Beyond the Egg Timer

An insider's guide to having children in your thirties and forties.

The Care and Maintenance of Women Trying to Conceive

Advice on how to be supportive without intruding.

Friends and family of women trying to conceive often want to be supportive but don’t always know how. One of our first Pregtiquette posts elicited this thoughtful response:

Would you consider a future post on the flip side of Pregtiquette…. A person in my circle who I know has been trying; she's not such a close friend that I know the day-by-day stuff, but close enough that I want to let her know I care and am thinking about her, but without prying or crudely asking 'gee, how's that baby thing coming along?'

This is a common question. Many couples, once they decide to try to conceive are so excited that they tell their friends and family. Couples who marry in their mid-thirties often start trying right away, as they don’t have the luxury of time that younger couples have. This leads their supporters to be on the watch for belly bumps and special announcements. When they fail to occur, friends and loved ones are left wondering what to do.

Here is a guide:

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  1. Educate yourself. Know the normal timeframe it takes couples aged 35 and older to get pregnant so you are not unrealistically expecting something to happen sooner than it usually does.
  2.  Be direct. Tell your friend who is trying to conceive that you are there for her but don’t want to overstep boundaries. Ask her what she needs from you. Some women want to be asked about their fertility journey, others don’t. Some may want to share all of the details, while others share few. Have this initial conversation in private or via email. This will allow her to gather her thoughts, so she can honestly express her needs. 
  3. Understand that what she needs will change over time. In fact, it may change numerous times within one menstrual cycle! She may not be at all interested in talking about it until her period comes, and then she may express anger or fear. Don’t be surprised if the following week she is optimistic and calm. These emotional swings are a normal part of the process. Follow the emotion, stay present and let her lead. Dr. Brene Brown created this awesome video on how to do this. 
  4. See her as a whole person. If she does want to be asked about her fertility journey, don’t do it every time you see her. Hopefully, she has other things going on in her life and just like anyone, she wants to talk about those things as well.
  5. Do not expect her to be your fertility educator. Many women say that once their co-workers or family find out they are undergoing fertility treatments they ask them to explain it in detail. My hunch is that people ask because they think it is a way of showing concern. In reality, it is tedious and exhausting to have to explain complex medical procedures. If you truly want to know the details, do an Internet search.    
  6. Take nothing personally. Your co-worker who cried on your shoulder in the bathroom the day her period came may never confide in you again. It is probably nothing you did. It is more likely she needed support right then and there, and you were kind enough to offer it. Know you are a good person and move on.
  7. Respect boundaries. Even the closest of friends or sisters need to have healthy boundaries. Do not ask her anything about her sex life. That is between her and her partner. 
  8. Avoid “just statements” as in, “Why don’t you just do IVF?” Or “Why don’t you just adopt?” Or—potentially most frustrating, “Just relax.” None of these things are easy as just going to the store for milk. If they were, many couples would do them. Also, for most women they are not necessary and suggesting them creates more anxiety. Becoming a parent is a wildly complicated process, no matter how you approach it. Reducing it to something so simplistic degrades it.
  9. Only give advice if you are directly asked for it. 
  10. Know yourself. If you have unresolved issues around parenting, or your own difficulty conceiving, be aware of it and how it might affect your interactions. Your story is your story. It does not apply to your friend.
  11. Instill hope. The majority of couples who want to become parents will do so. Approximately 90 percent of couples age 35-39 will be able to conceive, many without any medical intervention. Try saying: “I’m sorry you are having such a hard time with this; I do believe someday, somehow, you will be a mom.”
  12. Go easy on yourself. If you are reading this then you are a caring, well-meaning person. We all make gaffs at times. Learn from it and move on. Chances are, you offer more support than you know. 

Just a reminder, we are now posting every two weeks. Thanks for your readership! 

Sharon I. Praissman is an adult (medical) and psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner. Emma Williams is a public health researcher and writer.

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