Helpful Insights to Understand Your Loved Ones in Their Struggles
Infertility. That word alone brings up all kinds of emotions and thoughts. Understanding infertility when you’re not going through it? Really hard.
According to the CDC, around 12 % of couples in the United States struggle with infertility. That rounds out to about 1 in 8 couples. 1 in 8. That means that about 6.7 million people each year have trouble conceiving.
That’s a lot of people hurting, grieving, and experiencing pain.
Most people know someone who has, or is currently going through infertility. It can be very tricky on relationships.
What do you say when you’re pregnant again and your sister has yet to have a healthy pregnancy? Should you announce it at Thanksgiving? What if you hurt her feelings?
Walking through infertility myself, I’ve seen the hesitancy on my friends’ faces to share their pregnancy news with me. People get tongue-tied and they don’t know what to say…so many times they say nothing.
Bottom line, navigating infertility with friends and family can be super challenging. But understanding infertility takes a lot of compassion, patience, grace, and long-suffering.
Because infertility is so common, I thought it would be helpful to put together a list to help people better understand what it’s like to walk through it.
There’s a lot we can learn from one another!
*This article contains affiliate links (my book recs) which means I may make a small commission from any items that you purchase.
1. Infertility Is Complicated
A key to understanding infertility is to first realize that it’s very complicated.
The word infertility encompasses so much more than just not being able to get pregnant.
For some women, they are able to get pregnant but are unable to carry the pregnancy to term. Multiple miscarriages. Stillbirths. Many babies in heaven.
For other women, they have already had a baby, but struggle to conceive again. They try and try but their hope is never realized. Secondary infertility.
And for some, they are never able to conceive for one reason or another. There can be issues with the woman or the man, or both. Did you know there is even a term called unexplained infertility?
I share this because there are many out there who haven’t experienced this journey, but know someone who has. It’s helpful to understand some of what it’s like, so that you can meet your friends and family with compassion and kindness in their struggles.
2. It’s Their Story
If you want to get better at understanding infertility, it’s important to recognize how different every situation is.
No two stories are the same.
Infertility is very personal and private. And every woman is different. Every story unique.
Some will choose to be an open book and share their whole life story, every grief, loss and struggle. They share it all. Good choice.
Another person may be very hesitant to share her story and choose to say very little, if anything at all. Another good choice.
Both women are completely right in their choices and should be treated in conversation with the utmost respect.
Why are they both right?
Because it’s their story to share.
Understanding infertility encompasses respecting people’s privacy throughout the journey and knowing that they may not share very many details with you.
It’s not your story to hear and get all the details so that it makes sense to you.
Meet others with compassion and be grateful for anything they choose to share about their journey. Consider it a privilege that someone would trust you enough to share about the sadness, grief, and loss.
And just listen.
3. Just Listen
Want to grow in understanding infertility? A great place to start is by listening.
As inherently selfish people, more often than not, we sit through conversations just waiting for a chance to chime in. Are we even listening to what they’re saying?
I am so guilty of this.
Active listening is definitely a habit that requires a lot of self-control and practice.
I have found that some of my friends and family don’t know what to say or how to react if I’m sharing about my infertility struggles. Rather than choosing to just listen, some of them say whatever comes to their mind or think that I’m asking for advice.
In general, sometimes it’s just nice to be heard. To know that someone cares about you enough to hear the good, the bad, and the ugly with no judgment. Someone you can count on to be there with you through it all.
A shoulder to cry on and a friend to pray for you.
If you have a friend who is currently struggling with infertility, ask yourself these questions:
Have I asked her how she’s doing lately?
When she talks to me, am I actively listening to her?
Do I offer unsolicited advice and try to fix her problems?
How can I meet her with compassion in her struggle?
Regardless of what you do, try to be a great listener!
Even though infertility is very common, it still can feel like you’re alone.
4. Infertility Is Very Isolating
Understanding infertility should also include that the journey is very isolating.
This is a big one for me personally. I have felt alone or left out many times with friends and family.
Even though infertility is very common, it still can feel like you’re alone.
With social media allowing people to blast out all of their good news left and right, having my newsfeed filled with pregnancy announcements, gender reveal parties, and newborn baby photos can be very overwhelming.
There was even a period of time when I took a long Facebook break because the newsfeed wasn’t good for my heart and mind. It caused a lot of discontentment and jealousy in my heart.
