Relationships Today's Challenges

Sensitivities For Your Loved Ones Who Are Struggling With Infertility

We each face our own lot in life, we carry our own baggage filled with life experiences. For 1 in 8 of us, one of those experiences is infertility. Unlike the 7 out of 8, we struggle to grow and build our families. This form of family planning is filled with early morning doctor visits, injections, medications, endless bills and countless tears in our efforts to have a child. This path to parenthood is kept secret from many of our family and friends out of fear of rejection, unintentional pain, and unsolicited advice. Though we may not share with you the intricacies of our journeys there are a few things that most of us would want to share with you. So here goes… More than ever before we want to belong, be loved, remembered, and included. At times we may out of necessity and self care take a step back, we promise it is not personal, and request that you continue to invite us and give us the option to join when we can. We may not share when we are cycling, but we want you to know that there are many months out of the year that we are ingesting or injecting ourselves with high doses of hormones, leaving us vulnerable and emotional so please be sensitive and thoughtful when interacting with us.

To better assist you in navigating our sensitivities, the following is a guide adapted from Yesh Tikva. As with everything else in life, no two people suffer or react identically to similar situations. The following are only suggestions; be sure to consider each individual and his/her experience and needs and use your judgement and thoughtfulness when interacting with others.

Important things to keep in mind:

  1. It is important not to assume anything; not everyone who does not have a child or has a large gap between children is navigating infertility.
  2. If someone reaches out to share his/her story, the best thing you can do is listen.
  3. Though always well meaning, unsolicited advice is often more hurtful than helpful.

Jewish Ritual Sensitivity:

  1. Rituals:
    1. When offering, an individual or couple, the opportunity to participate in a ritual that is thought to help one have children it is important to know who you are asking before doing so:
      • Some people appreciate such offers and run at the opportunity
      • Some people feel very hurt by such an offer and would prefer not to be offered them
    2. If you are unsure or do not know the person well try to consult with a family member or close friend who would know, so as to avoid unintentionally offending or hurting anyone.
  2. It is a beautiful custom to use child centered holidays as an opportunity to pray for those who have not yet been blessed with children or who are struggling to expand their families.
  3. Moving stroller hubs away from the front entrance of a building or event to the back or side entrance allows everyone to enter without crossing through an emotional minefield.

When hosting a meal or get-together, ensure that everyone is made to feel emotionally included:

  1. Be aware of the crowd.
  2. If there are individuals who are not married or do not have children, make sure that the conversation does not revolve around marriage and kids. It’s easy for the conversation to revolve around diapers, daycare and developmental milestones, but be mindful that those are topics that may be hurtful to some.
  3. Try to start conversations in which everyone can be an active participant.

It is important to engage friends or family members whom you suspect may be navigating infertility:

  1. A text message every so often just to say “hello” can go a long way in making someone feel that you care.
  2. Invite family members and/or friends to birthday parties, get-togethers and Shabbat or Yom Tov meals- if they are not up to joining, let them make the decision for themselves and do not make them feel guilty for opting out.

When reaching out to family members or friends:

  1. The best thing that one can do is be a friend, listen when they speak, and offer a shoulder to cry on if need be.
  2. Unless requested, avoid sharing advice or tips on how to increase chances of conception.
  3. If your friend/family member does share her/his story with you, try not to bring it up every time you see her/him.
  4. Assuring people that everything will be okay is generally not comforting, as only God knows the outcome. Rather, assure them that no matter what the outcome, you will be there in any way that they need. Validate whatever feelings or reactions they might have, regardless of what you think about how they are handling the situation. Provide them the space to experience those feelings without feeling judged.

For parents and grandparents of those navigating infertility:

  1. Be sensitive to your child/grandchild’s challenge.
  2. Asking them when they will give you a grandchild is hurtful and a reminder of their struggle.
  3. Do not push your children to share information about their fertility challenges and treatments that they are not comfortable sharing .
  4. For those navigating primary infertility – ensure that your children feel special in their own right and no less important to you even though they have not yet given you a grandchild.
  5. For some parents/grandparents getting support may enable them to be more present emotionally for their child/grandchild.

By reading this and absorbing all you can do to help others, please keep in mind that even if you follow these guidelines to the letter, you may not get the response you expect. This is a harrowing journey with a roller coaster of emotions and stresses. There will likely be many times we are not at our best, but PLEASE don’t hold it against us and write us off. It is not personal, it is just the road we must travel. Knowing you are a “rest area” we can stop at for shelter and sustenance is invaluable, and keep leaving the signs out there for us to know your exit. Our awareness of the friendship you offer, even if we don’t call on it enough, is what enables us to continue onward.

Yesh Tikva, Hebrew for “There is Hope,” was established to end the silence and create a Jewish community of support for all Jewish people facing infertility. Yesh Tikva provides psychosocial resources and tools to those struggling with infertility and raise awareness and  sensitivity on the subject throughout the Jewish community. For more information visit www.YeshTikva.org or email support@yeshtikva.org.

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About the author

Gila Muskin Block

Gila Muskin Block

Gila Muskin Block is the co-founder and Executive Director of Yesh Tikva, a not-for-profit that provides emotional support to Jewish men and women facing infertility. She received her BA in psychology from Yeshiva University Stern College for Women and an MA in Applied Behavioral Analysis from Columbia University. Prior to assuming the position of Director of Yesh Tikva, she worked for 8 years as a behavior therapist and parent educator working with children on the Autism Spectrum.

Yesh Tikva, Hebrew for “There is Hope,” was established to end the silence and create a Jewish community of support for all Jewish people facing infertility. Yesh Tikva empowers others, gives a voice to their struggles, breaks down barriers and facilitates the conversation surrounding infertility by educating the community at large to support others facing infertility. For more information visit www.YeshTikva.org or email support@yeshtikva.org.

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