If you are one of the fortunate majority of people who have no fertility problems, you may not be aware that there are a lot of men and women out there who do have problems and so this is quite likely to happen to a friend. The experience is inevitably accompanied by anxiety and some level of sensitivity and stress, and so it’s really important to have a helpful approach and know how to support a friend with fertility problems.
Whether it’s making yourself reasonably well informed, taking the issue seriously, asking the right questions and avoiding anything that seems like blame or false comfort, you will feel better equipped to support your infertile friend if you know how to take the right approach. That could involve simply sitting down over a cup of coffee and listening, or something more practical, such as accompanying your friend to a support group for fertility problems.
Being well informed about fertility problems
Unless you have experienced infertility yourself, you probably don’t know as much about the issues as your friend does. For a start, he or she may be in the minority but they are not a rare case; far from it. In fact, about one in six couples of fertile age have fertility problems, defined as a failure to conceive after one year of regular unprotected sex. They may not know why and could be feeling unsettled as a result of being in a situation they don’t understand. We at IVI calculate that in 30% of cases, the issue is with the woman, 30% relate to male infertility and for the other 40%, it may not be possible to identify the cause at all.
If your friend is having trouble conceiving but is not yet seeking treatment, the last thing you should do is wade in with pseudo-medical advice about what the solution maybe! It’s possible that they are already on the road to looking for assistance in one form or another and so it’s very helpful and supportive if you know what they’re talking about, and what they are going through. A good place to start is our website, where you can get a good overview of what infertility is, what causes it and what help is available.
Taking the issue seriously
The next step to showing support and sympathy is to realize that for someone going through it, infertility can be an overwhelming experience and can affect every aspect of their lives. Making light of it with flippant remarks such as ‘You don’t know how lucky you are’ or ‘You’re welcome to have my kids any time’ just show a complete lack of awareness. They could even smack of smugness. Empty words of comfort such as ‘Just relax and it will sort itself out’ or ‘Don’t worry, it will happen in the end’ are equally thoughtless. You can’t be sure that it will, in fact, be all right in the end, and platitudes never help someone whose feelings of pain and loss are very real.
Asking the right questions
Any counselor will tell you that an open question such as ‘How are you feeling about it’ or ‘do you want to talk about it?’ will probably make your friend feel more comfortable and cared for than any other approach. The very best question of all is a simple ‘What can I do to help?’ It may be that your friend just needs someone to listen, or it could be a more hands-on offer that’s needed, such as going with them to a support group for fertility problems, to lend your moral support and help with the hurdle of that first visit.
Avoiding the no-no questions
You may be desperately curious to know whose ‘fault’ it is, but asking about it is absolutely not the way to support a friend with fertility problems. Other questions and observations to avoid include:
Prying or intrusive questions
Friendly interest is one thing, but questions about whether your friend knows the best time to have sex, how long they have been trying to conceive, or even whether they have thought about adoption are simply hurtful.
Unsolicited medical or lifestyle advice
It’s very well known that being overweight, or in some cases extremely underweight, can cause fertility problems. If you know this, your friend already knows it too. So now is not the time for advice about diet, exercise, yoga or a positive outlook. Equally, anything that could sound like a veiled criticism, such as why they left it so long before trying, is not supportive.
Offering practical help
A good friend offers practical measures as well as a sympathetic ear. If the suggestion comes from your friend, rather than from you, that she or he is thinking of looking for advice and possible treatment, that is the time you could be useful in a hands-on way. Company, help with a lift to an appointment, taking care of domestic commitments while they take time off, all of these would be great ways to show solid support.
Contacting IVI when the time comes to look for treatment
It could be a real comfort to know that the options for fertility treatment are advancing all the time and that 90% of couples who consult us at IVI about infertility problems and put their trust in us, do go on to achieve their goal of parenthood. This is much more reassuring than an empty promise that it will ‘be all right in the end’!
If and when your friend does decide to seek treatment, you could point them in the direction of our website setting out the range of treatments available depending on their circumstances, and encourage them to take a look at our video about IVF, the most common treatment for infertility. You could point out how easy it is to make an appointment with IVI, and even go with them if circumstances require. That’s what friends are for!