In an effort to support the mission, BRIDES spoke with Kim L. Thornton, MD, Reproductive Endocrinologist, Boston IVF for insight into what you should, and shouldn't say to a couple who might be struggling with infertility.
What is infertility?
People typically refer to infertility as not being able to have a baby. More specifically, Thorton explains, "Infertility is defined as the inability to conceive after 12 months of unprotected intercourse. We advise, however, that individuals and couples seek the advice of a fertility expert after 6 months of unprotected intercourse, especially for women over the age of 35."
Knowing the "normal" odds of conception can help guide your decisions into when to see a professionally, too. Thorton advises that in general, "the likelihood of conception in the first year of trying is approximately 25% per cycle. 85% of couples will conceive within the first year and 90 % in the first 2 years."
Unfortunately, infertility affects approximately 15 % of couples after 1 year.
What to Never Say (or Ask)
The journey to parenthood is a deeply personal one, and often it is navigated through silently, and alone. Regardless of the level of closeness of a family or relationships, many times you won't be privy to a couple's struggles with infertility.
So, Thorton shares her best advice as being, "not to ask an individual or couple what their timeline is for building a family. If the topic comes up in a group setting, don’t put pressure on those who choose not to engage in the conversation. It’s important to respect their privacy." So, when in doubt, don't ask!
If you are aware of a couples struggles, it's also not an open invitation to engage in discussion with them about it. It should only be discussed if they want to, and if they bring it up. Thorton advise to, "Try to refrain from repeatedly asking about their progress. Do not provide false assurances or suggestions as to things they should do to improve their chances. Trust me, they’ve most likely tried it all." Additionally, she adds, "Couples do not want to hear that they can just adopt, or that they should just relax, or that they have plenty of time."
Don't ever try to find out the reason or suspected reason for their infertility, and don't also try to minimize their pain or struggles via comparison, despite your best intentions.
So, What Can You Say?
If you're close enough, you can offer your support, if and only if they want to talk. Thorton says, "Support can be sending a card or flowers or meeting for lunch, or even just a phone call to talk. Offering to go with your friend to the doctor’s visit, if her partner cannot attend is a nice gesture as well."
If You're Struggling
Infertility is not easy, especially during a time . when it seems everyone else around you is having babies, expanding their families, and celebrating the milestones that come with it. It's okay, and encouraged, to put yourself first.
"Be empowered to avoid situations such as baby showers or first birthdays that make you uncomfortable. It’s perfectly OK to miss these, so don’t consider it a selfish act! It’s all about staying positive! You may even feel better doing something else," Thorton explains. She adds that there are still ways you can still support friends, "by sending cards or gifts through the mail—or by even being honest with those who you have a close relationship with. They’ll understand!"
With many trials and tough times in life, patience is key. Thorton says, "Try as hard as you can to be patient. It’s easier said than done, but nonetheless important!" Despite incredible advances in reproductive technologies and options, and excellent success rates with fertility treatments, it often takes couples longer than they expected to have success. She says, "Perseverance is key, as is patience with the myriad of treatment options that a couple may need to pursue."