Being a Friend When Infertility Strikes

A friend loves at all times.
— Proverbs 17:17

A friend loves at all times... but what if your friend (or family member) is going through something that you cannot begin to understand?  Until I was faced with infertility myself I had no idea just how common it is. It's such a personal struggle for so many women and couples that it stays hidden just below a very thin surface of brave smiles more often than you think.  In fact more than 1 in 8 women/couples will be affected by infertility. So the odds are very good that you know someone dealing with this extremely difficult issue. Though it may not seem like a big deal for a friend to casually mention something like "yeah, we've been trying for a while," it may be the tip of a much bigger iceberg and she may be nervously looking to see if you are the kind of friend she thinks you are - one that will hold her hand while she walks through one of the most difficult trials she will face. Don't worry...It's actually pretty simple to be that friend so don't run away screaming with your hands over your ears next time you hear someone mention that phrase. Just know that for most women, it takes a certain amount of intimacy and bravery for them to admit their dream isn't coming true exactly like they had hoped.

If your friend is dealing with infertility, she is likely feeling very isolated and very alone. While you may not have walked the road they are facing, it's likely that you have experienced some sense of hurt or deep fear over something personal in your life and can relate more than you think you can.  I had just admitted to a good friend that my husband and I had been trying for over 2 years and we're going to have to start taking fertility medications. I was scared, nervous, and afraid her reaction was going to send me deeper into feeling isolated so as I casually told her what we were facing, I gave her an out by saying something along the lines of "but you don't want to hear about that."  Thankfully my friend was sensitive enough to realize that I did need to talk about it and quickly said "I may not have dealt with this issue, but I've been through hurt before. At the end of the day it really doesn't matter what causes the hurt and fear, it feels the same, so please let me help you through yours." That was over 7 years ago that she said that and that particular conversation is still so vivid in my mind because it meant so much to know that I wasn't alone. So please don't feel like you can't relate or help a hurting friend just because you haven't walked the infertility path. You just have to open the door to let her know you care and will be there. 

Keep in mind that whether your friend is going through fertility treatments or pursuing adoption, this will likely be a fairly long-term journey, so here are some specific things you can do along the way to lift her spirits.

  • Most importantly, be there! Be there, not to give advice, but to lend a shoulder to cry on and an ear to listen. You will be crucial in counteracting the "I'm all alone" feeling your friend will be struggling with.
  • Encouraging phone calls or texts on the "big days" mean more than you can possibly imagine. Just a simple text to say good luck or thinking aboutyou does wonders to calm the storm of emotions that rage on these pivotal days! Big days for fertility treatments are things like doctor visits and tests to evaluate the response to medications, egg retrieval and embryo transfer procedures, ultrasound days and obviously pregnancy test days. For adoption, big days include home visits, meetings with lawyers or agencies, interviews, and profile review days.
  • Send notes, emails etc with applicable scripture verses and let your friend know you are praying with them.  It is wonderful to have a few written encouragements in addition to the phone calls or visits because she can print them out and keep them with her to read when she’s having difficult moments or is waiting in a doctors or lawyers office. { For some really great cards from someone who has walked the infertility road herself, check out TTC Greeting Cards. }
  • Be a Sock Buddy!  If your friend has chosen to go the fertility treatment route, she will be enduring countless procedures and exams. Of course these take place in cold, sterile exam and operating rooms. Send a pair of fuzzy, warm socks! It will not only keep your friend more comfortable but will mean so much as she slips on a pair of socks to be reminded that you care and are praying for her!
  • Schedule some fun times to just get her mind off all of the serious stuff.  Get a mani/pedi, go see a movie, meet for coffee... you know, just plan some girl time!
  • Don't hold back your joy of your own pregnancy or adoptions. Though this hesitation comes from good intentions, we obviously know when you start showing or when you suddenly have a kid in tow. Trying to shield an infertile friend from your joy only makes her feel more isolated. So let her share in your joy, but be sensitive with how you break the news and understand that she is happy for you even if her initial reaction is less than enthusiastic.  A friend of mine simply just called me and said because she knew what we were going through, she wanted to tell me herself first before she announced it to our group of girlfriends. That was the best thing she could have done because it gave me a chance to deal with an array of emotions before having to publicly display a smile before I was ready.
A cheerful heart is good medicine.
— Proverbs 17:22

Overall, you know your friend, so trust your instincts. You won't be able to take this struggle away from her, but you can ensure she doesn't have to go though it feeling alone.  Be that friend that is sensitive to the seriousness of the situation, but isn’t afraid to remind your friend that it’s okay to laugh through the tears too.  As someone who has been on that side of the struggle, I can promise you... you will help more than you will ever know.