How to be a Friend to a Woman Experiencing Infertility

Baby #3 is due in July. I am overwhelmed by the grace and privilege it is to have children.  In a future post, I’ll explain why doctors said infertility was going to be my story,  but for today, might I just express my anguish over this topic?

When a full term baby of a friend was stillborn last year, I wept.  I was devastated, sad, angry, frustrated, feeling guilty of my own healthy babies, and in grief over the unfathomable pain in this loss. I didn’t know how to be a friend particularly being pregnant. There is no way you can know this level of pain without having experienced it, but can I still be a support system?

Through my tears, I prayed: “God, how do I begin to pray with and for my friends who can’t have a baby?”  God reminded me how close He is to the woman who struggles with infertility. The Bible is full of stories of women crying out to God to have a baby, to heal a sick child, to stop the pain of watching a sister give birth over and over in the middle of her own barrenness.

Thinking about the position of women in Biblical times, it is pretty remarkable that so many women’s stories are recorded:

Sarah, wife of Abraham and mother of Isaac;

Rebekah, wife of Isaac and mother of Jacob and Esau;

Rachel, wife of Jacob, mother of Joseph and Benjamin;

Manoah’s wife, the mother of Samson;

Hannah, wife of Elkanah, mother of Samuel;

Elizabeth, wife of Zacharias and mother of John the Baptist,

and a Shunammite Woman, whose husband and son are unnamed.

God reminded me that He lost His only son, and that He is close to these families in the middle of their struggle.  Side note: I would be super pissed off if I couldn’t give my husband a son so he knocked up some concubine or second wife instead (which was culturally accepted). I’m glad that’s history.

Back then, you had midwives’ tales, herbal remedies, and prayer. I’m thankful that there are so many fertility options these days, but when they fail, I can imagine it makes the pain that much greater. Think about the investment of time off work, energy spent researching doctors and options, hours spent in obstetrician offices (seeing a steady stream of preggo ladies waddling in and out), medication management, taking your basal temperature faithfully, navigating the emotional roller coaster of counting days and cycles and taking negative pregnancy tests. It breaks my heart.

And to add insult to injury, fertility treatment is expensive.  Many families take out a loan to cover infertility treatments. IVF isn’t usually a couples’ first resort, and it can set you back upwards of $12,000 per cycle.  The L&D of a stillborn baby? Costs money. How about a D&C? Hope you have already met your out-of-pocket deductible for the year.  Need time off to heal? Good luck getting paid time off.

All the costs of bringing a baby into the world are worth it when there is a baby at the end of the journey, but what about when it doesn’t happen? Devastating emotionally. Often crippling financially.

So I don’t always know how to be a friend to women who cannot get pregnant– and truth be told, I don’t always know who is trying to concieve or who has experienced a miscarriage.

So what can I do as a pregnant mom friend?

1) Listen.

2) Stop stupid advice

“It happens when you aren’t trying so hard” or “You can always adopt” or “Baby was clearly not meant to be.” That is hurtful and ignorant. If you don’t know what to say, say “I’m so sorry” or be honest, “I don’t even know what to say.”

2) Learn about all the details about their fertility journey–

and ride the roller coaster at each stage as much as the mom and dad want to share.

3) Stop badgering

married-but-no kids friends about getting pregnant. They might be trying desperately. Be sensitive when asking about future siblings, too.

4) Don’t avoid the elephant in the room.

I’m pregnant and a mom, and this is what that gal wants badly. So say so. “Gosh. It sure is unfair that some women get pregnant without having to go through all of this. I’m really, really sorry. Does it hurt too much for me to talk about being pregnant or having kids? Will you tell me if something is just too much?”

5) Don’t make assumptions.

Each woman is unique in how she responds and in each stage, she might respond differently.  Ask her about it. Is it worse to be surrounded by baby stuff after a miscarriage or not being invited to a party with your friends? Only the woman can answer that question, so ask. Give her some options and an out if she needs it.

5) Allow for the emotional craziness.

First trimester hormones make anyone else a bit weepy and erratic? Try those hormones + coming off those hormones + grief and you have a recipe for some nuttiness. Don’t take it personally. Lots of grace. Lots of space.

6) Ask about these little angels even years later.

I’ve talked to women who are 85+ about miscarriages in their 20’s. You know what? These mamas never forget those babies. Give these ladies an opportunity to share. It is good medicine and healing. Ask about names, dates, and if it was full term, what the baby looked like, how the baby is remembered from year to year. Let the mom tell her story. There is a really amazing organisation in the States of professional photographers who come and capture the few precious moments with moms and dads with their little ones who aren’t expected to live long. What a gift.

7) Know the pain lasts even years later.

Recognise that having a baby following a miscarriage might lessen, but doesn’t get rid of the grief for a lost baby. In some ways, moms have told me it is worse because they actually know what they are missing out on.

What can couples experiencing infertility do?

1) Let us know what is helpful.

Don’t leave us guessing. If you need space, say so. If you need a girls’ night out, let me plan one. If being around kiddos is healing, come to the zoo with us. Remind us as moms what a blessing it is to be one. Somedays we forget what a miracle life is and take it totally for granted.

2) Keep us informed.

Share the details as and when you are able; allow us to pray. Don’t carry the weight of miscarriage/infertility on your own. I cannot believe how many friends have said they have had struggles getting and staying pregnant only to find out several other friends have too. It is so much more common than one would think. You aren’t alone in this.

3) Let us cry with you . . .

and let us celebrate with you when you do conceive or go through an adoption process.

4) Cry and celebrate with us.

Don’t hold it against moms who have babies. Someday, we hope you will too. We each have our own unique struggles, ones we would never wish on each other. Let’s build each other up; we can walk this road together.



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