No awkward silence necessary: How to talk to friends battling loss and infertility.

Over the last year and a half I've read a lot of posts that are titled somewhere in the realm of "Things not to say to someone after a miscarriage" "...someone with infertility", etc. I've often wanted to find one to repost or to share in the hopes that friends and family would read it and be able to experience a different perspective; but the one thing that struck me was how so often the first hand accounts that I'd find were so unbelievably bitter and discouraging to read. I found myself constantly wondering "what do people think they could possibly say after reading this?" 
My thought for a long time has been to write one of these for you... either, a. The researcher: i.e. the friend or family member wanting to love someone dealing with this struggle in the best way you can. or b. The one struggling, to be able to share with friends and family in a way that hopefully won't discourage conversation all together.

I'll be straight with you...I relate to those bitter and sometimes even hateful posts. a lot. Far too often I'm driven to a point of anger, jealously, sadness, pain, and even astonishment over some of the things that people say. Relationships of mine have been completely affected by the flippancy by which someone has addressed this area in my life along with an unwillingness to adapt that approach. Not only can I relate, but I'd also be lying if I said I didn't write a post just like those I mentioned and save it to my drafts... I just never felt right about posting it for one crucial reason. I've been the other person in this situation. I've been the naive conversationalist who found herself speaking to a stranger, a friend or a family member dealing with loss and said some of the most idiotic and insensitive things you can imagine. I didn't get it, but I longed to help...and personally remembering that desire to make someone feel better that then resulted in my running my mouth for the sake of just doing something is what gives me pause. What I think many of those posts forget to tell you-the family, the friend, the loved one- is thank you. Thank you for trying, thank you for desiring to love us the best you can, thank you for reaching towards us, and please please don't stop.  

This post is not a guarantee, there's no science behind what's going to help any given person and it will never be complete - maybe someday I'll write a part two or three. But truly, every situation is so so different so always take this kind of blanketed advice coming from one person with a grain of salt. The best I can do is share with you some of the things that have been said to me that have been so good for my heart and I hope in some way you'll leave encouraged and informed - even if in just a small way. I'm going to do my best to keep this light and conversational... so here we go!

"I don't know what to say"

Seems too simple right? But it's not! So many people attempt to fill awkward lulls in conversation about painful topics with noise. Because silence is super uncomfortable, right?! We want to help each other, we want to fix things for each other. So we tell the story about our aunt's friend's little sister's third grade teacher who did this and that...but sometimes things can't be fixed, and sometimes we're not the ones who are supposed to try. This is also worlds better than saying nothing at all. Silence can sometimes communicate a lack of care or concern where as the words "I'm so sorry, I just don't know what to say"are the most beautiful, obligation releasing, relatable words that someone can say to me. It's this intimate acknowledgment of "I'm stumped too.." that affirms to me that your mind is just as overwhelmed by it all as mine... and that in that way, you get it. 

"This just sucks"

This lives in the same camp as that last one when it comes to just calling things as they are and meeting me where I am. I think as friends and family we tend to want to see each other happy and to help each other think positively - this is such a good thing! But whether that person is walking through grief or depression, all too often that smiling overzealous encouragement to 'be positive!' feels so minimizing and dismissive. I think Christian circles especially struggle with this. The constant "I'm believing for you!" and "God wants to give you a baby!" tell me that I'm living in a different world than you are in that moment. The people who have wept with me, who have hugged me after a bad test or an awful day and come to find me where I am are the ones who have the best ability to break through the fog. Tell me this sucks, tell me you see the junk I'm in the middle of, tell me you'll love me and help me within this mess. Because acknowledging its there means that I know you see me and all of this struggle for what it is, and not only does that make  me feel safe and accepted, it helps me feel like someones in this fight with me.

"I can only imagine what you're going through, but I'm here for you"

The theme here (and for a lot of these ) is doing your best to avoid minimizing the pain of the person you're speaking to-regardless of how little you understand it. We have all been in the place where we do this and have had this done to us...heck I'm in this place all the time; It's something to be intentional about and it's a way that you can continue to love others around you, and love them well. This one is canned and common, but there's a reason. It acknowledges, it reaches out, and it relates. all in one you're telling me you don't get it, but that you don't have to in order to be in my life. You're telling me (again) that you see all of the mess and you're not scared by it.  That you're here. 

