9 Ways to Support a Couple Experiencing Infertility
Today I’m thrilled to be playing hostess to the lovely and oh-so-talented Amanda Teixeira of True Good and Beautiful. Amanda and her husband Jonathan recently brought home sweet baby Josie, culminating an adoption story only God could have designed. Now she’s blogging and mothering her little lady while hubby Jonathan serves as the brains behind the great digital content you’ve seen FOCUS cranking out lately. Amanda, thanks for being here!
1 in 8 couples will battle the lonely road of infertility.
Chances are you know someone carrying this cross and since it’s National Infertility Awareness Week, I wanted to provide some ways you can lift up those closest to you walking this path.
Having experienced infertility for the past 3.5 years, each of these actions have lifted my spirits immensely. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list but rather a starting point, speaking from personal experience, on loving couples in the trenches on infertility.
I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard, “You’re in my prayers!” as we’ve battled infertility. It touches me that others would take the time to intercede with God on my behalf for strength, wisdom, courage, healing, and joy while I carry this cross. I would have fallen into despair long ago were it not for the prayers of others.
So when you say you will pray for your friends who are experiencing infertility – do it.
Don’t let it be a phrase you throw around when others are in pain or hurting…actually get on your knees and pray since prayer is powerful and will make a difference. When I would receive spiritual bouquets or cards saying we were enrolled in prayer at a religious community, it strengthened my spirit to keep going another day.
Resist the Urge to Fix
I know the temptation to try and recommend the treatment protocol that healed your mailman’s sister’s neighbor’s daughter of infertility but just don’t do it.
I can’t tell you how often someone will ask me “BUT HAVE YOU HEARD OF NAPROTECHNOLOGY?!?” with extreme eagerness as if it will be my cure-all. Then I have to burst their bubble that I’ve been a Napro patient for a decade now…and still am infertile.
This also goes for offering practices against Church teaching or even ones that haven’t been spoken on by the Church at this time. No, we aren’t doing in-vitro fertilization or any other form of Artificial Reproductive Technology (ART). It’s immoral and I really don’t want to have to get into a battle about that while I am just trying to stay emotionally sane dealing with infertility. Also, just because the Church hasn’t definitively spoken on some things like embryo adoption doesn’t mean I need to rush out and do it. I want to wait on the Church to continue making decisions about such weighty matters before I act.
Notes of Encouragement
This type of action is helpful for anyone carrying any cross. Just getting a note from someone cheering you on is incredibly uplifting. Many days when things have been bleary with various treatments or procedures, a sincere note encouraging me onwards toward heaven was just what I needed.
Ask How I’m Doing
Infertility is a super private matter…and because of that no one wants to touch the subject with a 10-foot pole. Soon the couple dealing with infertility begins to feel like lepers in Catholic communities since everyone seemingly only wants to talk about pregnancy and babies…not the inability to have them.
Bridge the gap. Jump in and just ask how it’s going. If I am not in a place to talk, I will tell you.
Cook a Meal
I know, you may think, “But they don’t have kids, why cook a meal?”
I’ve had 3 surgeries, dozens of ultrasounds, and about a gazillion blood draws. There are just some days where cooking is the absolute last thing I could have done. A meal or a gift card during an intense treatment time would be a god-send.
Invite Us Over
We don’t fit in the single crowd.
We don’t fit in the married-with-kids crowd.
The crowd of married without kids is a super narrow and small window of couples. If we make friends with a newlywed couple they are typically expecting a baby within weeks or months so they quickly move on to make friends with other pregnant couples or couples with kids.
The infertile couple gets forgotten about. Left out. Extend an invite to them for your next social gathering. If they are in a painful place where being around pregnancy or children would hurt, they will decline but will always be grateful for the invitation.
Minimize the Kid Chat
Some of the most painful experiences I have are of us sitting around in a group of couples and the only topic of conversation is their children or pregnancy. Now that I am a mom, I get how easy it can be to talk about the kiddos and to talk about how tiring raising them can be.
Just be emotionally intelligent! If there is someone present who can’t join in the conversation, no matter what it’s about, turn the topic towards something everyone can participate it. It’s just kind.
Remember Big Days
Maybe it’s the anniversary of a miscarriage. Or a wedding anniversary, marking one more year of childlessness. Or perhaps it’s Mother’s and Father’s Day.
Again, bridge the gap and step into those painful days with your friends so they know they aren’t alone.
I can’t tell you how often it meant the world to me when friends or family would send small gifts to lift me up. Usually they would send them when I was undergoing a series of blood tests several days in a row or impatiently enduring yet another “two week wait” to see if I was hopefully pregnant.
Flowers. Gift cards to have a date night with. Sporting event tickets. Something to show your support while also providing a much needed distraction.
