It is likely that you know an individual or couple who is impacted by infertility. The natural human response is to want to comfort them, but it can be difficult to know what to say or do, especially if you have not experienced infertility yourself. This blog will help you better understand the experience that infertile couples go through and give you ideas for how to most effectively support them.
The American Pregnancy Association estimates that 10-15% of U.S. couples will be impacted by infertility. Not being able to get pregnant or having several miscarriages in a row is difficult to deal with. There are physical, social, and especially emotional repercussions.
One important element of helping those struggling with infertility is to try to see the situation from their perspective. Although they may not make sense to you, try to recognize the losses associated with infertility that they are experiencing.
What people experience:
Self-esteem: The ability to conceive is often seen as a mark of masculinity or femininity so being unable to conceive may make the infertile individuals question their identities.
Status: Society places value on being a parent so interacting with others can result in daily reminders of the couple’s infertility.
Relationship: Infertility can potentially result in “lost” relationships as the infertility
creates distance between the partners, but also in relationships with others as they may
not see eye-to-eye with the couple on what path to pursue, are unaware of the situation,
do not meet expectations of support, or are uncomfortable with the sexual connotations
of the situation. The intense introspection and inner turmoil that results from infertility
may also lead to defensiveness, moodiness, etc.—reactions that add distance to relationships.
Control: Becoming pregnant is such a personal matter, but when it does not work,
the couple may feel helpless. There is a lack of definitive answers, as well as uncertainty
in deciding what treatments to pursue/not pursue. Becoming pregnant becomes the
main focus, causing everything else in life to take a back seat, disrupting the sense of
control that the couple felt over their lives before. Choosing to seek infertility treatments results in a lack of privacy and intrusive tests that seem to take away from the couple’s control over keeping their relationship private and personal.
But what is the best way to support friends and family members who are suffering as a result of infertility? Each couple, and even each individual will have their own unique experience, but here are some suggestions for how to help:
1. Prepare yourself
You will not be able to best help a couple or individual struggling
with infertility until you have prepared yourself. Acknowledge that there is a problem and work through your own feelings, shattered expectations, etc., with
regards to infertility. In addition, become informed so that you do not unknowingly
make hurtful comments.
2. Acknowledge the struggle
It will not be helpful if, in your interactions with someone struggling with infertility, you pretend that there is nothing wrong. Do not shy away from talking about the infertility if the couple or individual wants to, but at the same time, recognize that the infertility may
affect his/her/their interactions with you. Although the sufferer(s) may seem irrational
in their struggle, recognize that what they are experiencing is very real to them, and
their reactions may be a surprise to them as well. Realize that you cannot take away their pain or solve the problem for them, but that the purpose of conversations is to
communicate concern. Ask for patience and guidance as you strive to understand and be
sensitive to their needs, feelings, and experience. Ask how they would like to be supported.
Although you may feel powerless to help a struggling couple or individual,
being willing to listen can go a long way. Let the individual or couple know that you
are there to listen. They may or may not be ready to open up, but make sure that they
know that you are there for them whenever they are ready. It can be helpful for the
couple or individual to rehearse their “story” of what they have been through and the
dreams that have been shattered. Ask appropriate questions, such as how treatment is going or how they feel. That will give them an opportunity to confide in you if they choose to. However, if they choose not to, do not push. Listen without interjecting your thoughts and opinions. Accept that each person copes differently and that the needs of the same person may change throughout the experience.
4. Keep the bigger picture in mind
While itis very important that you are there for the couple or individual in their struggle, do not limit your focus in your interactions with them only to the infertility. Affirm your love and respect for who they are, emphasizing that their infertility is only a part of them. This will help the couple disconnect their identity from the infertility. Invite them to do enjoyable activities with you, but be okay if they choose not to come. For example,
you could find a babysitter for your own children and go out on a double date with the struggling couple. This could be a much-needed distraction from the stresses of infertility.
As you strive to be genuinely concerned and figure out how they would like their needs to be met, you will not only help the struggling couple or individual, but you will also strengthen your relationship with them.
Research provided by Dr. David Schramm and Jennifer Viveros
- American Pregnancy Association [APA]. (2017). What is infertility? Retrieved from
- Boss, P. (2004). Ambiguous loss research, theory, and practice: Reflections after 9/11. Journal of Marriage and Family, 66(3), 551-566.
- RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association. (2017). Frequently asked questions about infertility. Retrieved from http://www.resolve.org/about-infertility/whatis-infertility/frequently-asked-questions-aboutinfertility.html
- RESOLVE. (2007). Coping with infertility: How family and friends can help. Retrieved from http://www.resolve.org/resources/factsheets.html