"What all have you learned?" 

Initial tip: do not ask this the way your first grade teacher asked you after you busted your face from walking across the monkey bars. Ask this like a person who's interested, on a logistical and practical level, what your friend is going through. This may be unique to me, but personally those who know me know this one is such a safety net. I am a 'read everything I can get my hands on and educate myself about this issue' kind of person. It's a total coping mechanism that often comes out when I'm dealing with a lack of control, but in the realm of ways I could be handling it's definitely one of the most productive. I'm super conscious of boring people with loads of information, tests, research, options, non-options, etc. and as a result won't bring it up unsolicited. Both I and others in my position want to be considerate of the fact that you may not want to know the ins and outs or don't have the stomach to hear about the intricate workings of all these procedures that we're going through - and honestly that's okay because they're not things we like to share with everyone either! But if you are interested (not nosey, interested), don’t be afraid to ask. The person you're asking has the freedom to relinquish as much or as little as they feel comfortable and it's a way to not only learn about where that person is at on their journey without assuming, but to also help them see that you're interested and invested in the process with them. 

“I’m praying God will give you peace” (Not necessarily that he will give me a baby.)

Someday this will be a whole post, but for now I’ll keep it short and sweet. Your prayers mean the world to me; your investment of time, emotion, faith, and care speak so deeply to my heart and I am so grateful for that and for you. But tell me – tell that person in your life – that you’re praying for peace...for comfort…for joy within trial. Please oh please do not infer that God wants to give me a baby, that it’s His will for me to have (or not to have) a baby. Very realistically I may not carry my own children, your friend or family member may not either – You don’t have to say this to the individual, it’s a place of acceptance they’ll have to come to on their own and it’s certainly not on you to get them there…Also the way in which you phrase or approach this may vary depending on where your loved one is on that journey. By all means, pray for me to have a baby! Shoot, pray for me to have lots of babies! But even more, pray that I will find refuge in His comfort and plan even if it doesn’t include motherhood. Pray that regardless of whether this will take us mere months longer, or many more years – that I will see and know and believe that He is still good.  Pray that I will find a way to glorify Him in every season regardless of what that looks like. I can tell you all day about what I want, what my heart longs for-but ultimately I know that His plans are greater than my own and encouraging me towards that bigger picture in the way that you pray for me means more than you can imagine. 

"Is there anything I can do?"

Be prepared for the fact that the answer 80% of the time will be ‘no’. But it may not be. Maybe they'd love to get coffee. Maybe they want to mope on the couch with you, watch a movie and eat cookie dough. Maybe their significant other can’t make it to an appointment and it would mean the world to them if you’d come with. Maybe there’s a way you can help keep that person accountable in some way, or maybe they just want a hug and suddenly they feel the freedom to ask for something that they were too scared to before. The person will walk away from that conversation knowing you care and knowing that you’re someone who wants to help if there is something that comes up…and that my friends, is a win!

"How is your heart?”

This is a question that was asked to me for the first time by my closest friend, she’s a very ‘straight to the point, I’m where you are no matter what that means, give me the mess because I can see you through it’ type. (and yes I just teared up as I wrote that #hotmess). The first time I heard her direct it towards me I honestly did an emotional double take because I realized she wasn't being sarcastic or nonchalant - she was asking. In my last post I talked about how the question ‘how are you?’ can sometimes be terrifying because there’s this idea that you cling to within grief and insecurity that tells you they’re just being polite – and when suddenly she asked me how my heart was I was given an invitation to provide a real answer. If you want to know, if you’re truly interested and you’re struggling with expressing that to them in a practical way, just ask them how their heart is - or ask them how they are in a way that makes you comfortable that communicates you truly want to know. Skip the ‘fine’s and the ‘good’s and the bricks that are laid one by one in the form of casual comfortable conversation;  ask to be invited into their life in a way that shows you want to be there. If you don't have a particularly intimate relationship with this person or if you have a friend or loved one who prefers not to speak deeply about the matter, steer clear of this one because it's concentrated emotion all the way.

