As originally published by Dr. Sen in Healthy Living Magazine
In previous issues of Healthy Living Magazine, I discussed emotional and relationship concerns during the infertility experience. Another aspect of infertility is how to handle questions, comments and expectations from friends and family.
Individuals and couples experiencing infertility often tell me about the concerns they have regarding what their family and friends do, say or expect from them. Friends may want you to attend a baby shower, others may make an insensitive comment, while others don’t talk about it at all and seem as if they are walking on eggshells around you.
Infertility is known to be one of the most difficult and traumatic lifetime experiences. Isolation, grief, depression and anxiety are only some of the emotions that may be experienced during the process. It is a time when we need our friends and family the most. Yet we may not feel safe to reach out to them because they don’t quite understand. As you navigate your way through the infertility process, you may find others trying to provide “solutions” or telling you “to not worry about it”. While these suggestions are usually unhelpful, it appears that many friends and family “don’t know what else to say.”
Jay and Monika have been trying to conceive for a couple of years. During their infertility journey, they have experienced two miscarriages. They are feeling alone and grieving. At a gathering with friends, a seemingly innocent yet naïve question was asked…“You’ve been married for three years, don’t you think it’s time to have children?” Jay and Monika felt angry, scared, awkward and hurt. Their infertility experience has left them feeling helpless and out of control. They recognized that thinking of potential answers to questions and/or comments ahead of time may provide some sense of control. Together they developed responses such as these: “Having a child would be wonderful but unfortunately we haven’t been blessed with one yet” and “It has been a difficult few years but we are hopeful.”
In addition to thinking ahead of responses, it can be helpful to educate family and friends about what you need from them and when you might need it. For example, let them know that, while you appreciate the invitation, it may be hard for you to attend Thanksgiving dinner with all your nieces and nephews and you hope they can understand if you have to decline or leave early. If a friend is pregnant, let them know what you can and cannot manage to hear right now in terms of the progress of their pregnancy.
You can also inform your friends and family about what kind of comments are helpful and unhelpful. Statements such as “Don’t worry, everything will work out,” “Relax” or “I’m sure you miscarried because it was meant to be that way” are unhelpful and can feel hurtful. Explaining that you do not necessarily want solutions but need their empathy and support, will help them know what you are feeling and what you need.
It is also important to recognize that not everyone in your life needs to know what is happening. Instead, it can be helpful to just have one or two close friends or family members to talk with. They can be there for you through the roller coaster of emotions you may experience. You can let them know what to expect from you in terms of your moods and boundaries and also inform them about your needs. It is also beneficial to talk with your partner about whom you would like to share your experience with and what you would like to say to them.
Infertility is an incredibly difficult process. Feeling isolated is common so trying to keep some connections with people you feel safe with can be an important part of the coping and healing process. Be aware of your needs, prepare for ignorant questions, educate others, be open with your partner, and do what feels right for you in the moment.
Author: Dr. Julia Sen is a Registered Psychologist working in private practice in Ontario. Dr. Sen has a special interest in infertility and holds a certificate in infertility counselling.