. Through testing, I also found out that I have some low fertility/infertility issues myself.
I often work with clients who are going through fertility treatments. After my blog post last year about IVF, I had many friends and acquaintances tell me that they had experienced multiple miscarriages and had gone through IUI and/or IVF themselves.
Many people struggle with shame and guilt around sharing that they are going through fertility treatments. They are afraid of how people might respond to them or how they might judge them.
If you have a friend or family member who is going through fertility treatments, there are some great resources out there about how to help and support them. I want to add to that literature because sometimes the tips aren't specific enough.
In this post, I want to get more specific about how to help and support a friend or family member who might be going through fertility treatments.
1. Ask your friend what they need.
Many times when a friend has opened up to us about fertility treatments, they have experienced a lot of guilt, shame, and grief. The best things you can say to your friend or family member are, “What do you need right now and what do you need from me in the future?” and “How can I support you?”
2. Don't pester them with questions, but do ask how they would like to be approached.
As human beings we are curious creatures and we may want to know and understand the details in order to help support our friend. Be aware that your friend is probably overwhelmed with information regarding, cycles, medications, doctors appointment, ultrasounds, etc. Instead ask your friend if you should ask them questions about their treatments and how often you should check in with them (daily, weekly, twice a week, etc.), or if your friend prefers that she/he bring up what is going on with their fertility treatments. In the end you don't want to overwhelm them, and they may or may not want to talk about their experiences.
3. Don't be offended if they don't want to come to your kid’s birthday party, your baby shower, or other event that might be difficult for them.
Often times people who are going through fertility treatments are struggling with feeling sad that other people are able to have children easily and they cannot (or they have to go through a lengthy and difficult process in order to have them). This is not a rational feeling. Being at a baby shower or birthday party reminds them of a loss- a loss in that they cannot conceive easily and might not be able to at all. Please recognize that if your friend chooses not to attend, they may just be having a tough time. They may not feel comfortable even telling you about it, but if they do, try to be supportive.
4. Be aware and if you feel like you said something wrong or made a mistake, apologize.
Brené Brown says that showing accountability is connecting, since it allows you to be vulnerable. If you apologize for your behavior you are choosing to be vulnerable, connect, and you are being accountable with your friend/family member.
5. Don't recommend cures or bring up your friend who had a similar experience.
Every person's experience is different so be careful not to bring up your one friend who might have had a similar experience. Don't recommend cures that you might have heard about or other supplements, foods, etc. unless your friend/family member asks you specifically for ideas
6. Don't tell your friend that they have to stay positive.
Research shows that defensive pessimism can be an effective strategy for dealing with difficult situations, and for some people this can be as effective as optimism. So be careful about offering advice on how your friend should feel or behave.
7. Do stay present.
Even when you are having these types of conversations, you can be present and mindful. Take a moment to have empathy, to sit with any feelings your friend is having or you are having, and try to focus on the present moment.
Fertilty Treatments are hard for everyone involved, even friends and family. Get support if you need it and try to offer the best support possible to your loved ones.
And if you are going through fertility treatments or experiencing infertility, I offer individual therapy specific to these issues, and I am here to support you through the process.
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