Monday, November 28, 2011

Infertility Sensitivity


I made this outfit for my little niecelette due to make her appearance in just a few weeks!  EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!  Please note that the flower is on a headband and not just awkwardly connected to the front of the onesie.  This picture would be much cuter if there was a baby modeling it, but you will just have to wait a bit longer for that one :).

I had an awesome conversation with my sister (the one who was oh so kind to sponsor the media blitz for us, also known as the one who is having the baby that is going to look so fetching in that pink/grey/black/white little number above, okay that made it sound like lingerie, but you know what I mean right? right.) the other day.

She asked me “How do you wish people would have responded when you told them about your struggle with infertility?”

Spencer and I were so grateful that she asked us this for a few reasons.  First of all, it showed that she cares.  She cares about us and our feelings, and of course we reciprocate.  Second of all, no one has ever asked me that before.  It has given Spencer and me a lot to think about and talk about.  It was so refreshing to have someone ask what we needed.

I know everyone is different, so I can’t speak for all those who have struggled with infertility, but I tried to give her some insight into our experience.  After our conversation, I wanted to share some of our thoughts with you.  While by no means is this list comprehensive, hopefully it will still provide some ideas for approaching a friend/relative who struggles with infertility.  I should also mention that Vita Alligood wrote a SUPERB article on Infertility Etiquette.  I would highly recommend that you also use her article as a resource.  I won’t try to reconstruct her ideas, but do desire to add to them.  So, without further ado, I give you:


1. At what point do you say something to the friend you suspect is struggling with infertility?

If your friend confided in you that she is struggling with infertility, then she is asking you to be there for her through her struggle.  It takes guts to say, “Hey I have this really personal problem and I don’t want to go through this alone.”  If they say they are having a hard time then, by golly, that is them asking for a hug or a “I’m sorry, I bet that’ hard,” or something like unto it. 

If you do not know for certain whether or not your friend is struggling with infertility, then you do not need to be the one to broach the subject, but that also doesn’t mean you can’t be sensitive.  For example, if your friend has been married for three years, likes kids, says she wants kids, but doesn’t have kids… it would probably not be sensitive to ask her when she’s “gonna buckle down and have one of her own already.”  Teasing/hinting/prying/inquiring are NOT sensitive.  She may not want to spill her guts to you.  She may not need you to listen to a play by play of all her problems.  But sensitivity is always appreciated, even if she doesn’t want to talk about it. 

2. How do you know if your friend wants to talk about it or not?

Ask her.  My sister did this when we first told our family about our struggles with infertility.  She called me and said, “I don’t know if you want to talk about it, but I wanted to see how you were doing.”  It was the perfect response.  She let us know that she cared while still giving us the opportunity to take the space we needed. 

In our conversation a few days ago, my sister told me that one of her fears in approaching someone struggling with infertility is that she might ruin what would have been a good day by reminding her friend of her struggles.  Believe me, your friend will at no point forget about her infertility.  Compassion will NEVER ruin a good day.  Does that mean you need to ask about her infertility EVERY time you see her?  Of course not.  However, if you ask how she is really doing occasionally she will be so grateful.  It is better to ask how she is doing than how things are going.  “Things” will likely be the same (i.e. lots of crappy treatments, still no baby).  But she will have ups and downs, good days and bad days.  Her circumstances may not change, but the way she experiences them will. 

3. How do I tell my infertile friend that I’m pregnant?

A simple e-mail or phone call is very thoughtful.  We have appreciated friends and family members who have let us know privately that they are expecting, and that meant a lot.  A little advance notice absolutely means the world.  Large surprise announcements with confetti and fireworks are really difficult for someone struggling with infertility. 

You must understand this: Your friend is NOT upset at you for having children.  She is mourning the loss of being left behind… again.  I know it is difficult to imagine, but try very hard to put yourself in her shoes.  Think of the thing you want more than anything else in the whole world.  Then, imagine most everyone you know and love receiving that one one thing that you desire so desperately, but your arms are left empty.  Imagine seeing this happen over and over again year after year.  It’s hard.  It just is.  Understand that she is happy for you, but that your announcement will be painful.  

