There is no struggle like that of trying to have a child, and it can be hard to know the right thing to say—or not say—when a loved one is going through this tumultuous process.
To someone trying to have a baby, it seems like everyone else is pregnant and sailing through her pregnancy. She zeroes in on belly bumps, strollers and happy parents frolicking wherever she goes, which can make her feel sadder, angrier and even hopeless.
Some women may have trouble conceiving, while others may have difficulty carrying a pregnancy to term…or experience both. And for those who opt for fertility treatments, getting hormone shots and other drugs may cause mood swings, nausea and other side effects on top of the roller coaster of emotions already coloring her days. Each cycle offers renewed hope…which can be dashed in an instant when a pregnancy test has just a single line or a developing fetus does not have a heartbeat.
So, what can you do as you watch your loved one go through this emotional and physical roller coaster? There is no one set script, but there are things to say and, more important, not say, to support anyone who is trying to have a child…
Let her know you’re available…on her terms. Say something such as, “I know you’re going through a lot and if you ever want to talk about it, that’s great, and if not, that’s perfectly fine, too.” But remember to be available, not judgmental if you don’t personally agree with what she shares with you.
Be positive. There’s a lot that can now be done even if gold-standard fertility treatments such as in vitro fertilization and intrauterine insemination haven’t worked. Gently suggest getting another opinion if she’s frustrated. Sometimes the man’s genes are too similar to the woman’s genetic make-up, so her immune system rejects the embryo. This will happen over and over again unless the immune system is tweaked. Newer fertility treatments can target her immune system so that it allows the fertilized egg to implant and grow.
Share your struggles…if asked. Many people don’t talk about their fertility issues or miscarriages, but if your friend/daughter opens up to you, sharing any personal struggles can help her feel less alone.
But don’t offer unsolicited anecdotes. Most of the time couples are doing everything right, yet one in five may experience “unexplained infertility,” meaning that everything is normal on the fertility work-up, but the woman still can’t conceive. Telling her about another friend, coworker or sister-in-law who struggled for years and finally got pregnant with twins may only make your friend feel more isolated rather than give her renewed hope.
Never presume there’s a pregnancy. On girls’ night out, your friend, who usually joins you in a glass of rosé, orders a club soda instead. Your antenna immediately goes up because you know she has been trying to conceive for several months and you want to coax her into sharing the big news. Don’t. There are many reasons that someone may abstain from drinking alcohol. Pregnancy is but one of them. Also, many people are, or become, superstitious about disclosing a pregnancy early on. Give your friend time and space to share any news.