How to support someone with infertility? With love, grace + understanding

It's National Infertility Awareness Week. This week is important for everyone—those struggling with infertility as well as those who aren't.

Infertility is diagnosed when a person is unable to get pregnant after a year of trying to conceive. Experts estimate that about one-third of the cases come from females, one-third from males, and the last third is either a combination (in heterosexual relationships) or an unknown cause.

Infertility is unfortunately quite common. About 12% of women between the ages of 15 and 44 will have trouble getting pregnant, or will experience pregnancy loss.

The causes of infertility are wide-ranging—underlying medical conditions (like polycystic ovarian syndrome, PCOS), habits like smoking and excessive drinking, genetics, age, and of course sometimes, we just don't know.

While the causes of infertility vary, one thing is constant: It is really awful to go through.

"Because you'll never know how badly you want something until you are told that it may not be possible."-Resolve, the National Infertility Association

This is why this week is so important.

It's hard to ascribe words to the experience of not being able to conceive a baby. Harvard reports that people with infertility may feel "shock, grief, depression, anger, and frustration, as well as loss of self-esteem, self-confidence, and a sense of control over one's destiny."

Understandable, to say the least.

Really, so much of this week is about that very thing—understanding.

Coming together as a community to understand infertility, why it happens, and the extreme toll it takes on people's lives.

Helping those with infertility truly understand that they are not alone.

And understanding how to support those with infertility—this is a big one. Because unfortunately, we get it wrong a lot.

I believe that for the most part, people almost always mean well, especially when it comes to trying to support family and friends. We have likely all said or done things from the goodness of our hearts that have not come out right, or unknowingly struck the wrong chord. This week is a time to reflect and understand how we can do better.

We must stop asking people about their family-expanding plans unless we are confident that the person we are asking would like to talk about it.

When are you guys going to start trying?

Are you done having kids?

Which of you is the birth mom (to a lesbian couple)? How did you get pregnant?

You're not having any more, are you?

You're curious, I get it. But it's simply none of our business. A seemingly simple question may derail someone's entire day.

Along the same lines, we have to stop giving unsolicited advice or suggestions.

You have to try again for a girl this time!

He needs a sister!

Remember that just because a piece of advice has been right for you doesn't mean it's right for someone else. We so rarely know the full story. Imagine if the woman we asked these questions to just lost a pregnancy. Or just found out she can't afford the IVF treatment she needs to have another baby. She is struggling so much internally already without having to think about what we think would be best for her.

We also need to learn how to be comfortable not saying anything. We are a culture of doing and fixing—again, it comes from a helpful, good place—but when things get tough or uncomfortable, sometimes staying silent is the best thing we can do.

It's meant to be or it's for the best. Certainly not for her, it's not.

Don't worry, you'll get your baby soon. Maybe she won't. And she most certainly is worried.

I'm sorry for your loss. It's Mother Nature's way of making sure you have a healthy baby. But she wanted that baby.

Well, just be grateful you have one healthy child already. She is grateful, every single day. That doesn't mean she can't also want to have another baby.

Instead, just be present. Hold space for her. Be vulnerable enough to allow her to be vulnerable.

Try this: "Listen, I know you're going through a really hard time right now. I want to be here for you, so I am just going to sit. If you want me to leave, tell me. If you want me to listen, just start talking. Otherwise, I am just here, with no agenda."

It's important to think about how you will navigate your own pregnancies and babies when people who are close to you are struggling with loss or infertility. Generally speaking, they don't want you to diminish your own joy—they also don't want it rubbed in their faces.

Although this will vary, heartfelt and honest dialogue is usually the way to go. Have a PRIVATE (we'll come back to this) conversation when you break the news: "I wanted to share with you that I am pregnant. I am due in September, and I am really excited. I know that you have struggled, so please know that I have no expectations from you. If you want to talk about it, I am always here for you, but I also understand if you'd rather not."

Everyone is going to feel differently, and it's important you don't take their feelings personally.

Lastly, most people would suggest that you not break the news to them in a public, celebratory way. A big party where you make a big announcement is so fun for you but may leave them in a really tough spot. They have to "fake it" because they are with other people, but inside all they want to do is cry.

Instead, give them a heads up, and a choice: "I am going to announce my pregnancy at dinner tomorrow night, but I wanted to let you know ahead of time in case you'd rather not be there. I totally understand if so."

I think most people with infertility would agree that they do not want those around them to walk on eggshells. That said, they absolutely deserve our respect, thoughtfulness and understanding. You've got this.

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