I get it.
Your loved one just shared one the most vulnerable piece of her life when she opened up about her battle with infertility and she’s having a pretty difficult time. You want to get it, but you don’t get it and you want to help, but you don’t know what to do or what to say. And it’s a little akwaaaarrrdddd. And maybe one of the reasons it’s awkward is because you just found out you’re pregnant or you already have kids, or simply because you don’t know how to respond. FYI, awkward in the beginning is okay. In fact, it’s normal. I would in fact go on a limb and say that awkward is a good place to start, but not end.
Like I said, I get it. Because there are countless things I haven’t walked through before, and I feel a similar way about those things as I try and navigate the best way to help. But thankfully, when you experience a level of deep pain and grief, you learn to connect with a whole new sea of people who have experienced heartache in that way, even if the situation is different. Not that we would ever choose that path, but I’m thankful for the connections that are created through it all.
So let’s get started!
After Nathan and I shared about our struggle with infertility, countless people began messaging me, coming up to me and sharing about their battle or the battle of someone close to them. They felt helpless on how to best support them, and had questions. In fact, I even started a Facebook group called The In Between where people who have are or currently facing infertility/secondary infertility/miscarriage, etc., and some members have joined simply for the sole purpose of learning more about it, and position themselves to be prepared on how to help the people they know who are walking through it. First off, I think that’s awesome, and second, it’s a huge reason that has led me to writing this blog post.
A few key points to keep in mind while reading…..
- The sole purpose of this post is to be 100% informational. It is not written to bring you to a place of guilt because you didn’t offer support in this way. Instead, my hope is that this blog post will be helpful in providing some education on it that at least provides you with a frame of reference on what your friend honestly may not have the emotional energy to explain because they are in the thick of it right now and can barely breathe, much less explain what she’s going through in a clear way. My prayer is that this serves as a voice for those going through this right now, but can barely muster any words beyond, “Please pray.”
- Everyone is very different. What might be helpful for one person may be “no big deal” to another. The best way to find out is through conversations. Consider sharing this blog post with them and asking, “Out of this list, what would be most helpful for you? Is there anything else you would like to add?”
- In an effort to provide a broad perspective, I have included input and some direct quotes from other women in similar situations who were willing to share what has helped them.
- This is not a list on how to be the perfect friend, sister, mom, pastor, mentor, etc. If you feel that pressure, I am praying that it is removed in Jesus name! Take this as an opportunity to learn and grow in something that is perhaps unknown. And believe that the Lord will give you wisdom on how to support them when you ask Him for it.
- There is nothing that you can do or say to make it better, but there are some things that you can do to help make the burden a little lighter, and the journey a little less lonely.
- YOU. Yes you, are important. The fact that you are even willing to read this, says a lot about you and your desire to not give up or stop at “awkward.”
SUPPORTING SOMEONE WALKING THROUGH INFERTILITY and/or MISCARRIAGE
- Remember them on Mother’s/Father’s Day. Send them a text message telling them you are thinking about them.
- If they have shared about treatment they are interested in, jump onto Google to find out what they are talking about to learn more.
- When inviting them to a baby shower (yes, invite them!), let them know that there’s no pressure to have to say yes right now or at all, and that you love them no matter what. For a while, I couldn’t be much of anywhere without bursting into tears. Something about crowds or groups of people triggered a lot of grief. Baby showers were no different. For me, I can honestly say it wasn’t about jealousy; it was about pain and survival mode. And it was about avoiding situations that brought those bursting-into-tears moments that I found embarrassing because I didn’t know what the heck was wrong with me, and I just needed to make it through just one more day. Also, if your friend RSVP’s “yes” to the baby shower, but backs out last minute, support them if you’re able to see past your own disappointment. Who knows, maybe they just started their period that day, or just had an emotional day of fertility treatment. It’s extremely draining. Giving that space of “no pressure” means the world!
- Continue to do what friends do! Talk, hang out, etc. Even if you’re not sure what to do or say, avoiding them and their pain altogether because you’re unsure on how to respond to what they have shared can be even more hurtful. They need you. And sometimes, that’s just means present and allowing them to cry without offering suggestions. Less is more.
- Assume the best in them. They know more about their bodies, the things that help and don’t help, and how to get pregnant probably more than you do. Trust me, they’ve spent hours researching the thing that quite possibly took you very little effort at all. Avoid comments and questions that imply they are doing something wrong or that they “don’t know.” Examples: “Have you considered ______? Just the other day, I heard about ______ that helped this couple get pregnant!”). Keep in mind that everyone’s situation, circumstances, and health is different. Just because you have gone through pregnancy, many pregnancies, or even infertility yourself does not mean you are an expert on conception. Unless you are their doctor, you do not know their situation in addition to the fact that it is extremely personal, and opinions are simply not necessary.
- There are some practical ways that can be helpful during those especially difficult days. One person shared, “Bring meals or flowers during hard times. When I hear about a friend having a miscarriage, I add their due date into my phone calendar so that I can call or bring them flowers when that day comes. That kind of thoughtfulness was so helpful for me. Feeling forgotten is the worst part of infertility.” I can personally attest to this. When Nathan and I thought we were legitimately pregnant for the first time after years of trying, when that 9th month came around when I truly thought we would be giving birth to our child and yet there we were without a child and still without a pregnancy, it was almost unbearable.
