Know Someone Struggling with Infertility? Here’s How to Help.
This post is based on an Instagram Live interview with Riverbend's newest clinician Nikki Walther. Join me each Monday afternoon on Instagram Live @riverbendtherapy as I discuss mental health topics and answer your questions with my colleagues.
This week marks an exciting milestone for Riverbend Counseling: We’ve added our first additional clinician, Nikki Walther! Nikki is a professional counselor candidate who specializes in working with clients experiencing infertility, pregnancy loss, or other pregnancy-related mental health issues, such as anxiety or depression before or after giving birth. She has a master’s in public health and spent a decade working in the field of maternal child health before becoming a counselor. I am so delighted she’ll be working with clients at Riverbend!
The expertise she will bring to Riverbend is essential. A few years ago, I walked with my sister through the darkness of infertility. She experienced so much pain and grief and loss during that time, and yet continued as she held on to hope. I watched that hope carry her through pregnancy losses, painful procedures, and eventually a complicated pregnancy. We both emerged in awe of the process and with a deep respect for anyone experiencing the pain of infertility. Because of that experience and others, it was deeply important to me to bring in a clinician who is passionate about helping couples and individuals navigate that often overwhelming and grief-filled journey.
This week, Nikki joined me on Instagram Live where we talked about infertility, pregnancy loss, maternal mental health, and how to support a friend or loved one experiencing these issues. Infertility and pregnancy loss affect so many women and can have a very real impact on mental health, regardless of the final outcome. Financial, emotional, physical, and relational stress may emerge as you wade through loss, treatment options, and relating and connecting to others. Nikki shared the following Dos and Don’ts for supporting people through infertility, pregnancy loss, or other maternal mental health issues.
1. Do Ask
When dealing with infertility, couples or individuals often feel deeply isolated, perhaps because they’re choosing not to share the news or perhaps because they simply feel misunderstood. If a friend or family member has shared with you that they are experiencing infertility, have lost a pregnancy, or are struggling as a new parent, it can be hard to feel like you know what to say or do, especially if your experiences with pregnancy and parenthood have been very different. Instead of letting this feeling keep you from reaching out, start by saying, “I’m sorry you’re experiencing that. I want to support you. Is there any way I can help?” Then listen with compassion to what the other person tells you.
2. Don’t Fix or Offer Platitudes
Wanting to “fix” a situation when someone we love is in pain is a compassionate response. But our efforts to “fix” are often actually targeted at making us feel better because we’re “doing something.” This may be as simple as assuming we know how the other person is feeling, rather than asking (see the first point!), or offering platitudes when confronted with their pain. Saying something like, “Everything happens for a reason,” “Good things are worth waiting for,” “You’ll have a baby someday,” or “At least you haven’t had a miscarriage,” may seem like you’re helping your loved one find the silver lining in the situation. But platitudes are deeply unhelpful. Rather than making the other person feel known or loved or held in their grief, you’re making them feel the opposite: even more isolated, dismissed, misunderstood, and not supported. Instead of offering up these stock phrases, give yourself permission to say, “I feel like I don’t know what to say, but I see your pain, I love you, and I want to support you however you need to be supported.”
3. Don’t Give Advice
Unless you have deep personal or professional experience with infertility, or your loved one has specifically asked for your advice, don’t tell them what they should or shouldn’t be doing, eating, or trying. Even when the desire to give advice comes from a place of love, it’s unhelpful for a number of reasons. First, your loved one likely already has undergone testing, done their own research, and is following a specific treatment plan with their doctor—they don’t need more cooks in the kitchen. More importantly, offering advice can imply that your loved one is doing something wrong and is at fault for their infertility or pregnancy loss. This is never the case. Infertility arises equally in men and women, and no matter who it stems from it’s never the person’s fault. The same goes for a lost pregnancy: the vast majority have nothing to do with actions the mother did or didn’t take.
4. Do Share Resources
You can support your loved one experiencing infertility, pregnancy loss, or other maternal mental health issues in many ways, but your support isn’t a replacement for professional help. Thankfully, many counselors (Hi, Nikki!) are trained to help navigate these issues, and the internet and social media are full of support groups and resources. A good starting point is the national infertility association RESOLVE. It offers information on infertility and runs a wide variety of general and targeted infertility support groups (at the moment, all are meeting via digital platforms). Your loved one may already be seeing a counselor or part of a group, but sharing this type of information can show that you recognize their pain and are supporting them on this journey.
Take a moment today to reach out to someone you love who might be struggling with infertility or motherhood. Let them know they are not alone.