Supporting those with infertility
Information for whanau and friends
When someone we care about has a problem, it is natural to try to help in whatever way we can. If there is nothing specific we can do, then often we try to give helpful advice.
Don’t feel that you need to ‘fix’ things for them. You can’t. The pain of infertility will not magically disappear. Just being there when they ask you, will be comforting. Allow them to be sad and upset when they need to be.
Infertility is a most distressing and disabling life event
The loss of one’s fertility and the dream of a family is similar to the death of a loved one, except that there is nothing tangible to mourn the loss of. We live in a world in which most people fulfil this dream, so infertile people are constantly surrounded by images of children and families, painful reminders of what they yearn for. Friends and family are often having babies at the time when they are struggling with the realisation that they have a fertility problem.
For some, the loss of fertility is the ultimate loss of control
Infertility means losing control of your reproductive future. It may mean organising your body and life around a series of investigations and treatment cycles. This means exposing a very personal and private part of one’s life to a group of people in an infertility clinic; it may mean being instructed when to have sex and when not to; and it may mean having to celebrate news of others’ pregnancies. The future becomes uncertain; it can become difficult to plan careers when there is always the hope of a pregnancy in the near future. Travel plans may also have to fit in around treatment; and indeed the need for a break or holiday may have to be balanced against the need to pay for treatment or investigations.
This loss of control may manifest itself in many ways, including anger which may be directed at friends and family.
What you can do to help
Be available, and be able to just listen without always giving advice, no matter how well intentioned. The most valuable gift you can give is your attention. There is nothing you can say that will change what has happened or is happening, but just being available to listen without making judgements is very valuable.
Think of how they may feel at family and child centred celebrations. Leave the choice of attending special occasions up to them. Keep inviting them but give some thought to how some ‘adults only’ occasions can be enjoyed. Think about how to involve them in conversation; it can be difficult to engage in conversation if the occasions are always centred around children and babies.
Show you care. Accept that sometimes people may want to discuss infertility, they may or may not want to
discuss a negative result, and there will be times when they do not want to talk about infertility at all. Respect this; but let them know that you care about what is happening to them at this time and that you will be there to listen if they wish you to.
If the journey has been lengthy, there is a major diagnosed condition or they lack the requirements (eggs/sperm) for conception, they may require an egg donor, sperm donor or surrogate. Often the infertile person will wait for people to offer, rather than asking them directly if they would consider donating. If this is a possibility for you, you may like to learn more about it here
Suggest they seek professional help if their grief or depression seems disabling over a long time. All fertility clinics in NZ have professional counsellors who are able to assist those suffering from acute or chronic depression. Whilst depression is not uncommon, if it is interfering with day to day life or has gone on for a long time then professional help may be needed. GPs are also good contact points for your family member or friend if they are struggling. Let them know they are not alone.