31st October 2014 | by MFC Team
Our son and his wife just told us that they’re going to be starting an IVF cycle after they have been trying for have a baby for the last two years. I had no idea! I’m so upset for them. I want to support them, but I’m worried I might say the wrong thing. How can I best support my son and his wife in their efforts to have a family?
Written by our mental health expert, Dr. Karen Kranz, Registered Psychologist.
I am so happy to receive your question. I commend you for recognizing that you may not have the words to support your son and daughter-in-law, and as such, may inadvertently say something hurtful. Most people who have not experienced fertility challenges, do not know how to support their loved ones.
When thinking about how best to support your son and daughter-in-law, consider your relationship with them. That is, do the three of you talk easily with each other about personal matters? Are your son and daughter-in-law generally open and expressive, or more private and reserved? Considering both the nature of your relationship, and the personalities of the people you want to support, is always a good starting place for meaningful conversation.
Learn about fertility challenges and treatments. Read fertility clinic or professional organization websites (I’ve listed a couple at the end of this post), and learn about the emotional impact of fertility challenges. This will help you understand what others who are going through infertility experience. Use this information to help guide how you talk to them and to help you avoid common pitfalls (e.g., minimizing their experience by saying there are worse things they could be experiencing, telling them to just relax, saying if you didn’t worry so much you would get pregnant, bombarding them with questions, telling them that they can always adopt). In your efforts to be helpful, be very careful not to offer solutions. They will end up feeling misunderstood and judged, which is not what you want or what they need. Also, by taking the initiative to educate yourself, you are relieving your son and daughter-in-law of that burden.
With the above in mind, begin by empathically expressing how difficult this must be for them. Ask them how they feel about all that they have been through and will be going through. Listen carefully – without comment or judgment. Understand that you can’t fix this for them or make it better. Keep in mind that people struggling with infertility often feel they are failing. Their body is failing them, they are failing their partner, and they are failing you by not being able to bring a baby into the family. Ensure that your words express your care for them and not your own grief about what they are going through. If you need to talk about your fears or sense of loss about their infertility, share this with a close friend with whom you feel safe.
Ask your son and daughter-in-law how you can help them. Making a meal, attending an appointment, offering to help with the costs of treatment, or something as simple as taking their dog for a walk may be what they need from you. Let them know that you care about them and what they are going through and that you will support them no matter what happens. Express to them that you are sorry that they have to go through these invasive, scary, and expensive procedures with no guarantee of success. They may or may not discuss with you the decisions they are making. Support whatever they decide about treatment. This may mean stopping treatment and pursuing other family-building options, or deciding to remain childfree. Understand that baby showers and family-centered holidays (e.g., Mother’s Day, Christmas) might be difficult for them. Let them know you’ll understand if they find it too difficult to attend these family-focused events.
It is so important to recognize that there will be different needs and emotions that arise as your son and daughter-in-law progress through infertility treatments. Let them tell you what they need at any given moment and be prepared for that to change at different points in the process. In particular, the two-week waiting period after treatment can be very stressful and emotional as couples wait to see if the treatment has been successful. Support from people who care can go a long way in making the fertility treatment process more bearable.
RESOLVE has a section for friends and family with several articles that are helpful. View it here.
It includes “Infertility Etiquette” – a handout that you can give to friends/family for what to say/not say to someone with infertility. See it here.
RESOLVE published an excellent “Fact Sheet” for friends and family of those with infertility here.