Helping a relative or friend with fertility issues.
Infertility can have an impact on many levels: it can affect the person with the issue as well as that person’s partner. When a couple embarks upon such a significant project as maternity and is faced with failure month after month, despite every effort, negative feelings such as anger, resistance, frustration, despair and sadness arise and they are difficult to manage. This can lead to feelings of depression and anxiety. On the whole, it is an issue which patients find difficult to speak about and, as a result, they are not surrounded by a strong social or family support network.
If you know anyone who may be suffering from the emotional impact of infertility, here are 10 pieces of useful advice:
- Be an active listener: they need to be heard since it is not common to have someone close enough with whom to share this issue. It is very important to listen to this person’s emotions, worries and uncertainties.
- Provide support: make it clear that, no matter what happens, you will be there for them. Patients lack family and social support so don’t take it for granted that they know you will be there. Let them know.
- Be understanding: since patients are emotionally unstable, they may have unexpected reactions. One day they are full of hope and excitement and the next they are angry and frustrated. It is important to be understanding and patient.
- Respect privacy, needs and decisions: patients tend to avoid social and family events (lunch with children, birthdays, births, etc.) so that they don’t have to give any explanations. Don’t insist that they attend so that they can avoid having to give reasons for staying away.
- Avoid sensitive subjects: announcing friends’ pregnancies, talking about abortions or maternity, baby shops, etc., are all subjects that serve to intensify negative feelings such as anger and frustration. Avoid it.
- Exercise: getting out and walking and taking firm steps is recommendable. It helps to release endorphins which are good for mental health. Suggest going together. It is also a great opportunity for making yourself available to listen.
- Observe: when you wish to bring the subject up, ask a question and work out from the answer if he or she wishes to continue talking or not. If it’s not a good time, it’s best to be respectful of that.
- Be positive: patients are usually full of negative feelings and worry foments negative circumstances. It is important that they have someone to give them messages of hope and optimism.
- Importance: maternity is everything to these patients and they put a lot of hope, time and money into it. It is a personal project which cannot be completed right now, in spite of everything. Therefore, it is important not to make light of the situation since this will generate misunderstanding and mistrust.
- Change why for what for: usually, when we come across an obstacle, we tend to think “why me?”, “why is there no reason, no explanation?”. But we can change this for “what am I going to feel upset for?”, “what do I need to find a reason for?”. This can help with the acceptance process.
- Putting oneself in the hands of experts. If that person has not already done so, recommend that no more time be wasted and frustration be avoided. Putting the case into the hands of experts in medicine with experience in comprehensive care may help a couple to take the weight off their shoulders and feel they are being given support. It will also provide them with a real diagnosis of the situation and be a basis for future decision-making.
Sometimes it feels like what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean but each drop helps. Keep up the good work and help the loved one who really needs you right now.
Natalia Romera, psychologist and reproduction issues expert at Instituto Bernabeu.