Listen + encourage: 5 ways to support a friend who is struggling to conceive

When a couple is finally ready to get pregnant and then struggles to conceive, it can become an incredibly stressful experience. Many couples in this situation have waited until the right time to have a family—to find the right partner, be financially stable, or be at the right place in their career.

Most have also actively prevented a pregnancy until now, assuming it would happen easily. For some, it does happen easily, but for others (and for many different reasons) it doesn’t. Over time, the frustration and disappointment that builds can become excruciatingly painful, particularly when a couple lacks adequate emotional support.

If you have a friend or loved one who is struggling to conceive, the tips below may help you create a more supportive interaction so that you can be a helpful source of support for them during this challenging time. It might help them more than you realize!

1. Be a good listener, not the pregnancy guru

It can be difficult to hear about your loved one’s struggles with fertility, especially if you yourself became pregnant easily. It’s tempting to try and offer solutions and tell them what worked for you, or what you heard worked for a friend, celebrity, sister, etc.

The chances that this information will actually be helpful are slim, as there are many reasons a couple can have trouble conceiving. Really, what your friend might need is just someone to talk to and help her process her stress. Struggling to conceive is often painful and frustrating. Being there to listen to her journey will likely be more helpful than trying to figure out how to help her get pregnant.

Unless you are a medical professional and can truly offer appropriate advice, stick to being a good listener and supportive friend.

2. Don’t tell her to “just relax and it will happen”

Couples who are struggling to conceive can register stress levels as high as cancer patients. While it might seem to you that their stress is affecting their fertility, it’s probably not the reason they aren’t getting pregnant.

Most couples don’t start out stressed about their fertility and relaxing won’t necessarily fix their potential fertility issues. It may improve their quality of life, however, so your task as her friend can be to distract her and help her do more relaxing or fun activities. Plan a spa day, gift her a massage or acupuncture session. Plan a night out that involves lots of laughter like a comedy show or funny movie.

Telling to her to “relax and it will happen” is reinforcing the belief that she has control over this, which she doesn’t. No one does, not even the best doctors.

3. Avoid asking if she is pregnant

Even if your friend is avoiding cocktails, using the bathroom every 20 minutes and in bed by 8 p.m. and you are sure she’s pregnant, please don’t ask. Instead, let her tell you when she’s ready. If she’s not pregnant, it will be a painful question. If she is and she’s not ready to tell anyone, she’ll feel awkward lying or uncomfortable telling you before she felt ready.

Every couple makes the decision about when to tell family and friends differently, so please respect their privacy and trust they will tell you when they feel ready for you to know.

4. Counter her fear with encouragement and compassion

Watching a friend or loved one struggle is hard in any capacity. If you conceived easily, or have not yet had children, it may be difficult for you to understand what your friend is experiencing. You might feel sorry for her or worried, but instead, remember this—

Everyone who sticks with this process becomes a parent.

This might be the first or the hardest thing a couple ever goes through. Help your friend by reminding her how strong and resilient she is and how this process will make them even better parents. There are enough options now when it comes to having a family that no couple will remain childless if they exhaust all of them. It’s important to focus on the options in front of them at the moment without pushing for options to which they aren’t yet open.

Keep reminding them that it’s not “if” but rather “when” and “how” she’ll become a mother.

5. Respect her journey. And respect her partner’s too

While the woman trying to conceive is often the one on a hormone rollercoaster every month, I find that the partners are often overlooked and also deeply affected in this journey. Partners often feel like they must be stoic and not complain or exhibit emotional stress, even though each month they are heartbroken too.

If the male partner is the source of the infertility (which accounts for 40% of cases), it can be even harder as his masculinity can take a hit after the diagnosis. Instead of endlessly talking, processing and researching about solutions though, men tend to withdraw or throw themselves into their work.

They might become more irritable and develop anxiety or insomnia. Talking with friends helps them too, but sometimes it is harder for them to know that and initiate a conversation. Same sex partners can feel left out of the process too—so it’s important to keep communication open make sure the partner has support too.

The fertility journey can catalyze positive growth for most couples, but it often involves quite a bit of suffering. They typically learn new ways of coping under the stress, which can be applied to other areas of their life.

It can be a silver lining of this process, which strengthens resilience and gives a sense of newfound strength once they finally do become parents. You, as their friend or loved one, can help them find this silver lining and support them through the journey, helping them capture the positive gifts, rather than letting them focus on the negative.

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