Monday, November 10, 2014


So you have this friend. And she has a child. Maybe she has a few. Perhaps her kids are a little older. Maybe they're still really young. But here's the thing. She wants another.

And it's just not happening.

Maybe she's been acting kind of strange - withdrawn, sad, distracted. So you asked her how she was doing and she started to cry...explaining that she's afraid her son will never have a sibling or that her dreams of a big family won't come true.

Or maybe she emailed you out of the blue, mentioning that she and her husband are starting fertility treatments and she's wondering if you'll pray for them.

It might have been a quick text - Sorry I have to cancel our plans for Friday. I have an appointment with my reproductive endocrinologist.

So now what? You're a good friend and you want to support her through this trial. But maybe you're not sure how, not certain what she needs from you.

I hope I can help you. Although I don't know what it's like to have secondary infertility (trouble getting pregnant again after having a child without the help of fertility drugs or assisted reproductive technologies), I do know what it's like to pursue fertility treatments when you already have a biological child. Plus, I'm in touch with lots of women who've experienced secondary infertility and have shared their hearts with me. Also, many of you who keep up with my blog have been there or are there right now. So whatever I miss or mess up in this post, I know you'll help me out in the comments section. Thanks in advance, friends.

But back to you - the support person. Here a four things you need to know in order to walk with your friend as she faces into this emotional, financial and physical trial.

One.   Please don't take lightly the fact that she invited you into this journey. She's taking a big risk and showing that she really trusts you. Oftentimes people who haven't been through it themselves really struggle to understand secondary infertility. A lot of people will call her selfish and ungrateful, probably not to her face but definitely behind her back. Many will question why she's willing to spend all kinds of money to have a child when she already has one. Others will judge her for not pursuing adoption.

Maybe that last paragraph has you sweating because you've been thinking those same things and getting all judge-y yourself. You know? It's okay. She's probably judging herself too. I know I was. I had this beautiful, perfect, longed-for child in my arms...but I still wanted more. It made sense and it didn't. I tried to dampen that desire, shut out that voice that was telling me that our family wasn't yet complete...but I failed every time.

The thing about building a family is that it doesn't always take the practical path. It doesn't always make sense. Because families are about love, something that's neither practical nor sensible. Your friend may try to explain why they want another child. She may list reason after reason to assure you (and herself) that the goal they're pursuing is a worthy one. You know what? You have the power to be her lifeboat in a sea of self doubt by saying the one thing she doesn't even know that she needs to hear. Put your hand on her arm and speak these words straight into her heart - "It doesn't even matter. This is your family and you get to pick."

See that look in her eyes? Yeah, she needed that.

Two.   If your friend is like me and has gone through fertility treatments before, know that this time around, it's going to be easier for her...and it's also going to be harder.

It will be easier because she already has a child. When she gets bad news from the doctor or a has another failed cycle, she still gets to tuck her little boy into bed that night or play at the park with her daughter. Probably nothing you can do or say is going to be more healing than snuggling with that child or those children. Kind of a relief, right? Delegate that stuff to the kids.

But it will also be harder because she already has a child. And fertility clinics frown on bringing kids to your appointments. So in addition to timing her cycles around her doctor's surgery schedule, her husband's travel schedule and her body's hormonal schedule, she also has to factor in child care. If she works outside the home, it's probably killing her that she has to spend even more time away from her kids. And fertility treatments are spendy, so paying someone to watch her children might feel like an incredibly heavy burden.

So if you are able to help her out, do it. I had several friends and family members who were more than willing to hang out with Harriet while I attended my frequent appointments. They'll never know how much Andrew and I appreciated their generosity and the kindness they showed our daughter. So if you can, be one of those people.

Three.   Your friend is going to be very, very, very tired. The fertility drugs will exhaust her. The constant appointments will wear her down. The hope/defeat roller coaster will drain her. If she's pursuing adoption, her days are filled with paperwork, home studies, phone calls with social workers, and the sort of waiting that only adoptive parents can understand. And she still has to be a mom to her kids. And probably lots of other things to lots of different people.

So if she doesn't want to join you for girls' night or takes forever to reply to your texts, please give her grace. I'm not saying that she gets a bottomless excuse for being a crappy friend. I'm just saying that for now, she might need you to stretch yourself a little further in her direction. She may prefer movie nights at home to loud parties because most of your friends have lots of kids and she hates that she feels jealous when she sees them. She may prefer conversations via text to in-person lunches so that she can stay in her pajamas. She may not be able to do those Saturday morning walks around the lake that you love so much because her ovaries are really angry with her right now. So again...grace, my friend. Grace.