Again, this is not an exhaustive list but a few concrete ways others have showed their love for my husband and me as we’ve walked the road of infertility. Simply letting couples know they aren’t alone is what they need most and as long as you gear your actions towards that end, you really can’t go wrong.
Lastly, dive into the other articles out there on the interwebs during National Infertility Awareness Week, exploring the topic of infertility. Learn more about it and then find some concrete ways to show your support to the loved ones you know fighting this battle.
Nailed it, Amanda! As someone who struggled with infertility for 8 years, all of your points ring so true. It is hard to be a Catholic couple dealing with infertility in a world of pregnant friends and big families – all of which are such blessings. There was always that struggle of being truly happy for your friemds, or truly enjoying hearing about their kids, while at the same time dealing with the pain of the constant reminder of what you want so dearly but do not have.
We now have 3 kids – the first 2 we adopted through Catholic Social Services, and they are now 5 and 18 months. And our oldest is named Josephine too! Then God blessed us with a complete surprise pregnancy – and we have a 9 month old! God is so good, and so funny.
Love your blog – will definitely be following you there. Thanks, Jenny, for the introduction!
I am so glad you feel I represented the perspective of a family whose battled infertility well. And congrats on your adoptions and surprise pregnancy! 🙂 Glad to have you join me over at TG&B!
Hi, i am new here, pls how does it work.
Hi, can you elaborate?
Great job on this! I agree with all the points! My husband and I and have been struggling with infertility for 5+ years. I’m finally feeling healthy and we are now beginning to discern adoption.
I concur on all of your points. Especially about inviting us childless couples into your life. It feels like we are in ‘no mans’ land sometimes. Offering a meal is a great idea too. After my 5th surgery I asked some people from church for help with meals and cleaning (I just physically could not do it for the first few weeks). Thankfully several families stepped forward to help!
Jenny, thank you for this series!
I am sorry to hear you are also struggling with this cross. And 5 surgeries…I have only have 3 but will likely need a 4th and 5th someday for adhesions, ugh. I feel you in not being able to do much after those! I am so glad you had people step up to help you in that time. I wish you all the best in your discernment of adoption!
I am Amanda’s sister-in-law and besides being related by marriage we also share a bond of infertility. My husband and I did not even discuss having children until we were 30 and I was diagnosed with PCOS at age 27. So I knew something was up in that I may have difficulty but I didn’t expect to have this much trouble. We did eventually conceive (but I honestly couldn’t tell you how) because we literally tried everything. After our last attempt in August 2012 we were drained emotionally, physically, and financially decided to “take a break” and I guess we conceived in October because in November I found out I was pregnant. With all the difficulty we had I still can’t believe I carried my beautiful son for nine months and your birthday on August 2, 2013. Everything mentioned in the post above is true I cannot tell you the amount of times I cried when I heard my friend is having a baby, I was so happy for them but so sad for me. Every conversation with the woman I worked with was about their children under development etc. and I couldn’t take it. I feel isolated like I was the only one and wondered why God was punishing us. Mass was extremely painful especially on Mother’s Day and other occasions where mothers were asked to stand up and be recognized. I felt like I was less than because I could not conceive, I felt like I was cheating my husband of a family and a desire for a child completely consumed me in my entire life. I have now moved on from those times but I still get emotional when I think about it and how deeply saddened I was. You cannot understand this unless you’ve gone through this personally. That’s why I am so sensitive to couples trying to conceive with difficulty, I have wanted nothing more for Jon & Amanda than to have a child, and I’m happy to say I played a part in bringing Josie home to them. I am now a proud auntie to Josie in addition to her Godmother. Something that really helped me as a woman struggling with infertility is a friend once told me that if I wanted to be a mother then I would be. It may not be the way I expected or hoped but if it was my one desire then it would happen. That reassurance (made me cry but it also) gave me hope and helped me move on every day.
Thank you for this comment. I am sad that you too know the pains of infertility but it’s also comforting in some way to know that my only sister (in-law) knows EXACTLY what we’ve gone through on our journey to becoming parents. And you know how thankful we are for the role you played in helping us bring Josie home. I really will never be able to express that level of gratitude with words alone! 🙂 Love you girl.
You’ve expressed all of it so well in this comment. We struggled for 6+ years and we’re finally successful this past year.
Nice article. I’d ask how to deal with infertile couples who come across bitter and resentful of women with children? I’ve spent a fair share of time over the years welcoming, extending a hand or an ear, etc- and despite it, I have a number of acquaintances who have struggled with infertility that repeatedly come across or make comments that are sour, judgemental, and brooding. Some have even taken to their own public forums to point fingers and lament uncharitably, al out of sadness. I’m all for reaching out to those who’s struggle is infertility, but I’ve also experienced women who struggle being charitable with women who’ve been blessed with many little ones, and are struggling through the daily grind of sticky fingers and talking back adolescents. I think it’s important for people to realize that everyone has their joys and their crosses to carry, and that comparison rarely ends up making one feel better.
