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Chapter 38
Helping Hands - How Friends and Relatives can Help

from the book How to Have a Baby: Overcoming Infertility
by Dr. Aniruddha Malpani, MD and Dr. Anjali Malpani, MD.

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This chapter is to help friends and family members to understand the needs of an infertile couple better. Sometimes it's difficult to know what to say to a couple who are confronted by an infertility problem because it's such a private matter, that you'd rather not intrude. And, sometimes, it seems as if no matter what you do or say, it's the wrong thing.

Here are a few suggestions which may help you provide the support they need.

  1. Be ready to listen. Infertile couples have a lot on their mind and need someone to talk to - help them get things off their chest.
  2. Don't offer advise unless you are very well informed . You may not be sure what their specific medical problem is - and in any case, if they need medical advise, they can get it from their doctor.
  3. Be sensitive and don't joke about infertility. Remember, infertile couples are hypersensitive about many things - try to put yourself in their shoes.
  4. Be patient. Infertile couples are on an emotional roller-coaster and often their moods and actions are unpredictable. Don't get hurt when they seem to be preoccupied with their problems - they are not rejecting you when they want to be alone.
  5. Be realistic and supportive of their decisions. Once they've reached a difficult decision, support them, no matter what your personal feelings may be. After all, this is their decision , so don't say things like " I'd never consider doing that !"
  6. Don't criticise their doctor or treatment choices. This only serves to aggravate their stress.
  7. Understand that individuals and couples respond to infertility differently. Accept them for what they are, as they are, when they are.
  8. Above all, be there when they need you and show them that you care.

There is rarely a quick or simple answer to infertility problems. Assessment and treatment procedures usually take considerable time. You can help by not forcing the issue with questions such as "When are you going to have a baby ?" They may not know if they can have a child, much less when it will be. You can help by allowing them to decide if and when they want to talk about it.

Each couple's experience of infertility is very real for them and cannot be compared with others as being more or less serious. The wish to have a baby, and the fear that it might not be possible, is of paramount importance. You can help by not comparing them with other people you may know about. Refrain from telling stories about other infertile couples - they are rarely helpful.

It is not helpful or medically sound to offer advice such as "relax", "take a holiday", etc. You can help by not giving misguided, albeit well intended, advice, and by helping to break down the myths that surround fertility difficulties.

Some people consider infertility to be a private concern. Yet others find comfort in being able to share it with close friends and family members. It is normal for people to feel sad, angry or depressed at times. You can help by respecting their need for privacy - or, by offering support if there is a need to talk about it. Be prepared to accept the expression of feelings such as anger, sadness and depression.

Those experiencing infertility often feel inadequate because they have no control over their reproductive system. You can provide support by recognising and helping them to see the strengths, qualities and achievements in other areas of their lives.

Some people experience fertility problems after having one child. This is devastating and frustrating for those who feel their families are incomplete. You can offer support by understanding what this means to them. Avoid comments such as "You're lucky to have a child at all!".

Your encouragement, understanding and support for your infertile friend or relative can help to guide them on their long road to resolving their infertility. This support is crucial to their emotional healing.

by Dr. Aniruddha Malpani, MD and Dr. Anjali Malpani, MD.

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