It’s strange to think about, but it’s been five years since we started trying to conceive. We’ve now gone through three years of fertility treatments. Last year when I first wrote about my infertility journey here on Birmingham Mom Collective, I was preparing for an embryo transfer. When the post was actually published for Infertility Awareness Week, I was pregnant for the first time. With my post I had inadvertently announced to everyone that I was dealing with infertility and tons of people were reaching out with encouraging words, but it was still too early for me to be comfortable telling most people I was actually pregnant. But, by the time Mother’s Day came around, I had miscarried and was full of mixed emotions.
Needless to say, this journey has been an emotional roller-coaster. I’ve had four failed IUIs, four retrievals, one failed transfer, two miscarriages, and a lot of crying and setbacks. I had due dates for December 2021 and July 2022, and I can’t deny how hard it’s been to process these disappointments that have been exponentially amplified by all the hormone medicines I’ve had to take. Yet, I’m still here and I haven’t lost hope.
This is not for any reason except through God’s grace and my loved ones who care for me; they continue to be there for me and Lance when we need them most. I know this is not easy for them, either. It’s difficult to navigate a friendship when your friend is dealing with infertility if you’ve not experienced it firsthand, and honestly it’s still hard even if you have. So, here I am writing a post to all the friends and family members who want to support their loved ones dealing with infertility but don’t know how to do so. Below is the best advice I can give you as you love on those going through this journey.
It’s okay to not know what to say.
Some of the most powerful and encouraging words I’ve heard are “I don’t know how you feel or what to say, but I care for you and I’m here for you,” or “I’m sorry to hear that. That must be really hard.” Instead of trying to fix someone’s sadness or providing an anecdote by saying things like “I know how you feel” or “my doctor told me I couldn’t have a baby, but now I do”, sit in sadness with your friend. Give them a safe space in your friendship to grieve and feel whatever they’re feeling. This validates them and allows you to share their burden as their friend.
Be an information sponge.
If your friend feels comfortable sharing about their adoption process, fostering timeline, fertility treatments, etc., remember what they tell you. When they tell you they’re having an embryo transfer or just finished their home study and explain what that is, remember it for the next time it comes up in conversation (because it probably will). You don’t have to remember or understand everything, but remembering even a little bit (like what IUI stands for or that a transfer is next) not only shows your friend you care and you’re listening, but it also takes some of the burden off of them. When your friend is going through their infertility journey, it is already emotionally and physically exhausting, so not having to explain things spares their already depleted energy supply. All in all, remembering makes us feel heard and cared for.
Sending a meal or snack (or my personal favorite, a Slurpee) after a procedure, miscarriage, rejection, etc., is always a very thoughtful (and practical) gift that lets your friend know you’re thinking of them. It also helps them have one less thing to think about. This may be a niche specifically for me because I hate cooking and my friends are amazing cooks and food deliverers, but there are other practical ways to show love to your struggling friends. Perhaps you could run errands with them, buy them a plant, or babysit their children for the afternoon. (Don’t forget your friends who are experiencing secondary infertility!) Whatever it is, I know it’d be much appreciated.
Give them space.
As a friend, I think this can be really hard. Naturally, a lot of people want to help their friends when they’re in pain. I know I definitely do. I want to take away their pain any way I can, but that’s not always the best way to care for them. Sometimes there’s just nothing we can do, anyways. You will know your friend best, but for me, there were moments when I just needed space to be alone, cry, watch Netflix, and eat nachos. In fact, I did that a bunch of times. I needed that time alone with Lance and by myself to process my feelings. During that time I got a lot of “I’m here when you’re ready” texts. My friends and family were kind enough to give me space until they knew I was ready to talk, and I love them for that.
Last but not least—celebrate every milestone.
When you’re trying to grow your family, it’s difficult to enjoy milestones because celebrating can make you feel like you’re more vulnerable to heartbreak and disappointment. I find so often, with myself and my friends who also are experiencing infertility, that we feel scared to enjoy the good parts because we are so fearful of what could come next. That’s where you come in. Be there to celebrate that embryo retrieval, that endometriosis surgery, or that completed adoption application. Even though none of us know what the future holds, these victories are still something huge to be celebrated.