Very often we or our loved ones want to support someone going through a challenge like infertility, but don’t necessarily know what to say. It’s tough to want to help, but not undermine the process or minimize it with your advice.
Reproductive psychiatrist Dr. Lucy Hutner and her colleague, clinical psychologist Dr. Julia Bosson, of Union Square Practice in New York City, are committed to supporting those navigating the fertility and infertility journey, whether it’s directly affecting you, or someone you love.
How can friends and family best support loved ones going through infertility treatments?
Dr. Hutner: It can be very helpful to just let them know that you care for them and are there to support them. IVF is difficult in so many different ways: emotionally, logistically, relationship-wise…the list goes on. The best way to help just may be to ask: “How can I help?” And put that question on repeat. People cope with infertility in a lot of different ways, so figuring out what may be helpful for them—whether it is talking it through, going with them to doctors’ appointments, helping with injections, or going for a walk—can help them to know they are not alone.
What are helpful things to say to someone going through this experience?
Dr. Bosson: Friends and family don’t have to have all of the answers or know exactly what to say. Just acknowledging that the process is difficult and validating their feelings can be really valuable. Simple statements like “I’m here for you” and “I can see how hard this is for you” can let a person know that you are listening and you really do care.
What are things to avoid saying to those going through infertility treatments?
Dr. Hutner: Infertility brings with it a difficult and fraught set of issues, and many well-intentioned people struggle to say the right thing. But what they say can unintentionally sound invalidating or minimizing.
Dr. Bosson: It may be best to avoid saying something like: “Just relax; when you stop stressing so much, it will happen,” which might inadvertently be interpreted as casting blame.
Dr. Hutner: Yes…research has, reassuringly, shown that the chance of conceiving in IVF is not directly related to the level of stress/distress the person is experiencing. On the other hand, people undergoing IVF are vulnerable to anxiety and depression, and they are in need of support. If someone isn’t sure what to say to support their loved one going through infertility treatment, it’s ok to say: “I’m worried about saying the wrong thing, but I do want you to know I care about you and want to help.”
Any advice for people (i.e. a fertility patient’s parents or extended family) who don’t support or understand the process of fertility treatments?
Dr. Hutner: Infertility, like other stressful life events, tends to draw out underlying relationship tensions and disparate feelings. It can be very distressing to go through infertility around loved ones who may not understand the process. As a first step, it can be helpful to have open lines of communication to reduce any misunderstanding. It can be hard, though, for the person undergoing the stresses of infertility treatment to feel the additional responsibility of having to explain their decisions. If a family member is open to it, it can be useful for him or her to do some research to discover more about the process. Another step is to remember that this is a health issue, and like other health issues, the person undergoing treatment has autonomy to decide what aspects of this information is shared with others. A last step is to remember that there is a large population of people out there who “get it” and who can fully support you. Families are indeed made, and that includes the family of people who have gone through infertility themselves and their supports.
How “normal” is it to take on the anxiety or sadness that your loved one may be experiencing as he/she goes through infertility?
Dr. Bosson: Just as experiencing infertility can be excruciatingly painful, watching someone you love endure that pain can be incredibly difficult. Many loved ones may feel simultaneously invested in the outcome of the treatment and removed from the actual happenings, which can lead to feelings of anxiety or sadness. That’s okay; loved ones don’t have to be stoic all the time. However, it’s not okay for the fertility patient to feel like he/she has to manage his/her loved ones’ anxiety on top of everything that the patient is already going through. Although it is understandable to feel anxious throughout a loved one’s fertility journey, if the anxiety is growing to a point that feels unmanageable, you might consider seeking support from someone outside of the process–either another friend or support person outside of the fertility journey or a therapist/counselor if the anxiety is particularly troublesome.
For more information about Dr. Lucy Hutner and Dr. Julia Bosson, go to www.unionsquarepractice.com
Andrea Syrtash is the founder and editor-in-chief of pregnantish. She is a relationship expert and coach regularly featured on national TV shows including Good Morning America and The Today Show, and in Cosmopolitan, Glamour, and Women's Health magazines. She's the author of five popular books including He's Just Not Your Type (And That's A Good Thing) and Cheat On Your Husband (With Your Husband). She's passionate about helping people live and love authentically. For more, visit andreasyrtash.com
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