Associate Professor, OBGYN
Harvard Medical School
Licensed Therapist & LCSW
RESOLVE Committee Member
It can be hard to know what to say to a friend or colleague who’s in the midst of the fertility treatment process.
While different people may prefer to hear different things, most experts and patients agree there are some simple, useful do’s and don’ts.
Generally speaking, something honest, concise and sympathetic is appreciated. Namely, “I’m so sorry, or “I’m so sorry and I’m here if you want to talk” are great responses. As is, “let me know if there’s anything I can to support or cover for you.”
Your co-worker may not be ready to talk (let alone dwell) at that moment so making your words earnest and brief (and allowing them to take the next step) is often best.
Unfortunately, our tendencies to be encouraging, to help the person feel gratitude, or to suggest an easy fix or alternative, fall flat.
As patients, we see ourselves as having exhausted our wherewithal, courage, time, resources and creativity to attain something critical to our happiness.
When we hear that our objective (for instance, “just adopt”) or our approach (“you should try…”) is wrong, we begin to believe this person doesn’t understand us, or what they’re talking about.
They are talking and offering advice not to help us, but to convince us of a view or to feel good that they tried to help (proposed an alternative, made a suggestion, showed a silver lining).
When we hear, “you should just adopt,” we hear that this person thinks they know better about what makes us happy than we know. Not to mention, adoption itself is costly and challenging.
When we’re told “just try to relax and it will happen,” we hear that what we’re doing is insufficient and we’re actually creating the problem. Not to mention most data refutes this.
While gratitude has a role to play in mental health, when others tell us “to focus on life’s positives,” we hear that they think we proportionally place the wrong value on having a child.
Mentioning a friend or love one who either succeeded, or didn’t, with treatment is rarely of help. Hearing either about how someone else got a baby, or ended the process, can be demoralizing.
As fertility patients, we are inundated with, and exasperated by, advice. What we want to hear is that we’re supported and if we ever need a hand or someone to listen, you’re open to trying.