Life Without Baby

Filling the silence in the motherhood discussion

Advice for the Infertile February 6, 2012

A woman I know told me recently that she’s been going through fertility treatments and it’s not been going well. She didn’t ask for advice, but I felt I needed to say something encouraging. I mean, I’ve been there, I understand better than most what she’s going through and how she might be feeling. And I knew that she’d confided in me because she wanted to know she wasn’t alone.

But I didn’t know what to say to her.

Oh, I had a whole list of things I knew not to say, like: “You can always adopt,” or “If it’s meant to be it will happen,” so I wasn’t going near any of those. But I couldn’t come up with anything that sounded helpful.

I wanted to say something positive, to keep her spirits up and give her encouragement. I thought about, “Don’t give up hope,” or something similar. But I also know from experience that hope can turn negative when you keep clinging to it. Sometimes, “Don’t give up hope,” is the last thing you want to hear.

So, I considered, “Stay strong.” It’s general, but positive right? But who am I to tell her to keep a stiff upper lip, when I know the value of letting go of those feelings of frustration and just letting it all out.

In the end I told her that if she ever needed an ear, mine would be available. That was the best I could offer, and I hope it’s enough.

What would you have said? How do you strike a balance between what you know from experience and projecting your situation onto someone else? How do you help someone who’s dealing with infertility?


12 Responses to “Advice for the Infertile”

  1. RuralRabbit Says:

    I think you said exactly the right thing. Infertility is such a personal thing and it’s so easy to say the wrong thing. The best thing in the world is just to say that your sorry they are struggling and offer to be there.

  2. Kate B Says:

    I think you said the best thing you can say.

  3. sewforward Says:

    I had a similar situation but it was the mother of the son (his wife was infertile and going through treatments). She was worried (like any mother would be) but also perplexed because she didn’t know what to say. I told her what it is like to be infertile and how cruel people can be by what they say (i.e. You can adopt! or Just relax – you’ll get pregnant!) I told her the best is to support your son and daughter-in-law. How? By treating them as contemporaries and not children that need advice. I know this is what I appreciated about my own mother during this time. She worried about me, she had to constantly deal with her friends and all their grandchildren stories, but she never let it show to me. We had other interests in common like our love of books, going to the movies,doing jigsaw puzzles and playing cards. Being active and around postive fun people was (and still is) the best salvo for whatever ails you – even infertility.

  4. Amel Says:

    I agree with the other posters that you’ve said the best things you could possibly say.

  5. illanare Says:

    Agree too – you said the best possible.

  6. Emma Says:

    When I was going through treatment I just desperately wanted people to acknowledge that it was tough. As everyone who reads this knows, people tend to want to offer solutions (‘Why don’t you get a fertility necklace?’ ‘Have you thought about Chinese medicine?’ ‘Are you eating too much tuna?’), or tell you that they are ‘sure everything is going to be fine’ while they roll out yet another story about someone they know who had their first baby at 45 after giving up treatment and going on holiday. (Hmm…looks like I’m still pretty cross about that, then…)

    So yes, I also agree that you said absolutely the right thing. The people who offered me a non-judgemental listening ear were few and far between and I cherished them (I still do.)

  7. Klara Says:

    dear Lisa,
    I agree with other readers – you said the right thing.
    Isn’t it funny – people without their own infertility story have millions of things to say (99% of them are of course the wrong ones, at least from our point of view).
    And for us, who now so much about infertility, it is so hard to say anything…

  8. I agree with the others as well. In most cases, people aren’t looking for someone to tell them what they should do. But sometimes I do think they just want to hear what your experiences have been and what your thoughts are. At the very least, it expands the conversation and lets them, hopefully, say what they need to say and come to their own conclusions. They always say that the best therapists don’t give the best advice, they ask the best questions and know how to really listen.

  9. Prefect response in my opinion. An ear if needed and no against the odds story!

    To answer the question as to what do I normally say to other people struggling with infertility it’s normally an ear to listen & then congratulations as they all seem to get pregnant! X

  10. Mali Says:

    I agree with the others. I’d say I was sorry, that it’s really hard, and that I’m there to listen if she ever needs to talk, scream, shout, or cry.

  11. mina Says:

    I’m sure you said the right thing Lisa.
    I think i agree with the idea of offering an opportunity for being active and around positive people without having to “talk” all the time because sometimes that would mean – breaking down in tears immediately. I remember that one night when i planned to go to a choir concert with a friend. I felt so down that day i was standing outside the church hall where the concert was taking place waiting for my friend and all i could do was holding the tears back. Then i got a phonecall from her husband saying that she wasn’t well and had been crying, they didn’t really know why, probably the hormones since she’d just given birth… and they were on their way to pick me up. So i got to spend the night at their house spilling out my story and listening to their unhelpful remarks (“well you got started late didn’t you”) when all i had wanted was something to take my mind of things. And all because SHE had been unwell, guess why, because she was a new mother. I was in such a state that i couldn’t really tell them how i felt either.

  12. Polly Says:

    You said the right thing, definitely. There is no way this is going to make anyone feel bad.
    I just realized how easy it is to say something wrong the other day when I was speaking to my best friend who has her last funded IVF coming up after a couple of failed ones. I so desperately wanted to give her some confidence and make her feel better that I said to her that I had a good feeling about this next cycle. Her response was “You always feel positive” and it occured to me that I had said the same about her previous attempts.
    I suddenly felt stupid and insensitive although I had meant so well. I realized I said the wrong thing but unfortunately I could not take my words back.
    I have been through infertility myself and I know full well that sometimes the last thing you want to hear (and the last thing your battered psyche is ready to believe) is that everything will be just fine and that you will surely hold a baby in your arms 10 months from now.
    This incident made me feel bad and at the same time I realized how hard it is -even for other infertile women and even more so for well meaning “fertiles”- to say the right thing.
    And you did, Lisa.

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