Infertility. It's hard. As I talk to people about infertility with people who have not experienced it firsthand, I hear the same thing again and again. "I just don't know how to relate. I don't know what to say. I don't know how to help. I'm so afraid to say or do the wrong thing that I do nothing."And I get it. I don't know how to help others sometimes. I feel like every word that I say is the wrong thing. On the other hand, when we get paralyzed with fear and decide not to speak at all, our friends get the message that their pain is unnoticed, that their sorrow is not shared. I think that many who have not gone through this journey feel helpless. They feel like they can't open the door because it makes their friend sad or because they're not qualified. But you know what, YOU ARE. You are qualified to speak *because* you are a friend, *because* you love this person. So if you're looking for some practical tips that don't involve becoming someone's personal psychotherapist, here are a few thoughts. These are mostly geared towards female friends, because I'm a female and I'm writing from my own experience.
Start the conversation. It's okay to say "I don't know what to say": It's okay that you don't have the right words, but saying that you want to say something is huge and meaningful and shows that you care. Once someone has opened up to you, it can be hard to know how to bring the subject up again without prying, but it's important. Often, I've opened up to someone and it was awkward. If they don't bring it up again, I figure that it was uncomfortable and I should never mention it again, so my friend never has the chance to say what she maybe wished she'd said the first time. I would suggest saying something like, "I know you shared earlier about your struggles to have a family. How are you doing, like *really* doing?" Then you allow your friend to share if she wants to, but the focus is on *her* not on the infertility.
Listen: This applies to pretty much every situation. Most people in a hard time just want someone to listen to them without judgment or advice.
Ask if there are some ways you can be helpful: Then you don't have to guess. It is highly unlikely that they will ask for the moon, but you are showing that you value them and their choices.
Remember her due date: I've never had a miscarriage, but I have heard this from many friends who have. After the miscarriage, some people are sympathetic, but then they forget. Meanwhile, the woman is walking toward a day that was supposed to mean life, and now represents death to her. If your close friend has had a miscarriage, write that day in your calendar or set an e-reminder, and give them a short note on that day or the week before knowing she's in your thoughts.
If you know the name of a child that was lost, use the name: Some couples do not choose not to share the name of their unborn child (or do not give a name), but if a woman shares the name with you, remember it.
Remember her on Mother's Day: It doesn't have to be a lengthy tome. Just a short email saying, "Hey, I know this day is hard for you. Just letting you know I'm thinking of you." It took me less than a minute to type that sentence, but it could touch someone more than you know. Mother's Day is hands' down the hardest day of the year for me, and when someone remembers that, it moves me more than you can imagine.
Be her wing-woman at gatherings: In my *cough cough* wilder days, if I went to a club with a bunch of girlfriends, we had each other's back. If it looked like a creepy dude was getting too close to Susie, one of us would swoop in and make sure she was okay. That's being a wing-woman, and you can totally do this at baby showers, kids' birthday parties, etc. If you see Nosy Nelly swooping in to ask your friend if it isn't high time she had her own baby, jump right in and change the subject. If your infertile friend has been dragged into a convo about baby poop for 10 minutes and you can tell she wants to get up off the couch, be the one to pipe in and ask who has been watching Fuller House, or ask her to help you with the punch to give her an excuse to exit gracefully. Yes, your friend can do this for herself, but some of us are shy *raises hand* and even if you're not, it's always nice to feel like someone really understands that you're in a rough spot.
If you're thinking of her and/or praying for her, tell her: Often we have a friend in a tough spot, and we think about her often and remember in our prayers, but then forget to actually touch base. I've had it happen where I reached out to update someone and was told, "I think about you all the time." Except I hadn't heard from this person in months. I had assumed s/he had forgotten all about me and my struggles. No one knows that you care unless you tell them. Again, this can be done in a two-sentence email. [Note: I know that some non-believers are uncomfortable with being told they are in your prayers, so only say this if you know the person will appreciate it; otherwise, it's perfectly cool to just say she's in your thoughts.]
Celebrate her life: Often, milestones related to children are celebrated, while our own personal ones are ignored. In fact, we women should be celebrating *all* that we accomplish, not just made to feel like our uteruses (uteri?) are the only important part of us. It makes me sad that I speak several languages, have just completed a second Master's degree, and take part in a fabulous practicum project, yet most people only seem to care whether or not I have children. That's all they ask about. It leads me to feel like my whole life is a failure when actually I'm successful in other areas. Don't get me wrong: Being a good mom is a great accomplishment, but it's not the only accomplishment out there.
Offer to drive her to appointments: Only if you have time, of course, and she might not say yes, but at least this says that you want to practically care for her.
Food: I mean, we all have to eat, right? Infertility treatment can be incredibly draining. It is not uncommon for women undergoing IVF to be exhausted and not feel up to cooking. In addition, shuttling back and forth to extra doctor's appointments can take over your life and make it harder to do all of your regular errands, like grocery shopping. If you know your friend is starting IVF, bringing over a couple of freezer meals that the couple can eat if they don't feel like cooking, or a gift card for take-out could be really helpful.
Organize a girls night: One where you laugh and watch movies and eat junk. If there are mostly moms there, make a point of talking about a variety of things, not only kids. Kids are great. Other things are great too. Balanced conversation is key.
Ask if she want to hold your baby; don't just hand the baby to her: Some infertile women have trouble being around young babies, because it's a constant reminder of what they may not have. Other women who have had miscarriages find it difficult to be around babies born around the time of their due date. It is too close of a reminder of the baby that they will never hold in their arms. Personally, I have no issue being around babies, but it never hurts to ask someone before you hoist your child into their hands.
Remember that infertility is grief: You may not understand it, but your friend is grieving a dream, a child or children that she imagined she would have. Grief takes a thousand different ways to manifest itself, and it may not always make sense to an outsider, but it is very, very real. Think about a grief you have experienced or you can imagine, and the myriad of ways that that grief can show up in your life. Now remember that infertile people are grieving too, and even though you may not understand every trigger, what you *can* do is hug her and tell her you are sorry she is going through this.