Breaking the Stigma: Talking About Fertility Struggles in Motherhood
When most of us dream of our future family, we likely don’t factor in pregnancy loss and infertility struggles. Yet the reality is, as many as 1 in 5 women of reproductive age will struggle with fertility.
At Matrescence, we seek to support those who have struggled on their path to motherhood, and recognize the importance of wellness throughout the journey. There’s a lot of shame and stigma that still surrounds fertility issues. We want our members to be able to connect with others who have faced similar challenges, have access to helpful expert resources, and be surrounded by an inclusive and supportive community.
Even if you haven’t personally experienced fertility challenges, almost all of us know someone we love who has struggled. It’s a tough situation, and often we don’t know the right thing to say. Here are six suggestions for talking to someone you love when they are struggling:
1. Listen Actively
Let them share as much as they are willing to, and make sure to follow their lead on language. Let your loved one talk about their experiences and feelings without interrupting or offering unsolicited advice. Show that you are paying attention and empathize with what they are going through.
For example, when your sister references her miscarriage, does she call the baby a baby? Does she use a chosen name? Meet her where she is at and use her preferred language.
2. Validate Her Feelings
One of the most common responses you’ll hear from moms is “it’s so isolating.” One day, you’re on a path forward toward meeting your new baby, and the next, all of that is just…gone.
LCSW Dvora Entin recommends approaching fertility challenges through the lens of grief. While it might be tempting to say “you’ll get pregnant again!” or “everything happens for a reason!” or “at least you have your other babies,” well intentioned comments like this can feel dismissive.
I’ll never forget my first OBGYN off-handedly saying “well, it’s very common,” after I experienced my first loss. Statistically it may have been common, but for me it was a first, and I was reeling. I need empathy, not statistics.
Instead, just say “I’m here.” Acknowledge that infertility can be a difficult and emotional journey. Let them know that it's okay to feel sad, angry, or frustrated.
Erin Erenberg, Founder of Totum Women
3. Offer Support
Show up in small, consistent ways. “Actions speak louder than words” is important here. Call, text, visit, bring a meal and leave it on the doorstep. Offer to accompany them to appointments, or help out with errands. Little moments that show that you care and are thinking of them. But give them permission not to respond or answer the door if they aren’t ready.
You could also give a meaningful gift. After a friend’s loss, she said she didn’t want her daughter’s name to be forgotten. So a group of us made shirts with her name on them and wore them together on her 1st heavenly birthday. My friend still wears her shirt every year to honor her daughter's birthday.
Ashley Howard-Heimbuch, IVF Warrior and Blogger
4. Don’t “At Least” Them.
Avoid making comments that could be perceived as insensitive or dismissive, like “at least you’re young” or “at least you weren’t too far along.” Infertility can be a complex and challenging issue, and statements like this can minimize someone’s pain.
Instead, check in without expectation and tell them you’ve been thinking of them. I’ll never forget when someone I love said “I don’t want to hear, this will get better. I want to hear ‘it sucks, and it isn’t fair.” So I told her “it sucks. You’re right. This isn’t fair.”
Halle Tecco, Founder and Investor
5. Respect Their Privacy
Remember this isn’t your story to share. If someone has shared their struggles with infertility with you, it's important to keep this information confidential. Do not discuss their situation with others without their permission.
6. Be Patient
Infertility treatments can take time, and the process can be emotionally and physically draining. Be patient and understanding, and continue to offer support even if it takes longer than expected.
Remember, everyone's experience with infertility is unique, and it's important to listen and offer support in a way that feels comfortable and supportive for the individual.
Andrea Syrtash, Founder of Pregnantish
If you or someone you love is struggling, the following resources are a good place to start for additional support:
* The website of the National Infertility Association contains information on infertility, diagnosis and management, family-building options, and support and services.
* The American Society for Reproductive Medicine maintains ReproductiveFacts.org, which includes information on fertility and having children, including descriptions of fertility treatments.
* Shellshocked Support Group, run by the Broken Brown Egg, offers a safe space online for BIPOC ladies to find answers, vent, get support in IVF and adoption, and more.
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