I think that’s probably a fairly self explanatory issue, and you said it towards the end: we all have our own crosses to carry.
It is so important to recognize that everyone is struggling in some way that might not be apparent to an outside observer. This week is especially for couples suffering from infertility, because the good Lord knows I spend plenty of time hashing out the suffering and struggling that accompanies pregnancy and parenting 😉
Every woman is different so I can’t speak on behalf of all infertile gals but the ones you mention…they are likely just stuck in a place of deep pain and are struggling to get out of the funk. I am thankful that when I was in my near despair phases, it was only a day or two before it passed. Some women it could last weeks, months or even years. I am sure they don’t mean to be that way…but I am sure that if you try to get them to understand you have crosses too it won’t really end well. Infertility has an unfortunate way of blinding women in it’s trenches and for a time they are unable to see that struggles exist outside of infertility. It’s really like a black hole. The only thing I can say is to pray for your friends who appear stuck and unable to accept or give charitable responses.
I’ve seen this too Tara in infertility circles, it’s a dangerous place that infertility can drag us into and it’s coming from a place of deep hurt and mourning. It’s almost like stages of grieving – a part of the anger stage, which sadly can grip us so tightly and not let go without help. Women experience this just need love, and time and sometimes distances, but most of all prayer. Not to sound too “out there” but this is how the devil uses our fallen bodies to win souls and the grief and anger that comes with the long mourning that is infertility, sub-fertility or miscarriage can be ripe ground for this to fester.
I’m not making excuses for women who cause pain to others while they themselves are hurting, it IS wrong when we turn our pain against those around us; rather just trying to illuminate what causes that.x
Beautiful and so well said! I agree with all of this!
Great list, I couldn’t agree more! I’ll never forget when a friend of mine gave me a St. Anthony prayer card- such a simple, kind gesture and it meant so much! I prayed that prayer fervently and we got a call from our adoption agency a few weeks later. 🙂
Infertility is such a hidden cross to bear so one more tip I’d add is to never assume that the young couple you see in church that has been married for a few years are really into their careers, don’t want children, or are on birth control. In our case, those assumptions couldn’t have been further from the truth!
You’re so right about people not making assumptions. I can’t tell you how often I was asked “When are you going to stop working and have some babies?!?” All I could say was, “When God decides to let me!” all the while knowing they thought I was using NFP to avoid so I could advance my career.
I couldn’t agree more with the suggestion to bring meals. It seems like in the past meals were brought for any sickness or loss or hospital visit, but now it seems to only be for birth. Which is really sad. New moms need meals, for sure. But so do people who lost a parent, have a loved one in the hospital, had surgery, or even just a family who struggled through a bout of the flu!
This is a beautifully written article – thank you! I am not a woman who has had to travel the road of infertility but I did go through a miscarriage and a lot of what you wrote resonated with me. I just wanted to comment on your beautiful picture and I hope you don’t mind. I am struck by several things that I observe. Your face is so beautiful but I see that you have suffered great pain. And more importantly that you are strong and determined in how you have travelled that valley of pain. Your husband looks very happy and proud of you and your child but the way he is holding you also shows a wonderfully fierce protectiveness of you that is lovely to see. I may be way off, and if I am, forgive me – but I just wanted you to know how gorgeous this photo of your family is to me! 🙂
Well said, Amanda. Thank you for sharing your story. I think it’s so important for people to hear. I also wrote a series on Infertility, from a Catholic perspective, but we don’t have any children yet (recurring losses here). If anyone is interested, you can readHERE
Thank you to CNA and to Mama Needs Coffee for allowing this topic to have a little light shined on it!
Thank you so much for writing this!! I am still working through whether I am ready to label myself as “infertile,” but these suggestions are definitely on point. I will definitely be saving this for reference later.
Thanks Amanda! I wish I could read this over and over again..Because am loosing my mind over this issue of not being able to conceive..it’s super draining me completely,nothing makes sense in my life now..it’s 7 years down the road now trying almost everything..And no one seems to understand my agony! Am hurting that’s all I can say! And how people keep asking when is the baby coming?? My heart bleeds 24/7
Seriously, thank you. I’ve been searching for help on this subject and all I get is what not to say. I’m looking at being more proactive instead of walking on eggshells.
