Watching our loved ones navigate any challenges or difficult feelings can be hard. Holding emotional space for a child navigating infertility if you, as a parent, haven’t lived through it yourself, is a special kind of hard.
Whether you’re a mom or dad and you’re supporting a son or daughter, there are ways that you can help. It starts by acknowledging that while infertility is often discussed as a woman’s issue, struggling with infertility as a couple impacts both individuals, albeit in different ways.
Some important statistics to know are that, according to the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, one-third of infertile couples struggle because of the male partner, one-third struggle because of the female partner, and one-third of couples the cause is unknown. According to the CDC, 1 in 5 women are unable to get pregnant after one year of trying and 1 in 4 women have difficulty carrying a pregnancy to full term.
“Parents need to recognize that every infertility journey is different as is how their child will approach it and deal with it,” explains Dr. Banafsheh Kashani, M.D., a double board-certified OB-GYN, and reproductive endocrinologist and infertility specialist. “Open communication between loved ones is crucial. Sometimes, just listening is enough; other times, your child may need to be driven to appointments. Allowing your child that space to ask for what they need will go a long way in supporting them.”
How To Support Your Child Through Infertility Treatments
Make your care, love, and support clear.
So much is ambiguous for those who navigate an infertility journey; don’t make your love one of those ambiguous details.
“Let your child know you care, and you are there for them,” encourages Dr. Kashani. “Those dealing with infertility often feel very alone in their journey. Many people don’t know what to say to a family member who is going through infertility, so they say nothing. Letting your child know they are supported and loved is top of the list when it comes to helping your child navigate infertility.”
Once you make your love and support clear, offer your child examples of how that love can manifest — whether it be driving them to doctor appointments or offering a shoulder to cry on whenever they may need one.
“[Also,] acknowledge the medical, emotional, and financial toll infertility has on your child,” notes Dr. Kashani. “There are many ups and downs in an infertility journey, and there may be times when your child is dealing with more pain and/or grief. Let them know that you are there for them but recognize they may need some time to themselves.”
Learning how to respect your child’s boundaries and taking the lead from them can be one effective way to ensure they feel supported, instead of smothered.
Do your own research.
The lack of lived experience with infertility shouldn’t hold you back from researching and asking other experts questions about what your child may be going through. While your child may be a great resource about their unique ups and downs, shift the education burden off of their shoulders and back onto your own.
“Doing research on infertility and learning about what their child is going through can help the parent know how to support their child,” encourages Dr. Kashani. “It may be helpful to let your child know that although you didn’t have fertility struggles, you still are there for them every step of the way.”
Skip the platitudes, and focus on helping them cope.
After you’ve taken some time to research and educate yourself on topics like IVF, lean on that expertise to find the most effective ways to help your child cope. Skipping the platitudes should be first on the list.
Dr. Kashani adds:
“Please be cognizant of what you say to your child. A lot of people think it’s helpful to tell their children to ‘relax’ and to ‘not stress,’ but infertility is stressful and it’s hard to ‘just relax.’ Instead, try to plan some time together that you know would be beneficial for their mental health that will overall be a way to relax together. Parents also need to recognize that they themselves may be dealing with grief as their child struggles with infertility. Allow yourself the time you need to process your feelings as well.”
An alternative to encouraging them to ‘not stress,’ can be helping them find different support groups or ways to channel their feelings of grief or anxiety.
Recently, RESOLVE and First Response launched The Fertile Friends, a hub of resources and support that can help those navigating infertility. This can be a great first stop for helping a child find a support group.
Ultimately, the best thing any parent can do (whether they’ve navigated their own infertility struggles or not) is to honor their child’s decisions. Honoring that this is their life and that their life decisions are being supported, no matter what they may be, is a great way to “show up” for any loved one.
Dr. Kashani adds:
“The best thing that parents can do is let their children know they care and that they will be there when they need them. Parents should ask how they can help and be open to listening to their child’s concerns. No matter their child’s decision, whether they decide to stop treatment, for example, it’s important that the parent supports them. Let them know that you understand if they need to skip out on a party or event if it is too difficult to be around children or family members that may be pregnant.”
Vivian Nunez is a writer, content creator, and host of the Happy To Be Here podcast. Her award-winning Instagram community has created pathways for speaking on traditionally taboo topics, like mental health and grief. You can find Vivian @vivnunez on Instagram/TikTok and her writing on both Medium and her blog, vivnunez.com.