Have you ever known anyone going through infertility? Chances are you have. Infertility affects about 1 in 8 couples, so it’s very likely that someone in your direct social circle has faced challenges in getting pregnant. This week is National Infertility Awareness Week (April 24-30, 2016) and the theme this year is “#StartAsking.”
One of the goals of the #StartAsking campaign is to raise awareness of the disease of infertility and to help the people going through infertility start a larger conversation about treatment and family building options. I have to say that as an infertility advocate, I can’t wait until there is national recognition of the need for legislative and other action. But what about you? How does this help you to understand what to ask and how to support those people that you love?
Infertility is a taboo topic, and these conversations can get uncomfortable quickly. It’s pretty easy to ask an innocent question that sets off your loved one dealing with the emotional turmoil of infertility. You may not have even realized you said something that was insensitive. This turns people off from having any conversations at all, which leads to isolation and withdrawal from support systems.
Come From A Place of Not Knowing
You probably have ideas about infertility and what it means to go through the challenges of treatment. With those preconceived notions, it’s easy to ask questions from an uneducated and oftentimes insensitive place. It’s not that you want to hurt anyone’s feelings. In fact, you’re coming from a caring and loving position and you’re doing the best you know how. My challenge to you is to broach the topic from a place of “not knowing.” Ask open ended questions and show compassion in your responses. For example, instead of asking “are you going to start IVF?” you can ask “how are you feeling about the treatment process? I imagine it would be stressful, and I’m so sorry you’re faced with this.”
Explore Your Own Anxiety Regarding the Topic
If you feel resistant or uncomfortable when this topic comes up with your friend or family member, I encourage you to take a look at where those feelings come from. Is it because you are uneducated about infertility, or maybe you don’t believe that sex is something to be discussed openly? You may have limited understanding of the desire to become a parent because you are on a different path. It could be that you just have no freakin’ idea of what to say to make them feel better. Take the pressure off of yourself, because it’s not your job to fix things for that person. It’s your job to support them, and if your own feelings are hindering your ability to provide that support then spend some time reflecting on that. Getting to the root of your discomfort will serve both of you.
Share a Bit of Your Own Vulnerability
Although you may not have faced infertility yourself, you can understand when someone is hurting. Pain is part of the human experience; in other words, everyone goes through hard stuff. Sometimes people see it as a weakness to open up or cry so they put on a happy face or a mask to cover their true feelings. If your infertile friend is doing that, one way to break through the barriers and get to a place where you can support them is to share some of your own vulnerability. Share about a time where you were faced with something that felt insurmountable and emotionally taxing. A word of caution here-don’t get into the process of comparing pain or going “tit for tat” about the situation. Also, don’t explain how hard it is to be a parent (yes – it’s the hardest thing to be a parent, but this is not your audience at the current moment). Vulnerability is an opportunity for connection – so connect with their pain. After all, you understand hurt because you’ve been there too, even if it looked a little different.
I’m passionate about working with all aspects of infertility – from individuals and couples going through it, to helping people who want to be a support for their family or friends. I know these conversations are hard, but please #StartAsking the uncomfortable questions so we can have real honest discussions and reduce the stigma surrounding infertility.
I’m a Marriage and Family Therapist in the Clear Lake area of Houston, Tx. If you find that you need some extra support during your infertility journey or you are struggling to support someone you love who’s going through it, please call me for a free phone consultation at (832) 827-3288. If you’re a resident of Texas, I can provide online therapy as well. Don’t struggle alone, reach out for help. Don’t hesitate, #StartAsking today.