Recently, one of my dearest friends told me she’s been having fertility problems for about a year, suffered one miscarriage a few months ago and another this week. I feel really helpless and unsure of the best way to support her.

Should I ask about it, or not mention the subject unless she does? Should I offer to be there for whatever she needs, or just act normal and not draw extra focus to it? My partner and I haven’t started to try for a family yet, and I can’t begin to know how she is feeling. How can you be a good offbeat pre-auntie or uncle when things aren’t going so smoothly?

As someone who struggled with infertility for five years, I can attest to the fact that fertility discussions are an emotional minefield. First, know that it probably took a huge amount of bravery on your friend’s behalf to even be able to TALK to you about her fertility issues. There’s so much secrecy and shame that comes up when it comes to problems with conceiving … and so many folks suffer in silence.

Fertility issues are challenging for anyone, but progressive, offbeat mamas often deal with the additional weight of feeling conflicted about their own emotions — and things get even more emotionally complex for lesbian mamas. When I was dealing with infertility, I was tremendously conflicted about medical fertility treatments, feeling like they were a biologically-selfish luxury of the affluent. IVF was something for rich, desperate women who should know better! And yet, there I was … doing it. What did that say about who I thought I was? If I felt offbeat at my wedding or job, I felt like a fucking UBERFREAK sitting in the waiting room of a fertility clinic. I felt ostracized from my family/community who kept telling me to pursue acupuncture, massage, herbs, and prayer … but also very separate from many of the people around me at the clinic. Infertility is very, very lonely.

Based on these personal experiences, here’s my advice on how to talk to and support your offbeat subfertile friends:

Things to say

  • I know you’ve been struggling with fertility stuff. How are you feeling about it all? (This is the biggest. Let your friends know you’re ready to listen to their fertility fears and heartbreaks. I know for me, I felt like I didn’t want to bore my friends with my first-world fertility problems, and it was always such a relief when friends made it clear they wanted to listen and support me. You also give them an easy out to say, “Meh, it’s fine. Let’s talk about something else.”)
  • Have you found any resources that have been helpful? (This is a great way to open discussions about books or websites or research they might be doing. Don’t presume to know what they should be reading or doing. If you’ve heard of a resource that might be helpful, ask first if they want a recommendation.)
  • Are you thinking about pursuing any treatments? (The decisions around whether or how to pursue treatments are a crazy balancing act of emotions, values, philosophy, and finances. Don’t suggest treatment in general or specific treatments. Just ask.)
  • Is there anything I can do?

Things NOT to say

  • You just need to relax! (The most common and also most unhelpful comment. When people said this to me, it made me feel like my infertility was somehow my fault — if I could just “relax,” I would get pregnant! While stress and anxiety can certainly affect fertility, in my case the issue is very much physical, and no amount of chilling out was going to help.)
  • Everything happens for a reason/It’ll happen when it’s meant to. (This seems to imply that God or fate doesn’t want you to have a baby. It’s also sanctimonious and irritating.)
  • You should try _____! (Fill in the blank with any number of holistic OR medical treatments. For me personally, in many cases I had already tried _____, or had my reasons not to want to try _____ and the constant unsolicited suggestions felt exhausting and like people thought I hadn’t done my research. It also created a dynamic of always rushing to the next treatment. Sometimes you just need a shoulder to cry on, not yet another possible solution shoved down your infertile throat.)
  • Why don’t you just adopt? (Why is it always “JUST adopting”? This is grossly dismissive of the process of adoption, which is expensive and complex, both logistically and emotionally. It implies adoption is somehow the easy alternative, and even worse, that adopted children are somehow a band-aid or a second choice.)

Again, my advice is based on my own infertility experiences — I haven’t experienced a miscarriage, so I don’t feel qualified to offer advice on that. I’d love to hear from readers who might have advice for how to support friends through miscarriages.

Comments on Supporting the offbeat & subfertile

  1. I’ve had 3 miscarriages, and now at the phase where everyone else is having babies with nary an issue.

    Its coming up on a year after the third one, and I still grieve. And it doesn’t help that people have said ALL the stupid things, and more.

    We’re now kind of looking at adoption, surrogacy or IVF with pre implantation genetic screening, and though my high risk OB says my odds are good for carrying to term eventually, I am not so certain.

    What hurts most is when i was pregnant, my friends fled the scene. Now they’re having kids and it’s like they fear me, and my miscarrying ways.

    Its quite isolating. I can count the number of people who simply said “i’m sorry” on one hand.

    • I’m truly sorry that you’ve been treated that way by your friends. I felt the same thing from many of the women I knew as well. It’s almost as if other women thought it was catching.

  2. Ok, so what do you tell people when they tell you to just relax? I never know what to say.

    I know this is an older post but I’m just getting back into trying for a baby again (technically I still have a few more weeks before I can try). My husband and I tried for a while before I started to suspect I had endometriosis. I am 2.5 weeks post excision for my endo and am finally feeling hopeful about actually getting pregnant. I am so lucky to have found a wonderful doctor. Anyway, I’ve already had a couple well-meaning friends ask me if we’d want to “just adopt” and it always makes me feel so selfish to say I want to try to have my own baby. When I was younger and a bit more idealistic I always said I wanted to adopt. But then my biological clock started ticking… I’m personally struggling with the idea of conceiving a baby versus adopting and when other people mention adoption it makes me feel even more selfish. I know this is an older post so perhaps this won’t even get read, but if anyone has any advice, I’d love to hear it.

  3. I gave birth to a very premature baby almost 6 years ago. I was six months pregnant. She never took a breath, and was the size of my husband’s hand.
    The most hurtful comments I received were from the OB on call the night I delivered. He said, “You can try again next month,” and “You’re young, you’ll have lots of babies.”
    First of all, that was bad advice medically ( I bled for months afterward, and I had just been through a difficult pregnancy and long labor. My body and soul needed time to heal)

    And secondly, even though I believe he was just really horrible at consoling people in pain, his comments dismissed the tragedy of what had just happened to me and to my child.

    As it turned out, I can’t ‘just have more children.’ It’s not impossible, but it’s not easy. My husband and I TTC’d for two years and then decided to stop. Eventually we separated and divorced.He now has other children.
    Even if we’d been able to ‘just have another baby’ it wouldn’t have replaced the child I carried. She was, at least to me, a real, distinct person.

    I was surprised at where the best support came from…Our unmarried, childless, male friends. Because they didn’t have a frame of reference, they didn’t try to say anything to fix it, or offer TTC advice or say anything. They sat with us, let us talk when we needed it, got us good and drunk when we needed it, and offered a shoulder to cry on or a good joke to lighten the mood.

    I am touched when people ask me about my daughter, remember her birthday, even though it’s been some time. I like the chance to talk about her even now.

    • Thank you for this post, and thank you for the archives. A friend of mine just had a miscarriage, so this advice is much appreciated.

  4. Thank you, this is exactly what I need to pin to my chest and force people to read before they open their mouths to talk to me.

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