Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Tips for the Loved Ones of People Who Suffer From Infertility

Last Christmas, after an afternoon sledding and munching on homemade Italian cookies, my niece Lauren, opened the refrigerator door and said, “Aunt Steph, it’s really a good thing you never had kids.” Poking around for the milk, she added, “No one would have liked them.”

Lounging on the loveseat with my knees bent up to my chest, I laughed.

“Really?” I said. “Is that right?” sipping a glass of red wine.

“Yup,” she poured a glass of milk and turned to place the carton back on the shelf.

I knew why she said this and hearing it put a smile on my face so broad my cheeks hurt.

It was Lauren’s way of saying she didn’t ever want to share me.

She wasn’t the first of my nieces to tell me this. As my husband and I made the painful decision to end fertility treatments, several of my other nieces expressed Lauren’s sentiment.

“Let me get this straight,” I’ve said to each of them. “If we had a baby and had a party for his or her baptism, no one would come?” I paused. “How about birthday parties? No one?” I chuckled.

“Yup. That’s right.” They all said. “If you had children, you would be distracted and never have time for us. So, in the end, it worked out.”


I couldn’t argue with that. If I had my own children my attentions undoubtedly would be divided.

As my husband and I labored to come to terms with failed fertility treatments, the children in our lives knew how to provide comfort. Conversely, well-intentioned adults often struggled to find the best way to offer support.

National Infertility Awareness Week

Infertility is a complex issue the dimensions of which even those undergoing treatment don’t fully comprehend. But what we do know is that certain things people do or say are helpful and others miss the mark. Sadly, like many who grieve, the job of educating our loved ones on how they can be supportive, falls squarely on our shoulders.

In honor of National Infertility Awareness Week I encourage those grappling with infertility to take this opportunity to share with their loved ones how they can be helpful. In my practice, I have witnessed the reparative value doing so has on the strained relationships infertility leaves in its wake.


For the loved ones of those battling infertility, here are some tips on what to avoid and a suggestion of how you can be sensitive.

  • Avoid the temptation to say, “Just relax!”

o This implies blame. Trust me, we are good at blame all on our own.

  • Avoid asking “Why don’t you just adopt?”

o Adoption is a gift beyond measure for those who feel called to it, but it is not a panacea for the desire to conceive, birth and raise a biological child.

  • Understand when we pass on baby showers, birthday parties and christenings

o Sometimes we need time to lick our wounds.

Gentle presence

So what is helpful? My favorite suggestion comes courtesy of Henri Nouwen, a renowned priest, author, and respected professor. He said:

When we honestly ask ourselves which persons in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving much advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a gentle and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is the friend who cares.

If you or someone you love has been touched by the despair of infertility, jump off the sidelines and join me in the game to raise awareness about an often-misunderstood condition. It's lonely being the only person on my "team" so suit up and come off the bench!

Please feel free to link to my post, tweet it, comment or email me. I need your help to educate and raise awareness. The journey of infertility is lonely. It's not so isolating though, when others meet us on the road and wave a warm hello!

I know people want to help they just aren’t always sure how to do so effectively.

So, did you "suit up?" Hope to see you on the field!


  1. I wholeheartedly agree with the avoids and loved this idea...being a gentle presence!

    Thanks for this.
    ~ Wendy

  2. I wanted to tell you how much I enjoy reading your blog. Especially this post and the previous one. You are teaching me how to be a better person/friend. So I guess the old saying isn't true, since you are teaching "an old dog new tricks."

    Thank you for being open with your wisdom!

  3. I had an aunt I write on my blog about, well she was really my mom's aunt, but she was infertile too, and she loved my mom and her cousins and I and my cousins, so much. Next to my mom, she was my second love until she died when I was 13. Very few people made as much a difference in my life as she had.

  4. It's nice to surround yourself with loving people. There is so much negativity out there it's best to shield yourself from it.