What to Say, Sometimes Say, and Never Say to a Friend Struggling with Infertility

That smell.  The intoxicating mix of baby shampoo and little human newness has made more than one of us lean over and unapologetically take in a whiff of a baby’s head. That smell can also be the scent of heartbreak if a friend watching all of the baby-head-sniffing is struggling to have a baby of her own. Knowing what to say – or what not to say – is like tiptoeing through an emotional minefield. The turmoil caused by infertility can rival pregnancy itself in terms of mood swings (a particularly cruel irony, when you think about it), and trying to be a supportive friend can make you wish someone had written a pocket guide for things to say.

What to Say, Sometimes Say, and Never Say to a Friend Struggling with Infertility
“Fertility Goddess” of Pilsen – Chicago (by Linda Teeter)

Hang in there, it will happen.  Utter those words at lunch and your friend will fantasize about dumping her cup of green tea on your club sandwich – green tea that she actually hates the taste of and is only drinking because she read that it helps boost fertility. Try not to think about it and just relax.  Ugh, this one’s even worse. The calendar on her desk that marks key ovulation days with a red X never lets her forget – not to mention the fact that she’s become so sensitive to breast tenderness changes that she has doodled boob pictures at work. Yes, navigating your way can be tricky, but there is one rule of thumb that will help you be the best friend possible:

Follow your friend’s lead.

The “Wine and Gooey Food” Friend

If your friend doesn’t believe that TMI applies to friends and has discussed the state of her vaginal mucus over lunch, she’s probably open to more of an in-depth discussion regarding her infertility. With this friend, don’t be afraid to ask about the medical intervention that she mentioned undergoing or follow-up on the concerns that she expressed regarding her egg quality. If you know how long your friend has been trying to get pregnant, sexual positions tried, and the quality of her husband’s sperm, chances are she’s fine with a pretty open dialogue and will welcome the show of interest. When it comes down to it, this is the friend you take out for a drink the day her period starts (because she’ll text you something like “flow’s arrived”) and simply acknowledge “this sucks” as you down a bottle of Pinot Grigio and eat artichoke dip for dinner.

The “I Know Someone” Friend

If your friend isn’t quite as open and would never imagine texting about the state of her menstrual cycle, being supportive will take on a slightly different twist. If she’s really only comfortable acknowledging that they’ve been “trying for a while,” simply avoid painful topics. Don’t mention mutual friends’ pregnancy announcements on Facebook and try to limit how much you talk about your own kids (as perfect, beautiful, brilliant, and creative as they are). And, for goodness sake, don’t casually mention adoption or all of the kids in need of good homes. Your friend’s smarter than that and all you’ll accomplish is extinguishing her baby flame in the most cruel manner possible. When she’s ready to talk, just listen intently and acknowledge how difficult the situation is.  This is the time to share those stories of people you know – family members or friend-of-a-friend – who conceived when they were trying to get pregnant as long as her. Those stories provide hope – and in the depths of infertility, hope is sometimes hard to find.

The “Tabloid and Foot Scrub” Friend

Ah, the quiet friend. The one who hasn’t openly acknowledged fertility issues and is afraid to add credence to it by uttering the words out loud. Although she hasn’t said anything to you, you’ve noticed. She smiles politely at friends’ baby showers, but excuses herself to refill her drink when guests start to drool over onesies. She grows quiet any time a baby is mentioned and shrugs her shoulders silently if anyone asks when she’s up-to-bat in the game of parenting. With this friend, the most supportive things to say aren’t with words at all. Take her out for lunch and a pedicure, bringing an ample supply of tabloids along so you can scrutinize photos of celebrities with cellulite and discuss whether you’re too old to let the manicurist paint a flower on your big toenail. Sneak in a few miniature bottles of wine and sip cocktails out of plastic cups, reminding her what girlfriends are all about. When the time comes and she’s ready, she’ll share her fertility concerns with you and you’ll listen, give her a hug, and tell her that you’re there for her.

And, with matching flowers painted on your toenails, she’ll already know.

Editor’s note: This is the third and final post in our series on issues surrounding infertility. For more posts in this series, click here.

Tiffany Killoren spends her days trying to act like she’s organized. Behind the scenes, she’s usually practicing yoga breathing to curb the panic over throwing too many figurative balls in the air. She’s a lawyer, freelance writer, published author and, most importantly, a mom to two hilarious, creative, and spunky little boys – seven-year-old Max, and four-year-old Finn. Realizing years ago that writing allows her to find the humor in almost any situation, Tiffany writes whenever the opportunity allows and can often be found on the second floor of her favorite coffee shop pounding on her laptop after consuming her weight in vanilla lattes. Tiffany has been a regular contributing writer to M Magazine and North Magazine, has had articles featured in other Kansas City and Midwest magazines, and is thrilled with the publication of her first novel, Six Weeks in Petrograd. Tiffany and her husband, Alan, can be found around Parkville trying to corral their two crazy boys and an equally crazy pound puppy named Maddie Lou.

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  1. Hi, this might seem like an unexpected response to your post but I thought I would reach out and give it a shot. I’ve not had infertility problems myself but actually I came across your post by looking for articles to post on Facebook for an Acupuncturist in Kansas City that I do Social Media for. I initially thought your article mentioned acupuncture which is why I read it. I guess this is a perfect example of “everything happens for a reason” because I see that you weren’t talking about acupuncture, but you WERE talking about your friend who has had a tough time getting pregnant. I was just wondering, has she tried acupuncture? Sarah Fruetel, the woman I do social media for (and have actually gotten acupuncture from) has helped people with infertility issues before and has even helped to get them pregnant. I was just thinking maybe your friend might get help from trying it. Hopefully you’ll pass on to her that acupuncture is an option and that it has helped others. Even if she doesn’t choose to go to her, although she is a REALLY nice person, maybe she can call her with questions. Here’s her Facebook page if you’d like to pass it on. https://www.facebook.com/Kansascityacupunctureandchinesemedicine
    Good Luck to your friend.
    Kelly White

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