How to support loved ones who are struggling with infertility

Maybe it seems like a strange thing to think about at a wedding. But every time we watch couples exchanging their vows, I worry that the smiling newlyweds will have trouble creating their family.
Infertility is a heavy cross to carry in a marriage.
It’s lonely and painful. It forces couples to navigate challenges together, often early on. It doesn’t always have a solution—or even an explanation. And the medical solutions that are presented as easy fixes by society can raise moral questions and pull couples away from the Catholic faith and from God.

This week it is National Infertility Awareness Week. If you have loved ones who are experiencing infertility—even if you suspect they are, but don’t know for sure—here are a few thoughts on how to support them.
1. Don’t ask when they will have children. They may not feel ready to share their infertility journey with you. They may never be. When my husband and I were realizing we were not likely to have a child by birth, we kept that close, not telling family or friends until we had decided to adopt—and were practically waiting to be matched. Other couples want to talk about their experience. But I would let them initiate the conversation.
2. Pray—and don’t just pray for them to give birth to a child. Pray for them to be open to God’s will. Pray for them to become parents, but pray that if they don’t, or if it takes longer than expected, they will have the strength and the patience and the courage to stay strong and together. Pray for their marriage. Pray for wisdom for them on their journey together.

3. Be gentle sharing your own baby news. If you’re expecting, you might want to consider whether it would be best to tell them before you broadcast on social media, or whether to tell them by phone or email rather than in person, where they may struggle emotionally.

4. Don’t offer advice unless it’s requested. This is one of the great rules of life, right? And don’t assume that just because they are experiencing infertility, they will decide to adopt. It’s not that simple, and adopting is not an option for every couple.
5. Keep in mind that infertility is a very personal, individual experience. Even in the same marriage, a husband and a wife may experience grief in different ways. Couples who have given birth already can experience secondary infertility. Some couples know they will never be able to give birth, others have conceived and lost children, and others have no explanation for their infertility. There is no one answer or solution.
It can feel particularly difficult for Catholics to face infertility. The Catholic Church often seems better prepared to celebrate the large, growing families carrying the gifts up to the altar during Mass than to notice the childless couple sitting quietly in a back pew. But being open to life, of course, doesn’t always mean holding a child in your arms.
I hope this week you will join me in prayer for all those couples who are facing infertility. And, if you are reading this and currently on this journey, please know that I am praying with you.

You might also be interested in:

When it’s not your birthday

Finding hope through infertility

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.