This week is National Fertility Awareness Week. Fertility was never something I considered. I always knew that some people were unable to have children but it never occurred to me that some of those people would be good friends of mine. How wrong could I be? I have some incredible friends who have shared their journey through childlessness with me. I am so privileged that they let me be a part of that journey. But it hasn’t always been that way. I had to go through three stages before I was able to truly support them.
Three stages you go through when a friend tells you they’re struggling with infertility.
The #Awks stage.
That wasn’t how you were expecting conversation to go. You were just chatting away, sipping your skinny latte and BOOM they drop the F Bomb. If you’re anything like me you want to say something and normally, in an attempt to not leave an awkward silence, you’ll say something utterly inappropriate. And that’s really awkward!
Inappropriate responses include:
Well at least you’re young, you’ve got time to try.
It will be okay.
At least you’ve got one child already.
My friend’s sister’s cousins were struggling but as soon as they stopped trying she fell pregnant…
Why don’t you just adopt?
The ‘trawling through every conversation you’ve ever had to work out if you’ve put your foot in it’ stage
This has been my experience. I remembered back to a long conversation I had with friends about how great it was to find another couple who didn’t have children. Little did I know that they were longing for a baby, or even that I was pregnant at the time.
I’m not sure if they remember that conversation; I definitely do and want to crawl under a rock every time it comes to mind. It sucks to know that you’ve hurt your friends but it’s understandable that we say insensitive thing when we don’t know the situation. A friend of mine has an expression, ‘think of who’s in the room.’ What she means is, when you say something, think of how different people might hear it. Complaining about your children will be difficult for someone who longs for a child, moaning about your marriage will be difficult for someone who has just lost a spouse or longs to find their soul mate, and groaning about your job will be unhelpful for someone who is unemployed.
Here is a stat to remember: In the UK, 1 in 6 couples struggle to become parents.
The ‘guilt’ stage.
If you’ve not struggled to conceive or keep a pregnancy full-term like your friend it’s natural to feel a level of guilt. It is utterly unfair. That’s an inescapable fact. That’s what makes issues around fertility so heart-breaking. The friends I have who struggle with childlessness would undoubtedly make fantastic parents. It’s unfair but, ultimately, life is unfair. We don’t have any real control over our fertility but we do have control over how we treat those for whom it’s an issue. We can ignore their struggles because it’s too difficult and awkward or we can face it head on and choose to support them in the midst of their tears and heartbreak.
I cannot recommend more saltwaterandhoney.org
It’s a blog full of stories about childlessness, faith and the space in-between. They have a particularly good page on how to support a friend struggling with childlessness. Do check it out.