In the United States, up to 1 in 8 couples struggled with infertility and up to 1 in 4 women experience miscarriage. The diagnosis and experience of infertility can be devastating. Often this is accompanied by the compounding loss of miscarriage(s) or losing an infant. Regardless if the infertility is due to male factor, female factor, or unknown/combined issues (each typically accounting for one third of the diagnoses), the emotional impact is quite pervasive. It is not uncommon for couples struggling with infertility to experience depression, anxiety, isolation, anger, marital strain, and even some trauma-like features.. After the birth of a child, infertile women are more susceptible to experiencing postpartum depression and anxiety. Like other unique sources of pain, friends and families of infertile couples often struggle to understand and know how to best care for their loved ones.
Most importantly, ask your loved ones what they need. The pain of infertility comes in waves and some seasons (or days) are more difficult than others. Something that could be comfortable on one day, may be really triggering on another. Rather than assuming you know what they need, ask how you can care for them. Sometimes people are afraid that bringing up the pain of infertility will make their friend more sad. Likely, the couple thinks of this pain daily, and rather than remind them of their infertility, your questions show your care and thoughtfulness. Sometimes your friend may want to process a hard day, and sometimes they may want to have fun and not think about it. Always give your friends permission and respect their choice to not talk about it, should they wish.
Become aware of their triggers. You are not a mind reader, so this may require some help from your friend on their specific experience. Some common triggers include baby showers, pregnancy announcements, questions from others about when they are going to have a baby, holidays, anniversaries, women talking about pregnancy experiences (birth, cravings, etc), baby dedications/baptisms at church, Mother’s day & Father’s day, etc. Being mindful of your friend when a situation may be painful can be a lifesaver to couples who often struggle in isolation. Small gestures like checking in privately when one of these things happens, sending a text on Mother’s Day/Father’s Day, or sending flowers or a card after a miscarriage can be really meaningful.
Refrain from giving advice. If your friend has not asked for your opinion, do not give it; if you do not have a MD specializing in infertility, do not give medical advice. Infertility is a complex medical condition; it is not prayed away or overcome by “relaxing” or “just adopting”. Inserting your advice, particularly when uninformed, can feel to your friend like you are trying to fix them rather than be with them. These comments are often more hurtful than they are helpful. Infertility can be emotionally, physically, spiritually, relationally, and financially draining. There are many decisions to be made along each fork in the road. Likely your friend has not made any decision hastily, so support them in whatever path toward family building they discern is best for them, including choosing to live childfree.
Understand the each partner may grieve differently. It is not uncommon for females to experience the pain and grief of infertility much more deeply than her partner. The woman often endures more poking, prodding, dreaming, and loss in her physical body. This does not mean that the male partner is not grieving, he just may be processing and experiencing the pain differently.
Celebrate and grieve alongside your friend. Romans 12:15 reminds us “Mourn with those who mourn, rejoice with those who rejoice.” Listen well. Be a shoulder to cry on on hard days, a friend to laugh with, and someone to celebrate their victories. As a friend, you may need to hold hope for your friends during difficult seasons. Pray for them and remind them of your hope for them.