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What not to say to a woman struggling with infertility
Infertility is a deeply personal, private struggle, which is probably why it feels so isolating when youre in the middle of it. Youre walking around, looking healthy and happy. But inside, a growing ache gnaws at you. - photo by Erin Stewart
Infertility is a deeply personal, private struggle, which is probably why it feels so isolating when youre in the middle of it. Youre walking around, looking healthy and happy. But inside, a growing ache gnaws at you.

You feel it when you see the millionth pregnancy announcement on Facebook this month (because lets face it, everybody in the world seems to get pregnant when you cant). You feel it when you see a woman cradling her newborn baby and your arms physically ache. You feel it when Mothers Day is just around the corner and you debate whether you can take another year of sitting through a talk on the joy of motherhood at church, while everyone tiptoes around your barren uterus like youre an infertile bomb about to go off and ruin everyones special day.

So, yeah, infertility is awful.

I have been thinking about my own experience with infertility in conjunction with National Infertility Awareness week in April. I struggled to get pregnant for a year before having my first child and am now unable to have more children because of health issues caused by that first pregnancy. Different story, same pain.

During both experiences, Ive learned a lot about not being able to have children and what things helped or hurt me the most as I was struggling.

For example, of all the things Id put on the list of things never to say to a woman struggling with infertility, the No. 1 spot undoubtedly goes to Just relax. It will happen if you dont stress so much about it. This is the go-to piece of wisdom for people who have absolutely no idea what they are talking about. Of course de-stressing is always a good idea, but you try not to overthink it when youre charting your temperature like a maniac, peeing on all sorts of crazy sticks and calling your husband to rush home from work so you dont miss the window.

When you tell a woman to "relax and let it happen," you are implying that the woman is doing something wrong. Her obsession with getting pregnant is the reason she is infertile. People often say things like this in an effort to help, but they end up making the situation much worse.

Along with avoiding just relax, here are several other top tips for people who want to support their loved ones as they struggle with infertility:

1. Don't minimize the pain. Allow a woman to grieve. Infertility is a loss, and every woman (and man) should be allowed to mourn in her own way. Although we havent lost a child, we have lost a future and are having to adjust our vision for what our family will look like. This takes time. Dont minimize her struggle by telling her it will be OK or to enjoy a full nights sleep while it lasts. She may reach those conclusions on her own, but only after coming to terms with what she has lost.

2. Dont compare stories or compete for most heartbreaking infertility story. The pain is real, no matter the situation. Some women may try to get pregnant for years, while others have just barely hit the year infertility marker. Im sure many women with no children will read this column and think, Yeah, but you have two kids. Never negate one womans experience by comparing it to anothers.

3. Dont pretend to understand what someone is going through. Dont tell a woman that you know how she feels unless you have actually gone through the exact same thing. Otherwise, just tell her how hard it must be.

4. Don't exclude someone struggling with infertility from baby showers, Mother's Day celebrations or other happy moments just because you assume it will be too painful for them. Let them decide what they can handle. And if a certain situation is too much for them, dont take it personally.

5. Listen. One of the hardest parts of infertility is the complete lack of anyone to talk to about your feelings. Your spouse doesnt want to talk about it because he is grappling with his own feelings of loss. Perhaps there are feelings of blame, resentment or guilt over infertility in a marriage. That leaves most women desperate for someone to talk to who wont judge or advise. Just listen.

6. Be sensitive. Its amazing to me how people think their opinions about family planning are appropriate to share. Dont dish out your opinions and advice so casually. Again, your words are not nearly as valuable as a listening ear.