It happened – a family member, coworker, or friend announced that they were pregnant. You sincerely congratulated them but spent the next 24 hours crying. They did not know that you were trying to get pregnant. A family member asked you at a family gathering when you are going to have a baby. They did not know the emotional impact that their question had on you.
Choosing to talk to about infertility with friends and family can mean facing uncomfortable questions and comments. This is usually a private subject. Choosing to make this private part of your life public is a difficult decision. Educating others about infertility and dealing with their emotional response, while trying to deal with infertility yourself, can be hard. Questions and comments may feel insensitive, hurtful or intrusive.
Sometimes people do not know what to say when you reveal that you are experiencing infertility. Just as you may not know what to say to someone about a situation that you have never dealt with, they also may truly not know what to say. They may want to provide comforting or hopeful words, and not know what the right or wrong words are to say. Words that are meant to comfort may end up feeling hurtful. Their comments may not be well thought out, as they are also trying to deal with their own feelings and discomfort at the same time.
Friends, family and coworkers may not understand acronyms and terms like ICSI, IVF, IUI, PGT-A, in vitro fertilization, frozen embryo transfer, beta hCG, ovarian stimulation, donor sperm, and chemical pregnancy. These are terms that they may have never had a reason to know or use. IVF and genetic testing may seem like the stuff of a science fiction movie. If they had their children before In Vitro Fertilization was invented or available in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, they may not know of anyone personally who has had a baby through IVF.
Opening the conversation about infertility for the first time can feel frightening. Understand that the person that you are talking with may have sincere concern for you, your partner and your situation. Be careful not to assume that the concern they voice is a judgment of your situation or a criticism of your choices.
A benefit to sharing your journey with infertility or IVF is that that you may receive support. Friends may understand and be more empathetic when you choose not to attend a baby shower. And the more they understand the IVF process the less you may need to explain in the future.
Here are some suggestions on how to talk about infertility with family and friends:
Decide if you want to share your struggle with infertility. You are certainly entitled to not share this information. Just as you are entitled to not share information about other private parts of your life.
Make a plan. Make the plan with your partner and stick to it as much as possible. You are going through this together, and it is respectful of your partner to only share what you have agreed upon.
Decide what information you are going to share. Will you share the cause of the infertility? When will you share the results of a pregnancy test? Will you share when you are going through an IUI or IVF treatment cycle? These are all important to decide together before beginning to share information.
Decide who you will share the information with. Will you tell coworkers, the guys on your sports team, parents and extended family?
Decide how you will talk about infertility. It is courteous to have a private conversation with those closest to you first. After that more public communication can happen. Agree with your partner in advance about whether the information will be as public as posting on social media.
Set Boundaries. Letting others know what details you will or will not share helps them to respect your boundaries. Don’t hesitate to let others know ahead of time what information will not be shared, such as where you are at in your fertility treatment cycle.
Ask for support. Usually friends and family want to be supportive but may you need to tell them how they can be helpful. Be specific in telling them what you need. This may be help with meals after a medical procedure, a ride, or just someone to talk to.
And finally, allow yourself to be supported. Accept the support that others graciously provide you with.
About The Author
Karen Ashton Justice, LCSW is a therapist in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida specializing in counseling for individuals and couples experiencing infertility.