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Catherine R Ryan
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Catherine R Ryan

How to support someone with infertility

Infertility affects as many as 1 in 6 couples. It’s a diagnosis that can feel devastating when you dream about growing your family, and it can affect nearly every aspect of your life—including your relationships, your physical and mental health, your finances and more.

“Infertility touches peoples’ lives in a way that’s hard to imagine if you’re not going through it yourself,” says Catherine Ryan, MD, a reproductive endocrinology and infertility expert at Gundersen Health System in La Crosse, Wis. “Most of us assume we can have children readily if we want. When that’s not the case, it can be very painful.”

Here are some ways Dr. Ryan recommends supporting loved ones with infertility—and a few things couples with infertility can do to cope.

What to say to someone struggling with infertility

The most important thing you can do to support someone with infertility is to let them know you’re there for them and to listen more than you talk.

Everyone’s needs are going to be different because everyone’s infertility journey is different,” Dr. Ryan says.

Specific questions that can be helpful to ask include:

  • “How can I support you?”
  • “Do you want to talk?”
  • “What can I do for you?”

Not everyone with infertility will want to talk about their experience, but some will. Letting the person know that you care and are there for them may be exactly what they need.

What not to say to someone with infertility

It’s generally best not to offer advice to someone going through infertility. You also don’t want to compare their journey to anyone else’s. Infertility is incredibly personal. You may intend to provide hope by sharing a story about how someone else you know with infertility eventually conceived, but those kinds of stories can feel insensitive for someone in the depths of an infertility journey.

Speaking of which…

Avoid statements that diminish what the person or couple with infertility is going through, such as:

  • “Just relax.”
  • “Don’t worry about it so much.”
  • “Take a vacation together!”
  • “Everything happens for a reason.”
  • “Just adopt.”
  • “There’s always IVF.”
  • “At least you get to sleep in on weekends!”

While these kinds of statements may have good intentions behind them—or be said light heartedly—they often come across as uncaring and ignorant.

How to tell a friend struggling with infertility about your pregnancy

If you’re expecting and have a friend dealing with infertility, it can feel tricky to know how to share your good news with them.

“You don’t want to hide it,” Dr. Ryan says, “but you may want to reach out to them privately before announcing it more widely or on social media.”

Do: Be prepared for a variety of reactions and give the person space to process the news if they need it.

Don’t: Feel the need to apologize for your pregnancy or take the person’s response personally if they react differently than how you’d hoped.

“It’s also not helpful to automatically exclude someone experiencing infertility from events that are child-centered,” Dr. Ryan says. “Give them the option to attend baby showers or children’s birthday parties, and let them decide whether they want to join. Be understanding if they decline. It may feel too painful for some people. Others may want to participate.”

How else to support someone with infertility

There are extreme moments of hope and sorrow on an infertility journey. Beyond providing a safe, caring space for someone to share about those moments—and all the ones in between— consider showing your support for them by:

Becoming an advocate

The cost of fertility treatment is a barrier for many families. That’s partly because only 20 states have fertility insurance coverage laws. This means that most people must pay out of pocket. Resolve: The National Infertility Association and Building Families Alliance Wisconsin make it easy to get involved by encouraging lawmakers to increase access to family building options.

Educating yourself

A lot of times, people going through infertility blame themselves for not being able to get pregnant. They feel like it’s their fault.

“Infertility is a medical condition,” Dr. Ryan states, “and you wouldn’t think it was your fault if you got appendicitis.”

Educating yourself about infertility can help remove some of the stigma around the topic. It also shows the person in your life how much you care and that you’re committed to better understanding what they’re going through.

To learn more about infertility, start with these resources:

For couples with infertility: How to deal with disappointment of not conceiving

As for couples who are struggling with infertility, it’s vital to prioritize self-care. That means taking time to do things that “feed your soul,” Dr. Ryan says.

“Take time as a couple to reconnect. It’s easy to focus on fertility and lose sight of what brought you together as a couple. You’re more than your fertility,” Dr. Ryan says.

She also recommends:

  • Getting enough sleep
  • Eating a balanced, colorful diet
  • Making time to enjoy the outdoors
  • Doing fun activities without feeling guilty

And, if you’re finding it hard to think about anything other than growing your family, know that it’s acceptable to pause treatment and prioritize your mental health.

 “It’s easy to get caught up on the roller coaster. Every cycle you’re hoping for it to work. It’s OK to take time off. It’s not going to hurt anything to take a break for a while—with rare exceptions,” Dr. Ryan says. “There’s no reason that fertility cycles need to be consecutive.”

If you’re struggling to conceive, our fertility specialists can help you pinpoint why and recommend the best fertility treatment plan for you based on your age, health, test results, and other factors.

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