How to be helpful, not awkward, around your friends with infertility
I remember it like it was yesterday. I was mingling in the atrium at church, hugging friends and wishing them a happy Mother’s Day, offering to take family photos so no one had to be left out. I thought I was fine.
Then it happened.
A young man holding a silver tray of chocolates walked up with all the pride and excitement of a kid who just learned to tie his shoes, and said, “Happy Mother’s Day!”
I didn’t know what to say. The candy was for mothers. And despite years of trying, my husband and I were still a family of two.
The prickling behind my eyes started almost immediately, and my heart dropped because I knew there was no way out to avoid awkwardness.
He had no way to know I wasn’t a mom. I was the right age. I was married. I was female, and I was in church on Mother’s Day. All the signs were there.
I forced a smile, thanked him, and told him I wasn’t a mom. Then, as politely as I could, I speed-walked to an empty office where I cried on the phone to a friend.
You don’t have to experience the same problem to be sympathetic to someone’s pain.
Mother’s Day is a tough time for a lot of women who long to be mothers. If you’ve never been through infertility, it can be hard to know how to help. For those walking through infertility, it’s equally as hard to know how to ask for help.
But if I’ve learned one thing in nearly seven years of waiting, it’s that you don’t have to experience the same problem to be sympathetic to someone’s pain.
Everything the Bible tells us about how to help someone who is hurting applies here, too.
Three Ways to Help Someone With Dealing With Infertility
1. Acknowledge their pain.
There’s a commercial on TV right now where two men sit down to breakfast and one confesses to the other that his daughter started using heroin. The man on the other side of the table looks down, fumbling to come up with a response. The camera cuts back to the man who confessed the problem, and he’s staring out the window, looking even more concerned than before.
Like the man in the commercial, when someone admits they are facing a real struggle, we often don’t know what to say. The feeling is so foreign we’ll do anything to get back to safer conversational ground.
So, instead of embracing the heaviness, we try to lighten the mood or change the subject. Even worse, we jump in and start preaching, redirecting the conversation to verses and truths we know well.
But some pain doesn’t need a fix; it needs a safe space to be expressed. In a lengthy description of what it looks like to love and serve one another, Paul, an early church leader, reminds us to “rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15).
Some pain doesn’t need a fix; it needs a safe space to be expressed.
One of the best ways to help someone longing for children is to acknowledge the pain she feels. Infertility is hard, and it does seem unfair. You’re not helping someone wallow by acknowledging that. You’re helping them take a crucial first step toward healing.
Jesus told us that blessed are those who mourn (Matthew 5:4). Not blessed are those who suck it up and pretend everything is fine. Blessed are those who grieve, lament, and weep for what’s lost. You don’t get to the blessing without first going through the mourning. Your affirmation that infertility is mourn-worthy might be what your friend needs to release the flood of emotions she’s holding in.
When we are real with God and each other, He shows Himself as real to us. Do you want to give relief to your friend struggling with infertility? Then let her be vulnerable in front of you, and affirm her hardship. There is no better way to let her know you care.
2. Don’t feel like you have to have answers.
This is where most of us struggle. When someone confesses they are going through hard times, our first instinct is to fix the problem. Fight the urge to fix someone’s infertility by avoiding sentences like these:
“Have you tried [insert any number of home remedies and sexual positions here]?”
“You know what worked for my friend…”
“You’ve got to see my doctor. He a miracle worker!”
I’m sure your doctor is great. And yes, we know where babies come from. Some problems have a clear next step, but infertility is not one of them.
Here’s the thing: Advice is not bad. We all need people to point out our blind spots and tell us what we don’t know. But timing matters, too. Proverbs 15:22-23 says, “Without consultation, plans are frustrated, But with many counselors they succeed. A man has joy in an apt answer, And how delightful is a timely word!”
Before your advice can be timely, your friend has to know how she feels. So often with infertility, the longing hits us hard and in ways we didn’t expect. Ask questions. This lets her know you’re interested and you care. It also gives her the freedom to articulate what she’s actually feeling, instead of what she thinks she should be feeling.
3. Point them back to God’s promises.
The easy thing to say in these situations is “You’ll be next,” or, “You’ll have kids one day.” And for many couples, those words will prove true. If God has promised someone children, He will bring that promise to fulfillment in His way and in His time (Numbers 23:19).
But the greater gift — the thing that is more precious than the family we’ve longed for — is a heart trained through hardship to love and trust the Lord. Because whether or not kids ever come, difficulty will (John 16:33). And it’s in learning to lean on God’s promises and trust His Word that we become equipped for this season of longing as well as all the ones that will follow it.
One of the most immediate ways God works through and redeems infertility is by shaping our hearts, so we will say, with the Psalmist, “It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees. The law from your mouth is more precious to me than thousands of pieces of silver and gold” (Psalm 119:71-72).