What are some suggestions for a couple just starting on the road of infertility? My brother and sister in law started trying a few months ago and she was just diagnosed with PCOS. They are still young but have their hearts set on a large family and you can see their pain, especially my sister in law. My brother and I come from a very large Catholic family where it is rare when none of our 40 cousins are pregnant. I know the pain of miscarriage, but I do not know the pain of infertility. I am, of course, praying for them and my heart is absolutely breaking for them. I am, of course, praying for them and supporting them no matter what path they choose to grow their family.
My dad keeps making comments that “it’ll happen when you stop trying” or “it’s part of God’s plan,” etc. I remember how much I hated those types of (well-meaning) comments after my miscarriage and how much a bawled my eyes out when my cousins and other sister in law announced their pregnancies. I can’t tell if she wants to talk about it or not and what words I can say that will provide solace.
Rachel I’m so sorry to hear it. And also, I am so sorry for your loss of your own sweet baby. It’s so hard to know what to do or say. I really believe most people mean to say something comforting or affirming but fumble because we aren’t well versed as a culture to deal with grief of any kind, much less the loss of a child. Also, I think it goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) that abortion really hamstrings people who might want to say something meaningful about pregnancy loss but are afraid of being “un-PC” because after all, if those wanted babies are babies, what does that mean about the unwanted ones?
But I digress.
I think the most powerful thing you can do for your sister in law is to offer to listen to her, to ask her how she’s doing – how she’s really doing, not the polite answer – and to keep asking her for as long as they’re going through it. Also, encourage her, if you have the closeness of relationship and the moment presents itself, to see a NaPro doctor or somebody trained in good fertility care. Not just the pill and IVF pushing mainstream doctors. Another thought might be recommending she she a functional medical doctor so she can have some personalized, super specific care tailored around her unique genetic makeup and hormones.
Keep praying for them too, of course. Maybe a novena to St. Gerard (patron saint of pregnancy and expectant mothers and hard pregnancies/infertility) or St. Giana (patron saint of working mothers, unborn babies and women facing crisis pregnancies). St. Jude couldn’t hurt, either!
You’re a good sister.
Why can’t married couples without kids be friends with singles? Seriously, its difficult for many singles because they feel like they are shunned by married couples. Sometimes people there own age, as if theirs a club they are not in. Especially the older singles, and many of them are also struggling with the older I get the less likely I’m to have a child. If anything I think single friends could be fun because they are people you can do things with. That married people with children who can’t.
I do have couple of married friends (some with kids) but several without out who fortunately didn’t go off into their own world because they were married. We are so thankful for them, and people LOVE spending time with them. Just a point.
Thanks for sharing this. I’m going to take the challenge of bringing meals to my friends I know are struggling. Can I add from my own small experience of when we struggled to conceive, that often when I was out, I just wanted to be normal, to talk about life, my hobbies, your hobbies, etc. It was nice to privately be asked how we were doing, but those conversations were uncomfortable and painful. Having them balanced by just normal talk was so refreshing. We still treasure the friendships we made from that time where the family invited us to be part of their lives even when we didn’t have kids and fully fit in with their social circle. They made room for us anyway and helped us fit in.
Very well said. Thank you for sharing and having struggled with infertility and having 3 surgeries myself, I agree with all of this. Our Napro doctor is wonderful and I’m grateful for her perseverance. We gave birth to a Josephine in June. So blessed.
I disagree with not mentioning NaPro. My husband and I struggled to get pregnant (the longest 9mo of our lives), but eventually did so it is a pain I know a little about. People would throw out all sorts of sex advice, “you gotta try a nooner!” Awkward, but we knew they meant well. A close friend married the same year as us, but 5 years older struggled and struggled ~7 years (like us they waited for a few years before starting). I know I had mentioned NaPro years before, but subtly since she is very private. Then one day she was telling me all about it NaPro because she had just learned about it!! I knew they used NFP and could not believe they had gone that long struggling and not known about NaPro. I have organized Novenas for this particular friend and all those that struggle with infertility, our Respect Life ministry does a quarterly blessing of pregnant mothers AND those struggling with infertility (anonymously). There are so many people, Catholics and non-catholics that do not know about NaPro. It may depend on what part of the country you are in, but I really regret not being more bold about mentioning NaPro. She is over 40 and after 1.5 years of NaPro treatments she is finally pregnant and far enough along! Such joy, yet sad too that I know she wants more kids, but the clock may run out. She was told by traditional medicine that nothing was wrong all along, so she thought it was stress. Not the case. God bless.
Advanced Fertility Center of Texas
It’s very important to approach such a sensitive situation with caution. Finding the right words to say comes in its own time, and can become powerful forms of encouragement.
You can also recommend fertility wellness programs that focus on the overall health and well-being of infertile couples that are trying to conceive.