- Respect their seasons without judgement. There may be seasons, months, or even years when they are unable to come to a place to discuss what they are going through. They may not be able to be around certain people. They may not be able to be around children or infants. They may not be able to make eye contact with someone who is pregnant because it means looking at a baby bump. There may be pangs of hurt that lasts for a minute, and then they move on. There may be pangs of hurt that hurt all week long and don’t go away no matter how much they beg the Lord to take it away. There are times of healing. And there are times when someone has worked through some really hard places, and they are in a position to celebrate everyone around them, and they begin to enjoy everything that they used to enjoy again. Sometimes they will feel like they have taken 3 steps forward, and then 10 steps backwards. Everyone is at their own pace, and I’m thankful for the Holy Spirit who leads us, guides up, and comforts as we process. Avoid placing them in a box that suggests that they are supposed to respond a certain way by a certain time. Trust me, they wish they could move past it, too. But unfortunately, it’s not something they get over; it’s something they work through and will most likely be a huge part of their lives forever even if they conceive.
- Validate their feelings. Shoving it off as “no big deal” with some spiritual lingo like, “Oh just trust God’s timing.” minimizes their pain, and will most likely make them feel less than. Let the Holy Spirit do His job. He’s very good at it. Also, who are we to decide what’s a “harder time” than something else? As someone very close to me has once said, “If someone’s hurting, they’re hurting.” Someone else also shared, “One thing that always helps me when I am feeling down is my best friend telling me that ‘Its okay not to be okay.’ The reminder that my feelings are valid is very helpful.”
- Affirm their knowledge of children, unless they blatantly laugh off, “Yeah, I don’t know anything about kids!” Just because they don’t have a child in their arms, it doesn’t mean they don’t know anything about pregnancy, childbirth, infancy, etc. Avoid parading motherhood like it’s a golden star that was earned of all that you have learned and have gone through. Yes, you are 100% important and motherhood is 100% hard, and you are 100% amazing for who you are as a woman and as a mom. In fact, I am excited to learn from all the current Mommas when our time comes. But try and avoid conversation that includes comments that come across as condescending or belittling to this person, just because they aren’t a mom (something completely out of their control). This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ever talk about your children or your struggles of parenthood ever; it just means, avoiding saying things like “Well, when you’re a parent, you’ll understand!” See the difference?
- Wait for them to be the first one to talk about their options (if they are even interested in them at all). Let them bring up treatment, adoption, etc. If they never bring it up, try not to ask about it. Adoption and fertility treatment is not a foreign concept; they know it’s available.
- If you are close to this person and you find yourself pregnant, don’t avoid them. Don’t tell everyone that you’re pregnant except them because you don’t know what to do. If you can, take initiative and privately share with them that you are pregnant before you make a huge pregnancy announcement (family dinners, social gatherings, Christmas parties, social media, etc.) This gives the person time to process their initial reaction privately. There’s no other way to explain other than: They are genuinely happy for you, but sad for them, and they need some time to process. Send a text message, email, or wait until it’s just you guys to share with them about your pregnancy. They will appreciate the extra lengths you took to take their journey into consideration, and it may also give them time to process ahead of time, and then be in a position to celebrate with you during the announcement. Who knows. I’ll l never forget the moment when one of our couple-friends (who had been faithfully been praying for our future babies) came over for dinner and she shared that they were pregnant with tears running down her face. I could tell that she dreaded the moment, but it meant the world to me that they took the time to tell us before a huge announcement with such compassion.
- Be sensitive (or at least aware) of baby-related conversations. One person shared in our Facebook Group, “I have a friend that has always asked me before she talks about anything baby related. I don’t necessarily need her to do that, but the gesture itself doesn’t go unnoticed. Since I know she’s asking to make sure I’m up for the conversation.” Again, not necessary – but an incredibly kind and thoughtful thing to do.
- They desperately want you to understand this reality: Adoption and conceiving naturally and conceiving with treatment are three very different things. All three are miracles. But they are extremely different. Think of it this way: if your Dad passes away, people might think, “Well, at least you have your Mom.” Sure, that’s true, but you only have one Dad and simply knowing that you have your Mom will never replace the loss of not having your Dad. A loss is a loss.
- This same concept also applies to a person who is trying to come up with everything that’s great about not having children when they find out someone is struggling. Examples – “You get to sleep in!”…”You get to go out to dinner on a whim with the bill under $20!” etc. But if they were to ask you the same question, would you in all honesty say, “I wish my child didn’t exist.” Most likely you would never even dream about thinking that. In all of the ups and downs, you love your child(ren) and nothing and no one can or could ever replace them. Avoid making comments that imply your loved one is foolish or should feel guilty for wanting children even with all it’s hardship. They hear all about it, and they realized that they will never know what it’s like until they are there, but yes – they still want them desperately. Yearning for child does not mean they are ungrateful for their current season.
- Push through the awkward. One person has mentioned, “I would way rather be clumsily asked ‘How are you coping with the grief right now? Did you name your baby? How is your heart during this waiting season?’ Than ignoring it because they would think bringing it up would be hard. I had a few people tell me that they didn’t bring things up because they didn’t want my heart to hurt.” The answer is yes, it will be hard. But the acknowledgement will greatly outweigh the hurt, and it could very easily be a huge stepping stone into a friendship that becomes a safe place during the journey.
- Be prepared for the long road. None of us know the future. The journey could be 1 year, 7 years, 15 years, or maybe not at all. Are you able to walk through it for possibly an extended period of time that is completely unknown? Your constant presence and prayers over a long period of time without giving up is more than we could ever ask for. We love you. And we need you. And it’s okay for it to awkward and messy as we try and figure out how to walk this together.
READ ABOUT OUR INFERTILITY JOURNEY HERE
JOIN “THE IN BETWEEN” FACEBOOK GROUP HERE
Cover Photo Picture From Nick Davis Photography