How to talk to a friend who is experiencing infertility

WASHINGTON — One in eight couples has difficulty getting pregnant.

That is a statistic Andrea Syrtash knows all too well. The relationship expert and author has been struggling with infertility for seven years, during which she has seen eight doctors for a total of 18 treatments.

“I call myself an ovary achiever,” Syrtash joked.

Making light of a heavy topic has helped Syrtash navigate the often isolating and painful path of infertility. After realizing that a little bit of humor and nonclinical content could help others, too, she launched Pregnantish, an online magazine that tackles the topic from a real perspective.

“To me, making it accessible, making this conversation not scary, not clinical all the time, is part of my mission to break the taboo of infertility,” Syrtash said.

A common issue Syrtash discusses on the site is how infertility impacts relationships.

“It stresses relationships in the biggest way,” she said.

“It affects your friendships, your work relationships, your family, your community, the relationship you have with your partner and with yourself.”

If you have a friend or family member who is among the 7.4 million women to receive fertility treatments, Syrtash has some tips on how to best offer support during a stressful time.

Banish the words ‘should’ and ‘just’

Syrtash’s first rule when it comes to supporting a friend experiencing infertility is to nix the words “should” and “just” from your vocabulary.

“When you say words like should and just — “You should just adopt,” or “You should just get a surrogate” — you’re unintentionally casting blame on the person that may have this physical disease. And you’re saying you’re not doing enough,” she explained.

Don’t offer advice

Another major no-no is lending advice — no matter how helpful you believe it is.

“If someone’s been through infertility, especially for years, anything you’ve thought of, they’ve thought of 10 times over, so it’s not a new idea,” Syrtash said.

The best thing you can do is listen.

“Ask questions and listen,” she said.

Be transparent

Syrtash often gets asked if friends going through IVF or other fertility treatments should be left off the invite list for events such as baby showers and children’s birthday parties. Syrtash understands the good intention of not wanting to inflict pain on a friend, but said being left out can be even more hurtful.

“I think it’s really good to just be transparent. When you’re close to someone, you can say, quite transparently, ‘I want to support you. What’s the best way I can be there for you?’ And let someone answer that question,” Syrtash said.

Your friend may want to take a sabbatical from regular hangouts, and that’s OK. Syrtash said a little self-care and some R & R from the social scene can be a good thing.

Experiencing infertility? Find support outside of your relationship

It may sound strange, but Syrtash recommends couples who are going through infertility find support outside of their relationship. Confiding in a friend or family member who is not so emotionally, physically and financially affected is the way to go.

“It’s really important to share, as much as you’re comfortable with, share with close connections what you’re going through so that you have support, because so many people feel like they’re going to burden someone,” Syrtash said.

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