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SALT LAKE CITY — One of the best parts of life is traveling through it with friends. You may attend school together, start your first jobs at the same time, then transition into adulthood, which may mean marriage and children. Infertility is often a divergent path for some friendships, but it doesn't have to be.
Many women who are experiencing infertility watch as their friends become pregnant and experience childbirth. An event that is life-changing is now a topic of conversation that may become “sticky” among friendships.
Just like most personal events, it’s difficult to understand infertility if you haven’t lived it. People understand things like cancer better. Interestingly, studies completed by Dr. Alice Domar suggest those experiencing infertility have the same levels of stress as those recently diagnosed with cancer. Regardless, the pain of infertility is largely misunderstood and at times not taken seriously.
Those experiencing infertility often hear “don’t worry it will happen, maybe if you just relax.” Being relaxed has no correlation with conception.
Here are a few things to think about if someone you care about is experiencing infertility.
- Don't minimize. Infertility is the death of a dream. Many couples imagine and plan for their family well in advance. When it starts to become clear that this may not be a reality, they feel a loss of control, disappointment in one's body, and anger.
Reproduction is often viewed as a basic human task, not being able to do what, on a most basic level, our bodies are “meant” to do, can be quite devastating. Many of us ascribe to the idea that if we work hard for something we will achieve it; infertility flies in the face of this concept. In particular, during "child-bearing years," couples may feel they have jumped through the hoops of education, employment and financial stability only to find that a family (created in the traditional way) isn't easily attainable.
Your friends are facing a loss of something they always thought would be there. It can't be underestimated.
- Rely on other friends or family to discuss your pregnancy. If you are expecting and an infertile friend is not, share your joys and complaints with other friends or family.Although it is sad you aren't able to share such a rite of passage with a friend, you'll save your friendship if you rely on other parts of your support network during this time. For someone trying to conceive, the birth of a child may too much to talk about and be reminded of. They won't feel this way forever, just honor the time that they do.
- Show them you care. Do what you would do if someone had a newly diagnosed condition, which could mean casseroles, cards, flowers, long lunches with a listening ear. This isn't anything different.Let them know that you want to be supportive. Ask them, “Do you want me to ask about how things are going, or wait until you share it?” Some feel that infertility is a private matter, others seek support. Lastly, if you or a loved one is experiencing infertility, Resolve, a national infertility association, can be an excellent resource. Find information about family-building, the emotions of infertility and information on peer-lead support groups. Go to resolve.org, and hang in there.
Whitney Barrell, LCSW, has a master's of social work from the University of Utah. In her private practice she enjoys working with children and families on myriad mental health issues. She can be reached at www.whitneybarrellcounseling.com