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How to Support Those
Struggling with Infertility

What Is Infertility Like?

One-in-eight couples struggle with infertility. That means the song, "first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby in the baby carriage," actually happens for some people. The focus of health class was how to keep pregnancy away, giving all future adults the illusion that baby-making is easy. 


In the mental health arena, we are now referring to infertility as a reproductive trauma. The first day of every month, a couple has to confront the harsh reality that once again, their attempts at trying to conceive have failed. Then, the month progresses and they have to have apathetic, calculated sex, adding to the emotional injury of infertility. Then, they wait. AGAIN. Often times, to no avail.


For one-in-eight, their narrative becomes a reproductive trauma. That moment is almost like a BC/AD moment for couples. For a lot of couples, that is the first moment when grief, trauma, or strife entered their life. Perhaps that was also the moment for them when their mental health started to be compromised.


These couples, who want what everyone else can have by merely having sex, have to experience new diagnoses, intrusive surgeries, vaginal ultrasounds, sperm samples and more. Individuals that may have previously thought they lived in a healthy body now have to confront physical limitations and illnesses.


The expectation established in youth is that when they get older, they would go college, get a job, get married, buy a home and have a baby. For those plagued by infertility, they often feel left behind or even lapped by their peers. This magnifies the feelings of loneliness.


Infertility is not just the inability to have a child after twelve months of unsuccessfully trying. Infertility is a thief. It creates a great social divide. It makes even the most stable marriages crumble under pressure. It stifles the hope of a legacy. It discontinues biology. It ruins intimacy. It creates debt. It confronts the ideal of health. It invites depression and anxiety.


Understanding how to support your loved one might be the redeeming factor that allows them to keep going and catches them when they fall. Thank you for taking the time to learn more.

Infertility is Lonely

Alone or in a crowded room, feelings of loneliness are overwhelming. Even though 1-in-8 people experience infertility, those struggling often feel as they are the only ones. Truth is, their feeling does hold some weight. Even though so many people experience infertility, no one else with their history, biology, relationship, coping skills and life expectations have experienced their unique story before.

Infertility is Hard

We don't call infertility a trauma or a life crisis for nothing. The diagnosis of infertility is as traumatic a diagnosis as that of a cancer, HIV or chronic illness diagnosis. Everyday, they wage the war against this medical diagnosis, which simultaneously tries to sabotage their mental health. Those that experience infertility also have secondary diagnoses of depression and anxiety, which often aren't cured by a baby. In fact, if left untreated, their risk of postpartum depression and anxiety goes up.

Infertility Confuses Identities

"First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes...." We are taught that song on the elementary school playground. Fast forward a couple decades and the man or woman they thought that they were becoming and the life that they thought they would have gets interrupted by heartache. It feels like a given right to have children. Animals do it. People that don't want children can do it. Imagine looking in the mirror knowing that you can't. It rocks people to the core.

They've Done Their Research

Infertility patients are junior doctors in the making. They've researched every possibility of what could be going wrong. They are part of online communities that pump them full of information and questions to ask their provider. They know that "just relax" isn't medical advice and that just because someone's womb has become full after infertility that it doesn't mean that theirs will also. If you want to participate in conversations with them about their situation, ask them questions and follow their lead with treatments.

Fertility Comparisons Are Painful

Naturally, there is someone else in your world that has struggled with infertility. Perhaps they successfully overcame whatever obstacles stood before them and they are now basking in the beauty of parenthood. Telling your friend or family member that person's story of success only exacerbates their sense of failure and loneliness. If you'd like to share a situation with them, first ask if that is something they would welcome or if it would be triggering for them.

Infertility Stops Time

You may fondly remember who your loved ones were, pre-infertility. Perhaps they had just walked down the aisle and were soaking up their newlywed days. Those days for this couple are now long gone. The days of sorrow, longing, apathy and anguish have crept in like a thief in the night, now consuming all of their thoughts. It is a common belief that happiness and peace will circle back to them once they have a baby or a viable pregnancy.

