So, what can you say to those struggling with getting pregnant or those who have lost babies? And how can you say things tenderly and with great care?
Say: Yes and mhmm.
Sure, this is a bit of a sidestep, but listening is a great tool that is often way underrated. We are afraid of silence, and we are afraid to sit with others in silence in their pain. We grab our phones, look down at our watches, and say things just to fill the space. It is often in this that we inadvertently show that we are not caring well for others. Listening requires concentration and intentionality. We use many non-verbal cues to comfort and affirm the one sharing. We say, “yes” and “mhmm”. These small words and noises—even with only a few letters—carry a lot of weight. Give space for these. I have found the more I nod and give silent space, the more a person feels safe to share.
In doing this, you are communicating that you want to know what is going on, and not just that you want to respond quickly or solve their problem.
Say: I am sorry.
Upon hearing about the loss of fertility, infant, pregnancy, or otherwise, we can always start by saying we are sorry. It may feel small, but it is a helpful thing to hear. Saying that you are sorry offers this person a chance to breathe. In this, you are communicating that you understand that this is a sorrowful thing. And in doing so, you are acknowledging their loss. You are honoring their sorrow and pain. You are offering words of relief, even though the blame is not yours, and you are acknowledging this burden with them. Verbal affirmation and acknowledgment that this is worthy of an apology is a meaningful step toward healing and processing. It may be helpful for them to recognize, now that someone has verbalized it for them, that what they are experiencing is worthy of grief and sorrow. Truthfulness is necessary for true healing to occur. We know that God did not create infertility and that he shares in our sorrows; he grieves alongside us.
Therefore, as you seek to represent him, you too need to name that infertility is something to be grieved.
Say: How are you feeling about all of this?
This will take some care and will be something you may consider asking over time. The other person may not know the answer, but they may be able to articulate some things to you that you can ask further questions. This is an ongoing conversation. Day by day. Week by week. Year by year. After the announcement of a friend’s pregnancy, ask how they are doing. On birthdays and holidays, ask how they are doing. On lost due-dates, ask how they are doing.
I’ll share a question with you from my husband that is my new favorite question: describe the terrain of your current feelings. Maybe they can’t answer how they are doing, but they might be able to describe some of the things they are feeling and going through. They may be able to tell you that they feel like they are covered with cold sleet and rain. They may be able to tell you that they feel like they are walking through a hot desert with no water or relief from the heat. This question, I hope, and others like it, may help you help your friend as they process their feelings.
Affirm their pain. Affirm their doubts. Affirm their feelings, even if you don’t agree with them. Affirm their questions, especially if they are questions about God. As I talked about in “What Not to Say,” it’s more important that you listen to their honesty than you try to force them to say things in a particular way. Even if you feel like you want to correct them or push them in another direction, look for ways you can acknowledge their pain and come alongside them in their suffering. Thank them for taking the risk by inviting you into their pain, listen and affirm their feelings.
Say: What are some ways I can intentionally come alongside you in your pain and suffering?
One way you may be able to ease more pain in this person’s life is to know how to talk about your own pregnancies and children. Many of you have asked how to talk about your own pregnancies. I have seen some people—who feel particularly sensitive toward this—decide to not share anything about their pregnancies on social media or with their friends who are experiencing infertility. For me, it’s not so much if you talk about it, it’s how you talk about it. I can often see your reality; I know that you are pregnant or that you have children, and I want to be invited into that world. I also know that becoming pregnant and having children can also cause pain and grief, not unlike my own. And I want you to be able to talk openly and honestly about your feelings.
I always recommend that if you are close to someone who has experienced infertility or pregnancy loss and you are about to announce your pregnancy, tell them first. Tell them in a letter, or email, or text, phone call, or in person. Whatever way you think they would want to be able to process it. You could even ask, “If I get pregnant, how do you want me to tell you?” Tell them that you want to care well for this during this time. Acknowledge that you understand that it might be hard for them to participate in certain activities and conversations. As much as you can, give them the freedom to process these things in ways that are helpful to them. Let them know this can be an ongoing conversation and that they can tell you when they feel hurt or sad, even in the midst of your joy. Leave the door open for them to come to you with their hurts and leave the door open for them to share in your joy in meaningful and intentional ways.
Speak truthfully about parenting.
One of the things that has been so important to me is being honest about both the joys and pains of this life. This means speaking honestly about the joy of children, celebrating their lives, acknowledging the good that they bring, affirming the work of parenting and so on. But this also means that we all need to talk honestly about our pains. For some, it’s the pains of children who rebel, wander from Jesus or from us, children who are hard to love, and children who die—at any age—even those children who will never be. We also must acknowledge the desire of those who long for children but are not able to have them and grieve that loss with them.
We also have to be honest about how the gift of children can become a temptation for emotionally unhealthy obsession or turn into worship of the good gift that they are. God uses children, like the many good gifts he gives us, to show us his goodness and to bless us. When we prioritize anything over him in our hearts, even the good things he has given us, we distort the truth and goodness of these gifts. They are also not the only means of blessing from him. Yet, too often I have seen motherhood described as the ultimate calling for women—especially in the church.
By using some of these methods, my hope is that you have the ability to be honest about your story—the joys and sorrows—and that you would enter into the stories of others as you seek deep and meaningful relationships.