How To Help A Friend Who is Struggling with Infertility
I sat on the floor of my kitchen as I called my husband and asked him to come home. I needed to tell him the news in person.
I had just received my diagnosis of infertility. It terrified me and broke my heart at the same time. We had speculated we might not be able to have biological children, but it was another thing to now know.
I cried as I apologized to him, as if this was my fault, and I was somehow in control. He did not blame me; I blamed myself, my body. I felt it was my fault we would not be able to have a baby. He could say no words or promises to take away the pain of this news, but he was there for me.
Infertility is often lonely and isolating for the person experiencing it.
Supporting someone through infertility as a family member or friend can be challenging because it is so difficult to know what to say to your loved one who is hurting. They aren’t able to fix the problem, and neither are you.
I have had friends share how guilty they felt when telling me they are pregnant and have even apologized. As someone struggling with infertility, I hate that my situation can somehow take away the joy of their happy news, but I understand how hard it is to walk alongside someone on this journey.
Here are a few suggestions on how to support your loved one who is in the midst of an infertility journey.
First, check-in with that person.
Don’t assume to know how they are. You don’t know what it is like when holidays like Mother’s Day come around. Every person’s story and experience is different. And a person may feel differently every year depending on what’s happening in their journey.
I have been incredibly grateful for my friends who understand the loss connected to infertility. From friends who have sat with me and cried right alongside me, to those who have not been afraid to ask how I am doing. This is true community and fellowship, and it allows for us to live out what Paul wrote in Romans 12:15
“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.”
There is a time for all seasons, and your friend going through infertility will experience every emotion across the board. There will be hopeful days and discouraging ones.
You will not be able to fix this problem for them, but you can be present with them.
For me, it has been unhelpful when people tell me “not to stress or worry” when it comes to conceiving. Dismissing someone’s experience of pain and trying to push them towards positivity can be harmful. Supporting someone does not need to include unsolicited advice or opinions.
Again, every single person’s story and experience with infertility will be completely different, and it can be unhelpful to offer examples of other couples conceiving under difficult situations when your friend has still not conceived. Do not set expectations for how your friend should feel, but instead allow them to experience those feelings by checking-in with them and listening to them.
It's important to listen and simply ask if this is a topic they would like to talk about that day. Somedays, I have no desire to discuss our infertility journey, while other days I would love to talk about how I am feeling. Allow them to choose when they want to talk about it. Ask for specific things to pray for during this journey and continue to follow up on those prayer requests.
Second, invite that person into your life.
I was grateful for a friend who invited us to her daughter’s first birthday but followed up after our infertility diagnosis to check-in on our comfort level. Instead of deciding for us that we would not want to be in her daughter’s life, because it could create discomfort or sadness for us, she allowed us to speak up for ourselves. Some people may need space or may find it difficult to be in those social settings of baby showers, holidays, or children’s birthdays.
The important thing is to continue to invite your friends and allow for them to determine the boundaries they need. Do not decide for them as that is more hurtful than helpful.
The kingdom of God is made up of every type of person we can imagine. As a childless woman, it can feel like I do not belong. I can’t join “moms groups,” nor am I invited on play dates to the zoo with friends who now have kids. I know I do not understand the nuances of being a parent, but it is so heartbreaking when that is the reason I am excluded from friend groups and events. It can feel like there is no place in the church for the childless young families.
I am incredibly grateful for the friends who are intentional to continue to include me in their lives even as theirs have changed and mine seems to have stayed the same. Thank you for continuing to invite your friends and family and allow for them to determine the boundaries they need.
Third, re-affirm their identity in God.
Not being a mother does not make someone less faithful to who God is calling them to be. It does not make a person less of a child of God.
John writes in the first chapter of his gospel:
“Yet to all who did receive him (Jesus), to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”
There is no prerequisite that you will be a “better” Christian by becoming a parent. Because God has blessed the institution of marriage and family, it can feel at times that the Christian church glorifies marriage and parenthood as the ultimate act of faithfulness in the church.
I have heard pastors preach how, in Genesis 1:28, God told Adam and Eve “to be fruitful and multiply,” therefore it is our role as Christians to have many children. This message leaves those of us unable to have children stuck in an understanding that we are less than those who are able to have children.
This is not true.
Our identity, our purpose, our value, is not diminished because we are childless.
Our bodies have not failed because we are unable to conceive.
It is critical for the church to come alongside those who are struggling, to reaffirm these truths, and to remind one another when the days are difficult and long.
If you are on the journey of infertility, I have written a blog for you as well, as you walk this difficult road nearing Mother’s Day.
Infertility affects not just the couple trying to conceive, but the community who surrounds them. Allow yourself time to grieve for your loved one as they walk through this season, and don’t expect it to not also be challenging for you.
Thank you for supporting and loving your friend through the journey of infertility. It can be challenging to feel helpless. You may want to fix the situation as your heart breaks alongside your loved one, but remember your presence and friendship mean the world to them.
Click here if you would like to pray with someone.