Fertility issues are an emotional landmine, often full of sadness, stress, hope, and disappointment — even when you're not the one going through them. When it's a close friend who's dealing with infertility, it can be almost impossible to know how to be supportive through the rounds of Clomid, IUI, egg retrievals, and IVF.
I, like most of my friends, waited until my early 30s to get pregnant, and I was one of the lucky ones who was knocked up about five minutes after I decided I wanted to be. Unfortunately, a few of my closest friends had a much different experience. The stark opposition of our roads to baby (mine = positive test on the first try; theirs = years of hormone injections, miscarriages, and medical procedures) has made it hard for me to know how to show my support to my girlfriends, when we both know that I can't really relate to the process they're going through at all.
My way through was doing the only thing that felt natural to me (a certified over-sharer, over-communicator, and sometimes big mouth): I asked my brave friends how to navigate our discussions, and they were incredibly honest about the questions that helped and the ones that hurt. If you have a close friend in your life who's dealing with infertility, here's how to be supportive and keep your friendship strong while they're going through their journey.
Respect their privacy.
Although every person is different when it comes to how much they want to share, I've found that most women going through fertility treatments are careful about the information they reveal and to whom they reveal it. Just because your friend has trusted you enough to share her fertility issues does not mean they're giving you permission to pass along their struggles to mutual friends. Respect your friend's privacy, and let them take the lead on what they talk about and to who they talk to.
Express general support without asking specific questions.
I found that my friends responded better to general comments of support, like, "Just want you to know I'm thinking about you, and I'm here if you ever want to talk," rather than specific questions like "Hey, when's that next egg transfer?" One friend going through IVF said that when people asked her too many detailed questions it felt like they were being more nosy than supportive. My guess is that those friends were just really trying to understand the process, but those questions should be a job for Google, not someone who's going through such an emotional, complicated experience.
Don't be offended if they shut down communication for a while.
Anyone who's trying to get pregnant knows that the weeks between ovulation and a potential positive pregnancy test can be stressful. Add months or years of hormone injections and medical procedures and thousands of dollars to the experience, and the stakes only get higher. In my experience, my friends would lock down communication when waiting for to see if a procedure had produced a pregnancy, and the best thing I could do was keep my fingers crossed, send a couple of vague, nice text messages, and wait.
Listen when they're ready to talk.
It's true for most things in life, and it's even more so for this situation: when your friend is ready to open up, just listen. Injecting your own stories about other people's fertility struggles or your own awful pregnancy isn't helpful. Their journey is theirs alone, and the best thing you can do is just listen.
Understand that the stress might not end even when they are pregnant.
If you've ever had a miscarriage, you know that your next pregnancy can feel precarious, and the same is true for a pregnancy after infertility. Respect that your friend might not want to shout the news from the rooftops or even have a traditional baby shower. Consider offering to throw her a smaller shower with only her closest friends or a sip and see after the baby's born. Her baby, after all, is something to be truly celebrated.