Everyone has different triggers, and Facebook was that for me.
It doesn’t mean that those of us who struggle are incapable of being happy for our fruitful friends and family members, it’s just hard to swallow in the midst of our own “failed” attempts.
Maybe some of you are thinking, Why is infertility so isolating if it’s so common?
It just is.
Here are two different scenarios that illustrate the idea.
Scenario 1: Heather is hanging out for a girls’ night, appearing to be having a great time. But on the inside she is cringing at every comment about pregnancy, birth plans, nursery décor, baby milestones, baby shower plans, etc.
She loves her friends and is very happy for them, but is struggling because she just suffered her third miscarriage. Afraid of disrupting the happy mood with her own grief, she puts on a happy face and bottles her emotions for the evening.
Once she gets home, she breaks down crying to her husband. “No one understands what I’m going through! This is so unfair! What is wrong with my body? I just want to have a freaking baby!” Isolating.
Scenario 2: It’s Christmas at the in-laws and everyone arrives with their happy faces, warm greetings, and gifts! Katie has been dreading the evening, complaining to her husband about the obnoxious relatives that will be there and the incessant questions from her mother-in-law about when they’re going to start a family.
She can’t handle anymore kid comments. They’ve been married for 5 years, so apparently kids are in the cards now. Katie and Jeff have seen all the specialists and just received the label of unexplained infertility.
They’re both 30. How is that even possible? Being very private people, they have chosen not to share their story. Katie agrees to go, does her small talk, and tries to dodge any kid-related questions.
By the time they get back home, she falls on the bed, emotionally and physically exhausted. Jeff is concerned and asks if she’s okay only to be met with, “I’m tired. I just want to go to bed.” Isolating.
Those are just two examples of probably thousands more like that.
If you are currently going through infertility and feeling isolated and alone, please don’t hesitate to reach out. There are lots of Facebook groups and other online support groups filled with women going through similar struggles. Find one and get connected.
Know that you are not alone in this!
When you’re going through something difficult, having someone validate your pain and struggles makes you feel less crazy.
You’ve made it through over half of this article and you’re still here! You should reward yourself by checking out one of these 2 great books!
One deals with wanting to come alongside others in their suffering, and the other one is about dealing with infertility with a hope-filled perspective. Both are INCREDIBLE! They make great gifts for friends and family too.
Just Show Up: The Dance Of Walking Through Suffering Together by Kara Tippets and Jill Lynn Buteyn
Longing For Motherhood: Holding On To Hope In The Midst Of Childlessness by Chelsea Patterson Sobolik
5. Some Comments are Unhelpful
Another aspect to understanding infertility is the idea that sometimes words aren’t as helpful to someone struggling as you might think.
People can have the best intentions in what they’re saying even when it comes across as hurtful.
It seems that more often than not, silence isn’t golden and we try to fill the awkwardness with words to try and help.
Consequently, many comments are very unhelpful and can come across as unfeeling, unkind or some kind of platitude that’s supposed to make everyone feel better.
Here are a few examples:
“At least you have one kid.”
“You’ll save a lot of money not having any kids.”
“I guess it’s God’s will that those babies didn’t make it.”
“You could always foster or adopt.”
“You have each other, that’s all you need.”
“Maybe you’re not supposed to have kids.”
Don’t get me wrong, I understand the good intentions behind these comments. I have actually said some of these myself.
But having been on the receiving end of some of these, I have found that they are not helpful or encouraging.
I absolutely know that it could be God’s will that Addie is our only biological child.
I know we can foster or adopt. We are actually halfway through our adoption that we started back in 2013. Through circumstances outside of our control, we haven’t been able to complete our adoption.
Trust me. If there was a way for us to grow our family right now, we would be doing that.
But right now it seems like the Lord is asking us to wait on His timing.
To those of you with helpful, compassionate hearts, please know that your intentions and kindness are appreciated.
But sometimes just being there and offering a hug or just your presence, is all that’s really needed.
6. Validate Their Pain
Understanding infertility requires validating someone’s pain and showing them you recognize the journey is painful, difficult, and emotional.
Just like a counselor.
In any kind of counseling session most of the talking is not done by the counselor, it’s done by the client.
Counselors are masters at listening and allowing space for their clients to work out their thoughts, feelings, past experiences, etc. They are also excellent at asking questions.
Those questions help the client dig deep and get to the baggage that’s been buried for years.
