- Plan for some insensitive questions about your fertility and practice your responses.
- Give yourself permission to wait until the time is right to tell your friends and family, and don't feel guilty about it.
- Be your own supportive friend by treating yourself with the same consideration and respect you give to others you love.
If you are dealing with fertility challenges, you are probably in need of emotional support from friends and family, especially during the holiday season, but your support groups’ efforts are cringe-worthy.
When family isn't supportive.
You may want them to put themselves in your place, empathize, and then know exactly what to say and do. However, they cannot (or will not) do this. Instead of support, they may ask intrusive questions and give unwanted advice. Instead of empathy, they may be judgmental and misinformed. Even though you love them, you may need some help surviving your own family.
A few survival tips include:
- Don’t expect anyone to be different when you are going through fertility difficulties than they were when you were deciding on a job or bringing a date to family gatherings. As the saying goes, “Get real.” If they were never good at looking at life through your eyes before, they will still be emotionally blind now.
- Get psychological distance by looking at them as if you're meeting them for the first time. The idea is to make you feel like more of an observer than a participant, and help you feel less disappointed or annoyed.
- Plan for some insensitive questions about getting pregnant. Your answers can be self-revealing or self-protective, serious or humorous, original or borrowed. It doesn’t matter, as long as you feel ready and not taken by surprise. Try practicing responses, such as: “Thanks for asking, but I’m not talking” or labeling questions like: “That’s a personal question and not for tonight.”
- Make sure they know that you are not to blame. If they accuse you of having worked too hard or worried too much, let them know that infertility causes stress, but research finds it’s not the other way around. Use psychology and tell them that you’re sure this makes them relieved. They usually take the hint and agree.
- Feel free to keep it to yourself. If you don’t want unsolicited follow-up questions, constant checking in, monitoring, or endless forwarded articles about fertility problems from your family, don’t share, and don’t feel guilty if you don’t. Give yourself permission to wait until the time is right, or the family member is the right listener. Not all relatives are created equal when it comes to listening and giving support. You can always tell, you can never un-tell.
- If you know what you need and want from a family member, tell them. It will make your life, and theirs, easier. Try a phrase such as “What I need right now is ____.” Or, “Please help me by ____.” If they respond in a helpful way, enjoy it and express appreciation to reinforce the response.
How to handle friends.
Cringe-worthy conversations with friends are those that offer unsolicited advice or cliches, or they can’t wait to tell you about their own problems when you were hoping for a deep connection and a chance to speak your worst fears out loud.
Some tips to handle these include:
- Don’t feel short-changed by their reactions. Just the act of talking about your feelings gives you a sense of taking action and you get to hear yourself more clearly.
- They may not know what to do. Remember that some of your friends may feel uncomfortable approaching you, worried about saying the wrong thing, or are sad and anxious themselves. Try helping them by telling them what you need. “I would love it if you ____.”
- The best support group is made up of those friends who know what you’re going through because they’ve been through it or are going through it currently. When they say, “I understand” you know they really do. You can find such groups through ASRM, RESOLVE, AFA, or a local group through your fertility specialist.
- Excuse yourself. If you are with friends who have not gone through fertility treatment but keep giving you information about the best doctors, the best fertility diet, or the best supplements, be your own best friend and stop them. Thank them and tell them that you are on information overload and then excuse yourself. You are going through enough during your journey without putting yourself through uncomfortable conversations, too.
Dealing with your friends and family during the holiday may be less of a problem than dealing with your own cringe-worthy reactions.
- You can expect to be more irritable if you are taking hormones as part of fertility treatment, dealing with pregnancy loss, or waiting for test or procedure results.
- You can expect to be at least a little bit jealous and angry when you are around anyone with a family already, particularly during family parties.
- You can expect to be defensive and sensitive about sharing your fertility challenges with others because you can’t really anticipate their reactions.
Bottom line: You may be undermining your support group’s efforts without realizing it. Try to find opportunities to play and laugh with them because both are nature’s stress relievers. Try competitive games, watching a comedy, reading funny emails, or sending them, because they all release mood-elevating brain chemicals. And try to remember to be your own supportive friend by treating yourself with the same consideration and respect you give to others you love. Do it every day, especially during the holidays.