Infertility can be a daunting journey. However, it does not have to be a solitary one.
As the talk around fertility treatments is slowly becoming mainstream, it's important to understand that asking for help and expecting thoughtfulness and sensitivity from others should not be a luxury.
On the flip-side, for anyone who's been around a family member or friend going through infertility, it might get confusing at times as to how should one react: should you address the situation head on or just play it cool because you don't know if they want to even talk about it.
Truthfully, there is no binary answer to it. Considering the person is your family or close friend, you would be more aware of their general nature in order to gauge what kind of conversation they want to participate in. However, there still are a few do's and don'ts that you can be considerate of when dealing with someone going through infertility.
Don't give unsolicited advice
Isn't that the worst? Unless your friend actually asks you to provide a detailed input on what kinds of fertility treatments should they be pursuing, which would only make sense if you're a licensed obstetrician/gynecologist. That's because the couple has probably researched every fertility treatment available to human beings. IVF is not a spontaneous decision, it requires a hefty investment and bazillion painful self-administered shots. So yes, this probably was their last resort.
Don't talk about adoption as an equally viable option
This one is especially close to my heart as I remember repeatedly giving this same advice to a close family member who was struggling with IVF. I now look back and realise just how ignorant and oblivious I was. Luckily, she was so patient, she never snapped back and only politely confessed that they wanted to have a biological child of their own. Adoption is not for everyone. If you suggest adoption to someone you're not only being insensitive about their investment and research in this process but also indicative of the fact that they've lost the IVF battle already. It's extremely hurtful, don't ever say that.
Don't talk about stress being a driving factor behind infertility
This is probably the most under-researched form of affirmation to exist within the IVF support space but also one of the most common ones: telling someone that they need to relax and just not think about it and it will happen. NO, contrary to what you might have read or heard here and there, for most people it's not stress causing infertility. Though it definitely should be taken care of, mental health is extremely important when dealing with any medical condition and can exacerbate your condition but stress is not a cause of infertility. So next time you ask a friend to "just relax" please be mindful of the context.
And now for some Do's!
Do offer to engage them in a distracting activity
Again, ONLY if they're up for it. At times, people with fertility struggles often find themselves talking about the same stuff over and over with their friends and family and that is in addition to all the doctor visits and internet research. As such, an overwhelming majority of their time is spent either talking about infertility or studying it. So an activity or topic of discussion that does not focus on that could be a welcome change.
Practice extra mindfulness while being around them
A little extra thought and consideration never hurt anybody. For someone going through an infertility journey, a lot of things could be triggers. For instance, if they've had a miscarriage, a failed IVF cycle or just a painful IVF journey altogether, it'd probably be a good idea to be sensitive about topics like pregnancy, baby-showers, gender-reveals or child-birth around them. Another very powerful trigger could be a surprise pregnancy announcement or a baby shower invitation, things I've personally witness infertile couples struggle considerably with. If someone you know is going through the same, make sure you let them know that their emotions and feelings are not unknown to you. A good practice would be to ask them before inviting them to an event of the sort and let them know that there is no pressure for them to join. Or that they can join for a short period as long as they're comfortable being there.
Don't always offer advice, just be a good listener
This actually applies to all situations where an aggrieved person just wants to vent and be heard. Understandably if someone opens up, one feels the urge to offer their two cents, or some kind of advice to help them out, but at times just practising good listening and letting them know that you're there for them works best. Especially, someone going through infertility, they probably have all the medical advice they need from their fertility team, so if they're venting to you, they probably just need their safe space, someone who can just be there to let them know that their pain is real, what they're going through is tough and that you're always there for them whenever they need emotional support.