It’s National Infertility Awareness Week (NIAW). This is my fifth NIAW, the first since I gave birth to my son last year.
I have these moments when I look at my son Judah in absolute wonder and amazement. I can’t believe he’s really here, I think: I can’t believe he’s really ours. Even as we approach his first birthday next month, the wonder hasn’t faded. It stays ever-present in my mind and on my heart because of the long, difficult, emotional four-year journey through infertility to welcome Judah into our family. I am immensely humbled by and grateful for every single moment we share with him.
But I know there are plenty of people who are still waiting for their own baby hopes and dreams to come true. In fact, there are 7.3 million people with infertility in the United States alone, as many as 1 in 8 couples. There’s a very good chance that 1 in 8 is someone you know, too.
In honor of NIAW, here are 7 things you need to know to help support someone with infertility in your life. I was so fortunate to have an amazing support network of family and friends as we struggled with infertility; I truly couldn’t have made it without them. I hope you’ll join me in taking a minute to share this post to help advocate for and raise awareness of infertility in support of NIAW this year!
1. Stand with us when we’re afraid.
Infertility is stressful, overwhelming, draining. It certainly left me weary and questioning a lot about myself that I had taken for granted: of course I could get pregnant! But the truth is, biology said otherwise and despite our best efforts, we couldn’t get pregnant without a lot of help. Our friends never told us to “just relax” or “just adopt” – they understood that “relaxing” wouldn’t change my infertility diagnosis and that while adoption is a beautiful way of building families, our desire for biological children was valid and instinctual. They stood with us and championed for us to have the family we wanted.
2. That said: give us space when we need it.
The support I received was indescribable, but even with all the outpouring of love and support, some days were still emotionally harder than others. Infertility really does leave you raw. Baby showers and pregnancy announcements were two of the most difficult things for me to face emotionally when I dealt with infertility. It can be so painful to be in an environment where you’re perpetually reminded of the one thing you want more than anything in the world that a disease prevents you from having. If you know your friend has infertility and declines your shower invitation, it’s nothing personal. We are overjoyed for your joy – but it is overshadowed by our own private pain and sometimes we just need the space to cope and heal on our own.
3. Trust our judgment.
Everyone has a story: “If you just do XYZ, you’ll get pregnant in no time! It happened to my friend/cousin/hairdresser…” Believe me when I say: we’ve tried everything. Wheat grass shots? Totally. Acupuncture? Twice a week. Second opinion? We’re on our fourth. When your friend has been diagnosed with infertility, they’ll practically earn an honorary degree in Reproductive Medicine from all the reading and research! Ask your friend if they want you to send them helpful resources and advice. Some may welcome it, others may not – and that’s perfectly okay.
4. You’ll be the first to know.
If a friend does open up to you about their infertility, let them lead the conversation on how much information they share. Some people don’t mind if folks check up on them (“how are things going with your IVF cycle?”) while others can find it overwhelming to try and keep everyone current with all the details. It’s nothing personal if we don’t divulge all of the details with you every step of the way. Trust us: if we get pregnant, you’ll be the first to know!
5. Be our distraction.
No matter how hard we try, sometimes all we can think about is our infertility and everything we’re dealing with: our desire to have children, the next time we have to inject ourselves with medication, the next ultrasound appointment at 6 o’clock in the morning… The waiting can be the worst, especially during what’s known as the “two-week wait” after treatments or a timed cycle where we wait to find out if we’re pregnant. Doing whatever your friend loves and enjoys most with them helps to take our minds off the wait and is a HUGE help. Even just having a friend in the waiting room during our endless string of doctors’ appointments can make such a supportive difference.
6. We are 1 in 8.
Infertility is often a private, silent struggle for most couples. We were in the minority by how public we were with our infertility journey. Think of your eight closest friends: statistics say that one of those eight friends is dealing with infertility and chances are, they might not have even told you. Sometimes it was so painful just to open up Facebook and see another pregnancy or birth announcement. Don’t squash your own joy for our sake, but remember, asking a seemingly innocent question like, “So, when are you going to have kids?” is an emotional land mine for us. The infertility community needs your compassion and understanding, to know that we’re loved and supported, but more importantly – seen and heard.
7. Resolve to know more about how you can help.
It’s the 25th anniversary of National Infertility Awareness Week this year. Hosted by RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association, the NIAW theme this year is “Resolve to know more…” and they’re asking the community to help finish that phrase. Here’s what I suggest: resolve to know more about infertility, about your own reproductive health, about how you can help support the ones you love and care about who are going through this devastating disease. Resolve to be the support that your friend with infertility so desperately needs right now.
Believe me when I say: your support means so much to us. Your support helps us feel a little less alone in our struggles, and we are grateful for it.