They help unearth all the yuck, bringing it to the surface so that it can finally be dealt with.
And they validate their pain.
The client feels heard and understood. It can be life-giving.
Do you have a friend struggling with infertility? The next time they choose to share anything with you about their journey, try asking them questions in the conversation, like this:
How have things been lately?
How are you feeling about everything?
What has social media been like for you?
Is there a specific way I can help you right now?
How can I pray for you?
I think no matter the struggle, people want to be heard.
They appreciate hearing things like “I’m so sorry you’re walking through this,” or “I’m sorry that this is so hard.”
When you’re going through something difficult, having someone validate the struggle and pain makes you feel less crazy.
It’s nice to know that people care and understand that what you’re going through is difficult, even if they’ve never been through it themselves.
7. Grief and Joy Can Coexist
For some reason we have this idea in society that grief and joy are mutually exclusive. They can’t coexist.
I beg to differ.
Understanding infertility needs to include the concept that grief and joy can coexist.
For example, there have been times when I have genuinely been excited for a friend’s new baby. I’ve brought over a gift, cooked a meal, visited them at the hospital, taken pictures, all the things. Happiness and joy all around.
But in the midst of the joy, grief can rear its ugly head. My mind can whirl with thoughts like:
Why are all my pregnancy tests negative?
Will Addie be our only child?
How come I have friends that keep having baby after baby, and I can’t even get pregnant a second time?
Am I the most selfish person ever that I’m thinking about my empty womb while I’m watching my friend hold her newborn?
A collision of feelings.
I know I’m not the only one who has experienced such polarizing emotions in the same moment.
One minute you can be hugging and smiling for photos with your sister and your new niece, and the next moment you can be in the bathroom crying.
Grief and joy.
God has given us both of these emotions.
There are plenty of joyful moments in the Bible as well as lots of lamenting and sadness. It’s healthy to allow yourself to experience both.
Just like you want others to validate your feelings, it’s important to be honest with yourself and allow your heart and mind the space to grieve.
Although it will be painful to feel those feelings, it’s overall very healthy for you in the long run.
There may soon be joy on the horizon, even if it looks different than you thought.
We can dwell on things we know to be true, like who God is and what He has done.
If you’re reading this article and not on the infertility journey, thank you for taking the time to read this.
Understanding infertility can be tricky, but the fact that you are willing to learn about hard things and step into someone else’s painful shoes for a tiny bit, speaks volumes to your compassion and kindness.
For all of you fellow sisters who are currently walking this journey of infertility, I am so sorry that it’s been hard.
I’m praying for strength, peace, patience, and great hope as you continue to put one foot in front of the other.
In Scripture it says, “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matt. 6:34)
Anther verse says, “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?” (Luke 12:25)
Worrying never makes a situation better. It just exacerbates the issues in our minds and hearts and makes us even more anxious.
How many times have you worried for hours about a situation and then felt energized and confident that the situation would work itself out? Probably never.
I can think of specific times where I’ve been in bed at night with my hand over my belly praying that the Lord would fulfill my desire to conceive.
Sometimes I was bold and confident in my prayer, other times I was wrecked with worry and uncertainty.
Nighttime can be a playground for our worries.
So if dwelling on uncertainties and worries doesn’t help, what are things we should be thinking about? How can we help our weary hearts?
We can dwell on things we know to be true, like who God is and what He has done.
In my journey with infertility, it has helped tremendously to read Scripture and focus on God’s character and His promises, two things I know to be true and unchanging.
Here are a few truths that help anchor my heart and mind when I struggle to find my footing:
God is always good. (Psalm 100:5)
God is always faithful. (Joshua 21:45)
God cares about me. (Psalm 139)
God never leaves me. (Joshua 1:9)
God hears my prayers. (I John 5:14-15)
God is my refuge and strength. (Psalm 46:1)
God is working all things for my good. (Romans 8:28)
Those are just a few gems in Scripture that have helped me in my struggle. I hope they encourage your heart in your journey.
I believe God is writing a beautiful story for your life and your family, even if you can’t see it now.
You can trust Him. He is good and faithful. And He loves you more than you know.
I’ll leave you with this quote from John Piper, who himself has walked the journey of grief in his life more than once.
Lots of love to each of you!
Please share this article with friends and family members who you know will benefit from reading it. Let’s encourage each other!
Comment below if you have anything you’d like to add or want your fellow readers to know about your journey.
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