It can be challenging to navigate how to care for your friends walking through infertility. Honestly, I haven’t always been sure how to communicate to someone how I wanted to be cared for. Then I realized that, like anyone going through grief, there are paradoxes, contradictions to the “rules” of relating to someone who is hurting. Here are a few that have stood out to me, things I have said or I have wanted to say to others.
Please don’t avoid exposing me to babies or to good news. I want to celebrate with you, and I have learned that happiness for others and sadness for myself can co-exist. But also, please don’t surprise me with your good news in a group setting. Share with me in advance so that I can celebrate with you then process on my own before processing in front of others.
Please don’t tell me to enjoy this time while it lasts. Don’t tell me I’m lucky to have freedom in my schedule and full nights of sleep. Don’t tell me that you wish you had enjoyed that time more. Don’t negate my desires for a baby by trying to convince me that I have it good right now. But also, please don’t refrain from telling me what’s hard about your current season with a baby who won’t sleep through the night, or toddlers who are learning the meaning of “no,” or the confusion of wading through different opinions and advice as you learn to parent. It’s good for me to hear what you are learning, and I want you to be able to be honest about how you are doing. Plus it is a subtle reminder of what I can appreciate about this season even as I long for the next.
Please don’t connect adoption to getting pregnant. There is no biological guarantee or even a logical link between choosing to adopt then finding out you are pregnant. I know this happened to your close friend, and to your family member, and to that celebrity. I know it’s oddly common. But the stories that get told are the extraordinary stories; it’s not the ordinary story, and it minimizes the beauty of adoption by still making the ultimate goal getting pregnant instead of becoming a parent. But also, please don’t assume that adoption replaces the desire to get pregnant. Don’t take adoption lightly, as an expected course of action if you can’t have kids the normal way. There’s grief and hesitation moving into adoption, because it involves a new set of waiting and risks and possible disappointment.
Please don’t feel the need to say the right thing. I’m usually not looking to someone to give me the magic solution to my sadness or to my weariness in waiting. I don’t expect you to have the answer. But also, please don’t avoid the topic and say nothing. Say something. Saying nothing is almost worse than saying something cliche or saying the wrong thing. It can be hard for the person to bring it up, especially after it’s been the current reality for an extended period of time, and you bringing it up helps me to not feel forgotten.
For other ideas on how to care for someone else (or what you can communicate to your friends as you yourself navigate grief), here’s what I wrote on the topic three years ago.