After decades of facing down pregnancy speculation, plus criticism from the public for not having children, Jennifer Aniston revealed a painful part of her history last year. “I was trying to get pregnant. It was a challenging road for me, the baby-making road,” the A-lister told Allure in 2022. “All the years and years and years of speculation... It was really hard.”
This candid admission was the first of its kind, but in 2016, Aniston penned a HuffPost essay on the public’s fascination with her reproductive life. “For the record, I am not pregnant,” she wrote. “What I am is fed up.”
In sharing her experience with IVF and pregnancy speculation, Aniston gave us a prime example of how people undergoing the intensely emotional process should never be treated. Speculating on someone's reproductive life isn’t merely inappropriate, it also has the potential to cause great pain, something that’s already in large supply with infertility.
But more recently, Aniston illuminated one source of support she had in the middle of all the ugly speculation and invasion.
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Aniston revealed that her co-star and friend Adam Sandler and his wife, Jackie, send Aniston flowers every year on Mother’s Day, which can be such an incredibly tough day for people struggling with infertility, or people who have come to accept that motherhood is simply not in the cards for them.
This is so lovely and touching. It’s so hard to undergo fertility issues, but it’s also hard to support someone through those issues. While Sandler’s gesture is a wonderful way to do this, it’s not the only way. Some people may not want Mother’s Day flowers — they just might want someone to ask how they’re doing, or drop off a hot meal, or validate their experience. They may even just want their friends to exercise sensitivity and avoid talking about how you’ll “never know love until you become a parent” in front of them.
We can use Sandler’s example of how to support a friend as a guide while putting our own spin on the concept. Here’s what we can learn from this example of support.
Supporting a loved one through infertility may require an individualized approach
We all handle painful situations differently, and much like with grief, everyone wants to be treated in a different way through infertility. That’s part of what makes supporting someone through infertility so challenging. Letting the person lead the way — at least to some degree — is important. Supporting a friend may not necessarily mean flowers every Mother’s Day, but it could mean checking in with them after another friend announces a pregnancy, getting them a gift to memorialize their baby after a miscarriage, or sending them dinner after their egg retrieval. It could also just mean giving them space to talk about what they’re going through by telling them outright that you’re always available to act as a shoulder to cry on, even if you can’t directly understand what they’re experiencing.
There’s no playbook, and because of that, sometimes ignoring the issue altogether feels like the safest option. But here’s why we don’t recommend that…
Ignoring the issue isn’t the way to go
In an attempt to be sensitive or avoid triggering their friend, so many people simply gloss over conversations about parenthood and fertility when talking to the affected person.
But infertility can already feel so isolating, and so many of us feel like we’re making others uncomfortable when we discuss our experiences. As a loved one, staying silent on the matter can just add to that. Again, everyone responds to and wants something different, but acknowledging the experience is important. For someone like Aniston, who lives directly in the public eye, being loud about her fertility issues would have placed a spotlight on her experience, and maybe she wasn’t ready for that. But by quietly supporting her, Sandler probably helped her feel less alone while respecting her desire for privacy. That’s powerful.
Stay away from toxic positivity
If someone tells you they're struggling to conceive, please, please don’t say something like “everything happens for a reason”. If they tell you they’re miscarried, don’t say “at least you can get pregnant”. If they voice frustration over the incredibly taxing process of being treated for infertility, don’t say “it’ll make you stronger in the long run”. If they tell you they just want to be pregnant and have a child, don’t say “you will when the time is right”.
Infertility — for lack of a better word — sucks. Trying to minimize that reality or sugarcoating the experience is so frustratingly common, yet so problematic. Don’t veer into that territory.
Don’t assume the stress, trauma, and pain end with a positive pregnancy test
One of the best things about Sandler’s gesture is that it nods to the enduring pain of infertility, which can persist long after the treatments are over, whether or not the fertility journey ends with a baby in your arms. Depending on how someone’s path unfolds, extending continued support can look a number of different ways.
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For someone who does get pregnant, checking in on their emotional state during the pregnancy can be such a helpful way to show support. For someone like Aniston, who decided to walk away from trying, asking them how they’re processing everything can validate their experience. That’s far more powerful than pretending it never happened, because even when someone decides to “stop trying”, the emotional toll of the experience doesn’t just vanish.
Take things off their plate
Offering to drop off dinner or groceries after an egg retrieval can be such a simple, yet helpful, way to show up for a friend who is in the thick of infertility. If your friend happens to be a co-worker, offering to cover work for them could be huge, especially if they’re struggling to keep up in the midst of fertility appointments. If not, asking if they need a ride to appointments or procedures could be another wonderful way to support someone (and their partner, if they have one).
While asking someone how you can support them is a great way to gauge what they need, simply offering to do some of these things allows them to not think about the logistics.
Ultimately, supporting a friend through and beyond infertility does come down to their personal preferences. Finding the best way to show up for this friend can take time, but it can make an absolutely awful experience slightly less painful. So let’s all take notes from Adam Sandler and do as much as we can to walk beside our friends as they experience infertility.
Zara Hanawalt is a freelance journalist and mom of twins. She's written for outlets like Parents, Marie Claire, Elle, Cosmopolitan, Motherly, and many others. In her (admittedly limited!) free time, she enjoys cooking, reading, trying new restaurants, and traveling with her family.