4. Should I invite my infertile friend to my baby shower?

Certainly.  I would add a little note explaining that you understand if it is too difficult for her to attend, but that you wouldn’t want her to feel left out because you care about her.  Don’t exclude her.  Chances are that even though she’s struggling, she is really happy for you and wants to share in your joy, whether that be by participating in the festivities or just sending a gift. 


I know that infertility can be a difficult subject to address.  But I’ve said it before: heart speaks to heart.  If your friend is struggling with infertility she is experiencing the trial of her life.  Your kindness and sensitivity will mean the world. 


  1. Good post.

    The only thing I might add is that just because someone already has a child (or even children), it doesn't mean that they aren't also dealing with infertility.

    They might have slightly different worries (for example, "Will I ever get to be a mom?" isn't exactly on their mind), but they still hurt in many of the same ways. Especially watching, what seems like, everyone they know getting pregnant and "going forward" with their life. But being sensitive to them is still important.

    Love you guys.

  2. Muhwaaaa! You're lovely. Just sayin'.

  3. Your outfit is divine - could you please become my little girls auntie too, that skirt is toooooo cute.
    I wanted to add my experience to your article. When I was going through IVF my best friend sent me an email so that "I could cry and be angry at the world before sharing her joy" this was the most sensitive thing I ever experienced while going through IVF. I hope that your friends allow you the same courtesy.
    Thanks for writing this article and sharing your own experiences.

  4. Great post - I agree with everything you said. Thanks for helping spread the word. I would also add that, similar to the first commenter, even if you do get pregnant or are able to adopt (in my case) the pain of infertility is still there.

  5. Whitney, you have such a gift for sensitivity and empathy. You are so compassionate with others who struggle. Thank you for being the kind of friend who listens with her heart. I think you should write a book! You have incredible insights and understanding.

    Love the darling outfit, love your amazing insights in this article, and love you! Hope you had a happy Thanksgiving;)

  6. Thank you for your post. I'm Lynley Johnson's sister-in-law. I found your blog through her blog. My husband and I are struggling with infertility as well and beginning the adoption process. You said exactly what I feel. I'm not necessarily grateful others are going through this same painful trial, but I am grateful to know we are not alone in it. I've read your blog many times and am so grateful for your words.
    Jenee Fossat

  7. The most helpful thing people have done for me when they find out is let me know they care, let me know they love us, let me know I can come to them, and then let me bring it up when I need to.

    There are days I need to talk about it and on those days I'm grateful for their listening ears. And there are days when the last thing I want to do is talk about it so I'm grateful for their concern with the rest of our lives.

  8. Great post! The little dress is SO CUTE!! Can't wait to see the new little one wearing it. Wish I had even a smidgen of your talent Whitney!

  9. Thanks for posting this Whitney. So helpful for us who have no idea what to do or say.
    Love the little outfit! So cute!

  10. Hi! My name is Chelsi. My hubs found your blog while preparing for a talk in church and thought I might be interested. I so am. Not to be a creeper but I want to be your best friend. If that doesn't happen I am at least following your blog from now on. You're a great writer and your creations are amazeballs!
    Hubs and I are just starting out in the whole adoption process and I myself am adopted. if you're so inclined you can check us out at

  11. First of all, the comment about the flower headband made me laugh.

    Second of all, I hardly believe that you're not talkative. But I guess I believe that when it comes to strangers. And especially when Marae and I are busy trying to tell people that you're crazy and they don't believe us because you're sitting all prim and proper and silent over in the corner.

    Third of all, I really liked/appreciated your advice about how to be tactful and thoughtful of those dealing with infertility. I feel like I know most of those things now, but it's been a few years. I probably would have been a better friend if I had known all that from the start.

    Fourth of all, I promise this is the last one. Haha.

  12. I just found you over at MMB. This was a great post! You worded this so well. My husband and I have been struggling with infertility for years and these are the best responses to us. Thank you for sharing!