If you're at the age where friends are starting to discuss baby-making, you may be dreading a certain kind of future: baby vomit, expensive baby showers, beloved friends who can't see you because their children are sick all the time. But there might be another challenge that rears its head in your friendship group — and it may be a pretty serious test of your friendship if you don't deal with it well. A friend who's trying to get pregnant is one thing; a friend who's trying to conceive without apparent success is another. So how do you maintain a friendship when somebody just can't achieve the two blue lines they want so much?
If you think it won't happen to your friends, you may be wrong. In the United States alone, according to the Center For Disease Control And Prevention, 6.7 million adult women between 15 and 44 have some sort of fertility challenge that's "impairing their fecundity" (making it tricky to have kids). That's a whopping 10.9 percent of ladies in that age group. Fertility challenges cover a huge range of possibilities, too, from diseases like endometriosis or polycystic ovaries to a childhood dose of mumps in men (which reduces fertility), or simply recurrent miscarriages with no real explanation. It's a minefield, and it's sad and sucky for them — and for you, too, as their friend.
Even if you think babies are ridiculous and a child-free life sounds like heaven, you're going to need to step up when a friend is having these difficulties. So what can you do — and what shouldn't you try — in order to give them real support? Here are nine tips.
(A note: while I'll be using feminine pronouns here, if your friend is male and finding it hard to conceive with his partner, all these points still apply to how you should treat him.)
1. Don't Ask Invasive Questions
The "so, how's the old baby-making going?" question, while it may come from a sincere place of love and the desire to comfort, is likely going to come across as pressuring and invasive. Wait for her to bring up what's going on and how she's feeling, and be willing to hear it when she does.
2. Don't Offer Well-Meaning Solutions
I can guarantee that, if she's been trying for a while, she's heard it. Green juices, sex in the morning/at midnight/under a full moon, covering herself in chocolate and standing on her head: essentially anything you can recommend will likely have been tried. If she asks for suggestions, sure, fire away.
If you have something you really really think will help, ask if she'd like to hear it, and tell her it's completely OK for her to say no. If she does say no, keep your trap shut. And if she listens to your solution, do not keep asking her if she's done it yet.
3. Ask What She Needs
Different people require different things in times of severe personal stress, which is likely what this is. She may want somebody to vent to, somebody to come to doctor's appointments, somebody to ignore everything and just watch Netflix and have involved conversations about Shonda Rhimes with. All of these roles are important. Don't go ahead and offer what you think she might need without at least checking out her mood.
4. Stay Away From Positive Anecdotes
Ladies trying to get pregnant are deluged with these. Up to their necks. They could use them to flood the plains of the Sahara.
"My friend tried IVF and was pregnant first time"; "my sister couldn't conceive, but then she just relaxed and it happened naturally"; "my aunt had fertility troubles, but she had endometriosis, which is so much worse than what's happening to you" — none of this is helpful. Putting a pregnancy struggle into context is not likely to make a woman feel less pressured or more likely to succeed; if she doesn't fulfill the narrative you've provided, she may feel like even more of a failure.
5. Be Prepared To Stay Off The Topic
She doesn't want to talk about it? Don't talk about it. Stay away from it completely. Avoid pregnant women, baby shops, bottles, and steer her away from any cooing ads on the television where pampered fat bubs look adoringly at their mothers while selling life insurance or something. In a day filled with self-doubt, anger, and invasive medical appointments, she may just want to have time off. That's OK.
6. Don't Shut Down Fears
The impulse may be strong to respond to "What if I never have a kid?" with "Don't worry, I'm sure you will!" It may seem like positive thinking. But your attempts to make her feel better may just make her sense she's being drowned out. Let her air what she really worries about, and how it makes her feel. Acknowledge and respect that fear. "I'm sorry. That must be really hard" goes a long way.
7. Reassure Her That She Isn't A Failure
Women who can't get themselves into baby-making mode as they've been doing for all of human history are prone to feeling rather useless and broken. After all, what else are we for? A lot.
Not being able to make a baby on the fourth, forty-fifth, hundredth try doesn't mean she isn't a real woman. It's sad and horrible, but it doesn't diminish her as a partner or a friend. Remind her of that.
8. Protect Her From Curiosity
Keep other friends in line. Maintain a policy of need-to-know, and if they're stepping over boundaries — prodding her for details, offering hoards of advice, pressing you to inform them about her latest news — try, firmly but politely, to give them a shove back. And if you know her family, try and help out there, too. A baby may need a village, but a woman who's trying to become a mother may just need herself and her partner. You can be her protector in this regard.
9. Be Conscious Of Her Partner's Feelings Too
The partner in this situation is probably struggling too. After all, chances are equal that the root cause of the fertility struggle lies in their biology. Don't act like it's a one-woman experience; both partners are likely getting to grips with the continual setbacks, and that may mean anger, misery, helplessness, and grief. Always acknowledge the partner's feelings and ask after their welfare.
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