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How to help your friends dealing with infertility

At least half of my friends who have tried to conceive have experienced infertility issues. It’s a problem that is extremely prevalent and immensely challenging for both individuals and couples, yet it is often not discussed. I can’t begin to imagine the emotional roller coaster experienced month after month, year after year, from trying to have a baby. Beyond the emotional stress, it’s physically hard on the body to endure continual IVF treatments. Infertility issues are complex and can affect every area of one’s life – isolation and depression are both very real side effects.

The other day I received an email with the subject line, “Trying to Conceive: Tips For Coping During the Back-to-School Season.” This time of year, back-to-school press releases pour into my inbox like a slot machine that just cranked out a major win. To be honest, I glaze over most of them, but this one stuck out; I had never considered how this time of year would be extra painful for my friends who so desperately want a child.

I paused and imagined a non-stop stream of photos on Facebook, sharing Charlotte and Charlie’s first day of school, over and over and over again. Then I imagined walking to work, and seeing bus shelters and big box ads at every intersection. You can’t turn on the radio without hearing a program discussing the back-to-school season, or a host sharing his own personal anecdotes of parenthood. Even if one tries to shut out the excitement, the pictures and noise, it’s actually inescapable.

So I made time to chat with Nicole Witt, Director of Beyond Infertility and The Adoption Consultancy, to talk about how couples trying to conceive can prepare themselves for this tricky time of year, and how individuals can support their friends going through this. Nicole is well versed with the hardships and challenges that come with trying to conceive; apart from working in the field, Nicole and her partner have dealt with infertility and finally had a baby using a donor egg. That was fourteen years ago when the procedure was still quite uncommon.

When it comes to infertility, what is it that you most want to share with the general public?

There’s always this assumption that people do not have a problem getting pregnant. That’s the hardest thing that I always hear from people going through fertility issues. Anytime they go to a family function or gathering, people assume that it’s okay to ask, “When are you going to have a baby?” or “When are you going to grow your family?” These comments are really hurtful to them, and it makes them dread going to these events. You don’t have to try to understand how they’re feeling, but have a general awareness that people may well be going through it, and be a bit more selective on what you say and ask them.

How can I best support a friend who is going through this?

The best thing you can do is to let her know that while you can’t pretend to understand what she’s going through, you are here for her. Say, “Let me know what you need and when you need it.” Tell her that you are a shoulder to cry on. Let her know, “I can’t figure out what you’re going through, as I haven’t been in your shoes, but I’m here to support you in any way that I can.”

What is your best advice to couples amidst trying to conceive?

The most important thing is finding support and knowing that you’re not alone. Different people need different kinds of support. Everyone has a different comfort level with what they share and what they need, whether it’s just getting some questions answered or meeting with a professional.

Beyond wanting a baby and having a very hard time conceiving, I imagine that infertility can take its toll on expectations of self and body image.

It affects people’s sense of identity. Especially people who’ve longed for this their whole lives, who have built a lot of the vision of themselves around becoming a mom. It can really feel like, “My body is not doing what it’s supposed to do!” A lot of people feel like they’re less of a woman. For people with a lot of faith in their life, it can be a huge crisis if they feel that the purpose that God made them was to procreate and now they can’t do it. There are lots of self-identity crises.

What are your best tips for dealing with the back-to-school season? 

  • Get off Facebook or block the over-posters. You can’t just say, “Okay, I’ll stay off of Facebook this day,” because all over the country there are different back-to-school start dates. If you need to, take a couple weeks’ hiatus. Or if there are friends who you know are over-posters when it comes to their kids, block them for a few days – and then unblock. They won’t know.
  • Reach out to other friends who don’t have children.
  • Plan stuff that you can look forward to, like dinner dates or going to the movies.
  • Remember you are not the only ones going through this.
  • Get support. Whatever level of support that works for you, reach out and get it and stop trying to go through it alone.

What is Beyond Infertility and why did you start it? What kind of support do you offer?

Beyond Infertility is for people who are expecting or parenting after being through infertility. Having a baby doesn’t cure infertility – you’ll always feel different. You can’t just suddenly go to the Mommy and Me groups and participate in all those conversations. If people start thinking of having a second child, it’s such a source of stress: “Will I be able to do? How much energy, time, and money will that take away from my first child if I try to have a second child?”

The site gives people the opportunity to connect with others through discussion boards. It’s also a resource with different professionals (therapists, parenting experts, teachers) that can provide information – whether it’s infertility doctors talking about what happens to your body now or what to think about when considering a second child.

If you’re experiencing infertility issues, here are some resources and support groups available in Canada:

Infertility Awareness Association of Canada

Mount Sinai Hospital

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