Laugh with them.

Ending on a high note, this isn’t something you say, this is something you do. First, a couple of disclaimers: this one really only applies only to infertility. Also keep in mind you’ll need to follow the queues of the person you have in mind and their natural inclination and relationship towards humor before cracking a joke about their lousy uterus or crazy hormones. For me, and for a lot of people, given the appropriate situation, someone who can laugh with me is so key. Feeling comfortable and safe enough with you to weep over negative tests and lost expectations AND also have the ability to laugh about how I’m one more failed round of clomid away from getting my own padded room with a “hug yourself” jacket is gold. Not everything is a laughing matter – in fact a lot of things aren't, but if they can laugh, for heaven’s sake laugh with them. Take advantage of their cravings when they’re in the middle of  treatments and be their blizzard buddy. Offer up some self-depricating story about one of your own mood swings or bout with *insert physical side effect here*. Or if you're feeling really ambitious, offer to kick alcohol or caffeine when a doc says they have to and then be miserable and tired together.  Relate with them where you can, love them as best you can, and just laugh when you’re able. 

Hopefully this was somehow helpful and you made it through it (it was longer than I expected it would be).  I can't stress enough how these things are specific to me but are things I can imagine others in the same situation will relate with, so approach your relationships first with an understanding of who they are and what kind of a connection you have. And for those of you reading who are the subject of conversation (the person struggling, Person b., i.e.: me) I encourage you to saturate the way you hear things with grace. Remember the intention, trust in the fact that that person doesn't want to hurt you, and be quick to forgive. You, like myself, probably have said the wrong thing to someone before...so pay it forward, take a deep breath, and love them through it, too. 


  1. Oh Sarah ... what a perfectly written post! As much as I have made effort to say just the right thing, I know that I too, have fallen in to the "open mouth, insert foot" syndrome. You have been very graceful along the way. I love you so much, am praying for you, Justin, and both of your hearts as you walk this journey that none of us know how it is going to progress. I love that you know and trust the sovereignty of God, even when we don't "get it"... We know He is good, and you are glorifying Him in your every day life ... and as a mama I couldn't ask for more! <3 xo ~mom

  2. Thank you for sharing your heart and for helping us communate with you and others!!!! Love you!

  3. Very helpful! And, yes, we all need to practice compassion - both with ourselves and with others. We have all been in a situation we are unprepared to respond to and the answer, it seems to me, is for each of us to share and talk about life situations and learn from each other. Hiding our insight and emotions damages everyone. Thank you for sharing! (I am a ATLCD grandparent)

  4. This is very helpful and positive. We have all been in situations we don't know how to handle. Compassion works both ways. The answer, I think, is to share our experience and understanding and to learn from others. Keeping silent about our feelings and life events is damaging to us all! As the mother of a daughter dealing with infant loss & infertility, I thank you!

  5. Such grace and wisdom in this post.

  6. Lillie Elizabeth WilliamsWednesday, April 20, 2016

    This is wonderful! I am always the thoughtful friend with foot in mouth syndrome!

  7. Hi Sarah, this is a beautiful post and courage to you for bringing up this sensitive subject with such delicateness and poise.

  8. I love this! I have read a lot of "what not to say" lists, it's refreshing to have one that gives ideas of good things to say when a friend is going through infertility or miscarriage.

  9. This was so good. Thank you for taking the time to write these thoughts out. I have lost two babies halfway through pregnancy, and I too, have become frustrated with the bitter resources that are mostly posted on the internet. And it's so hard to tell someone what we need during loss/infertility because everyone is so different -- but this positive approach is a great way to help. Thank you!

    1. I'm so so sorry for your losses, but am glad you found yourself able to relate with this. <3 <3 <3 Are you two still ttc? What has your journey looked like since your littles?

  10. This is so beautiful. And so helpful. I have been the one reading the other posts in hopes of having the right thing to say and I always come away discouraged and disheartened because I know that I have said the "wrong" things in hopes of encouraging a friend before. But I love the simple ideas behind each of your phrases and they can all be easily adjusted to fit personalities.<3

    1. Thank you Kayla! I'm so glad you stumbled on this post - I know that feeling way too well <3