You know your friend is trying to have a baby. You want to say the right thing. You want to show that you’re there for them. But it’s such a delicate topic that you’re scared to bring it up in case you say the wrong thing and make them feel like crap. Sound familiar?
I asked a few of my buddies who’ve spent years at the receiving end of well-meaning yet often bumbling efforts from friends and acquaintances to share their advice:
What should we say to a friend who is desperate for a baby, but is having trouble conceiving?
What shouldn’t we say?
Or should we just shut our gobs and avoid the topic all together?
As you can imagine, not everyone had the same opinions. Susan* who’s in her 20s and tried for three years before having her son said “Don’t bring it up unless I bring it up. You never know, I might be having a really hard day, where it was all I could do to get out of bed, let alone workshop my issues.”
While Rachel, 43, who tried unsuccessfully who have a second child over a period of five years begged to differ:
“I think bringing it up is a good thing. You can always gauge whether or not someone wants to talk about it, and the thought of someone struggling on their own is harrowing.”
The emotional rollercoaster
Understanding the emotional impact of trying to fall pregnant is imperative for all women (and men) who’re wanting to provide support.
“I felt hopeful, desperate, teary, sad, isolated and overwhelmingly angry and sometimes all in one day” confided Rachel. “I couldn’t stand looking at pregnant people, started crying all the time about the slightest thing. I also felt my reactions to things in life were irrational. I felt an enormous sense of loss, felt frustrated that I couldn’t talk to anyone, perhaps for fear of becoming emotional and teary.”
“It’s really hard people asking if you’re ok. And when I told people bad news from yet another treatment I felt like there was something wrong with me.” said Susan.
“It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever been through – not knowing if you’ll ever fall pregnant. And you wonder how many times you can endure the pain. It really beats you up inside.”
“I spent a lot of time by myself, some days I didn’t want to get out of bed.”
But if the topic is open for discussion, here’s 11 things you can pretty much be guaranteed that they don’t want to hear – followed by 5 things that’ll be received like that verbal warm hug you’re aiming for.
“I’m so exhausted from being up all night with the baby.”
“Don’t moan to me about your sleep deprivation, or anything to do with your kids.” stated Susan. “I’m well aware of the complications that come with having babies, and I’d give my left arm to be a sleep-deprived zombie with a baby.”
“I’m sure it will happen soon”
“Actually it might not” stated Rachel, who went on to offer a more helpful alternative: “this must be really harrowing for you, how are you holding up?”
“I’m pregnant and it was such a surprise – I’m not sure what to do!”
“Pregnancy is a miracle” said Susan with tears welling in her eyes as she spoke. “People should feel blessed.”
“You’re a career woman, I guess that’s why you don’t have kids.”
“Yes, I love my job, but you don’t know my situation so don’t assume” said Jo, a successful business woman in her 30’s who’s been trying to conceive for years. “And besides, being successful in a career and having children is not a mutually exclusive proposition.”
“Well at least you have one child already.”
Rachel, who has a 7 year old child, and has tried for years to have a second said “This was the main comment people made to me and although trying to help, it always made me clam up and feel that lonely, misunderstood or ungrateful for what I have.”
“My friend tried for months, and just when she stopped trying, she fell pregnant.”
“Please, just shut up!” said Jo bluntly. “There are medical issues that women and men face, beyond our control. They are complicated and the emotions associated with them are intense. I’m a little tired of being told to stop trying and see what happens.”
“I wish you would confide in me. Have I done something wrong?”
“Don’t be hurt or angry at friends for not telling you their struggles,” advised Rachel “They might not know how to bring it up, be in a really sad place, having relationship problems, or like me, feel that they are going to sob and never stop each time it is brought up. There’s a host of reasons why people don’t talk to you about it. Never take it personally.”
“Have you tried acupuncture / relaxation techniques / doing a handstand after sex?”
“Keep the suggestions to yourself as chances are they’ve already tried pretty much everything they know about. Old wives tales included!” exclaimed Jo.
“Did you hear about Kathy? She just had a gorgeous little baby girl!”
“It feels like everyone else around you seems to be falling pregnant. You go to the shopping centre and all you see around you is pregnant women. It’s devastating. I just didn’t want to hear anything baby related.”
“Things happen for a reason.”
“I understand this is an attempt at being sympathetic, but to me it’s dismissive and implies I shouldn’t be exploring all of the options available to me – of which there are many” said Rachel.
“Why haven’t you had a baby?”
“Such a dumb question to ask anyone, ever.” stated Susan.
Instead, with the caveat that whatever you say or do, it’s essential that it’s brewed from the best intentions, steeped in kindness, and with a spoonful of thoughtfulness carefully stirred through it, here’s 5 things you can say & do that will really help someone who’s trying to have a baby.
“Just listen to me.” offered Susan, nodding her head resolutely. “It’s that simple.”
2. Be there
Let people know you are there for them, and if they do open up to you give it your full attention.
“The first time I spoke to a girlfriend about it, she told me not to blame myself. At that time, I hadn’t realized just how much that was burdening on me and that helped me a lot” explained Jo.
And Rachel agreed, sharing “I really leaned on my female friends for support and understanding. There is something nurturing about talking women to women issues.”
3. Change the topic
If conversations turn toward pregnancy or kids, subtly switch subjects. “I didn’t want to hear anything baby-related, it hurt so much.” said Susan. “Instead” she suggested, “bring up something else altogether to get my mind off the subject and distract me.”
If you’re going through similar challenges, or have first-hand experience with infertility bring it up, and share your story. “I really wish someone had done this with me, I would’ve found it so helpful” confided Rachel, who continued “Any knowledge and understanding shared between women is wonderful as it lessens the feeling of isolation.”
5. Educate yourself
Currently 1 in 6 couples** will experience difficulty in trying to get pregnant, so it’s likely you’ll encounter the situation at some stage.
- Read up on fertility options on sites like The Start of Something Small to educate yourself, which will in turn make you more empathetic.
- Understand the relationship between age and fertility.
Fertility begins to decline significantly for women in their mid-thirties, but issues are not only limited to that older demographic.
As a rule of thumb, it’s a good idea to visit a GP for a referral to a fertility specialist if you are:
- Over 35 and have been trying to fall pregnant for over 6 months
- Under 35 and have been trying to fall pregnant for over 12 months
- Recognise that fertility issues are shared equally amongst men and women, and guys need support too.
“We discovered that my husband has deformities in his sperm, and a low sperm count, which effectively means there is slim to no chance of us ever falling pregnant naturally. It’s a really tough blow for a man” shared Jo, who also said it’d not occurred to either of them that the issue could be with him: “If there is one thing I’d do differently now, several years into trying to have children, it’d be having him tested earlier.”
The more we can bring conversations about fertility into the open, and increase our own education and understanding, the more we can rally together.”
As Rachel shared “I hope that in time women and men learn to be more open and are able to have frank discussions about fertility issues as it helps to feel that you are not alone. I really wish this was the case when I embarked on my journey!!!”
A huge thankyou to my dear friends who bravely shared their difficult journeys with me and the readers of Fox in Flats. You are so generous and amazing. Big hugs to you. x A
Over the next few weeks we’ll continue our series on fertility.
Coming up: Women in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s share what they wish they knew before trying to have children.
What’s the worst thing someone’s said to you when you were trying to get pregnant?
And what was the most helpful thing anyone’s said or done?
More Fox in Flats:
*The names in this article are changed
**Fertility Society of Australia
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