Infertility is Expensive

If this couple has to go the way of fertility treatments, their life is about to get a lot more expensive. How expensive? Potentially the cost of a car or down payment on a home, kind of expensive. Please understand that if they participate in this kind of treatment that they are not "buying a baby." Rather, they are paying to treat a medical condition, even if that condition is still unknown for them.

Their Legacy Depends On This

It is a given right to reproduce. Family lineage depends on it. When infertility happens, couples are left pondering their family lines ending with them. Additionally, they may not get to bring a child into this world that is both of them, a reflection of their love and the commitment they made to each other. Encouraging couples to "just adopt" or to use a donor or surrogate also has the couple confronting the end of their biological lineage.

Infertility is a Big Deal

Infertility interrupts life. Professionally, we are referring to the season of infertility as a reproductive trauma. You may be thinking, "Trauma? Really?" Yes, really. It is that difficult. As a supporting person, please understand that your friend or family member feels exposed, vulnerable, sad, different and scared. Even if you don't completely empathize, know that this is really big for them!

Boundaries During Infertility.

Boundaries are difficult to make and sometimes more difficult to accept. Boundaries can also be really stressful on a relationship.


I mention boundaries because in the world of infertility, boundaries feel paramount to survival. If you haven't already been asked to honor boundaries, there is a good chance they wish could exercise some boundaries.

Boundaries, like fences, are erected to keep things that we like inside, and keep away what we don't. Personal boundaries that this couple may need will be put in place for their emotional survival. On behalf of your relationship, please do your best to understand and honor the boundaries that your loved one is seeking.

Boundaries You May
Be Asked to Honor.

  • They may come early or leave early from a gathering

  • The couple may not want to participate in a big Mother's Day or Father's Day gathering

  • A baby shower or gender reveal party might be something they won't attend.

  • Knowing about pregnancy or birth announcements may feel like too much

  • Even though you know that they are doing treatment or struggling to conceive, you may not be given as much information as you want do to the personal nature of this process.

Boundaries are a way that those struggling with infertility can prioritize

their mental health in the middle of an already traumatizing situation.

Helpful Hints


  • Learn about Infertility

  • Ask the couple how they best feel supported

  • Show up

  • Know what to say (What can I do? Would you like to talk about it? I am so sorry.)

  • Allow the making of boundaries

  • Remember milestones and important dates

  • Acknowledge losses (and not just those which you perceive as losses)

  • Support decisions about treatment

  • Encourage self-care and participate in it with them

  • Consider their feelings when announcing your own pregnant

  • Be comfortable with their tears
  • Say the name/nickname of the child they lost​​

Do Not:

  • Don't pretend like you know exactly what they're going through

  • Don't compare their story to yours or any other story you have have heard about

  • Don't minimize their journey

  • Don't tell them what the internet says unless they ask you for your input

  • Don't just tell them to relax

  • Don't give them your opinion on adoption

  • Don't make jokes (ie: You can have my sperm or my children, etc.)

  • After a miscarriage, don't say, "at least you know you can get pregnant"

  • Don't compare it to what you think might be a worse situation

  • Don't complain about your pregnancy or your children

  • Don't guilt them when they've made a boundary

  • Don't isolate them or gossip about them

  • Don't tell them they're being selfish

  • Don't put a timeline on their grief

Conversation Starters:

  • I would love to know where you are in your journey, if there is anything you'd ever like to share.

  • Have you learned anything from your doctor recently?

  • I understand infertility can be really lonely. How can I be a friend to you?

  • With the holidays coming up, how can we support you?

  • I know someone that is pregnant. Please let me know when you're ready to hear about who it is.

  • I was researching IVF and was wondering if you wanted to tell me how this has been for you?

  • I know your due date is coming up. How would you like us all to honor that day with you?

  • How can I support you right now?

  • Do you want me to pick up a baby shower gift for you so that you don't have to go?

  • People have been asking how you are doing. What would you like me to tell them?

  • There is something about infertility that I don't understand. Would you mind if I asked you about it?

  • I would love to be able to support you better. Is there anything specific you need from me during this season?

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