Four.   You can't be everything to her. She's going to need a team. She has her doctor. Probably a partner (but maybe not). She is going to need people who have firsthand experience with secondary infertility. Encourage her to seek out a support group. Help her start a blog and get plugged into the online infertility community. (If she doesn't know how to find the community, send her my way. I'll hook her up.) Put her in touch with another friend who's fighting a similar battle. If she's having a really tough time, she may need someone to strongly encourage that she see a therapist or talk with a pastor, mentor or spiritual leader of some sort. Do not attempt to be everything to her. You'll end up bitter and your friendship will suffer. Instead, help her brainstorm ways that she can add people to her team.

That's all I have for now. But remember that online infertility community I talked about? They'll comment below and fill you in on everything else you need to know. The fact that you've made it through this whole post tells me that your friend chose wisely when she decided to share her heartache with you. I'm wishing you grace and courage and perseverance as you enter into the sacred heart of true friendship, a place where only trials can take us.

Grab her hand and go there together.


Stay tuned for a guest post from a dear, dear friend of mine who walked this infertility road with me. I'm so excited for all of you to read her perspective on what it's like to be the support person. 

Also, this post is over on Momquery today, titled Four Ways to Support a Friend Through Secondary Infertility. So if you have some ideas about how friends and family can support those going through secondary infertility...or regular ol' infertility...copy and paste your comment there too! 


  1. Dear Em,

    I'm really glad I didn't have to deal with any of what you're or already have been going through. I just happened to be one of those people who read your post "if my child marries yours" on Facebook and was deeply touched by it. In fact by almost your entire blog.
    But I just wanted to tell you, I think that you're a wonderful person, handling all these struggles with such grace and faith and not to forget love.

    I hope that if I'm ever going to be lucky enough to find a man and get the chance to start a family, I'm going to be half the woman you are and handle everything as well as you are!

    Thank you for your wise and honest words!

  2. Thanks Em,
    I needed that. It took us 5 years and two misscarriages to have our little girl and I am rather afraid to start trying for more children even though I used to want five.
    Do you have any connections to the German community? My cousin needs the support even more than me but since our baby girl was born I seem to be the wrong person. :/

    1. So sorry that I don't have any connections in Germany...well, at least none in the infertility community. Thinking of your cousin....

  3. "Secondary infertility is defined as the inability to become pregnant, or to carry a pregnancy to term, following the birth of one or more biological children. The birth of the first child does not involve any assisted reproductive technologies or fertility medications."- RESOLVE website.

    It sounds like an oxymoron, right? I mean how can you require no medical intervention the first time, get pregnant within a year, give birth successfully and then suddenly fail to be able to repeat the process? It makes no sense. I think that's why it's so hard for people to understand secondary IF. I walked that road with one of my cousins. She had been pregnant twice before, no miscarriages, no complications and then suddenly her son was already five years old and she just couldn't conceive. Luckily for her, dropping thirty pounds and one round of IUI brought her a beautiful daughter, but it doesn't always work out that way.

    I think my addition to what you've said would be to those suffering with primary infertility. I'd add this: don't play the pain/sad Olympics. You most likely win, and she knows it. She's not interested in beating your story, she coming to you because she thinks you'll understand. So find some grace, extend it, and if you can't be her person, find someone who is struggling with secondary infertility to introduce her to. She's looking for the same thing we all are, and hearing that you'd be happy if you just had ONE baby ever is not helping in the least.

    Beautiful as always, Em!

    1. Thanks for clarifying this, Amanda! I made some changes to my post in order to make it more accurate. I also really appreciate your last paragraph. So wise and true.

  4. Wait... Secondary infertility is defined by someone with a bio child who DIDN'T go thru IF with that child?!?! Really?! That just sounds very odd to me. But, at any rate... I LOVE this post. I hope that your words and advice will be hopeful to lots of women out there who may know someone who is struggling with primary or secondary IF. XO

  5. Great piece!

    I would add that if you are a family member, that does not give you the right to say more of what's on your mind than you think a friend should say. Quite the contrary. Being family does not give you a license to "put it frankly" or share your critical opinions more freely because you think it's your job to be the realist.

    I would also add that none of what your friend is sharing with you is for public consumption, again, even if you're family. Even if you know that your friend or family member has shared her experience with others, it is not up to you to discuss her situation with those "others" or anyone else. Assume that no one else knows (of course others know) and keep her confidence. ALWAYS.

  6. It's a fine line between wanting to help and be there for a friend, and seeming to be pushy and asking how things are when maybe now isn't the best time and they don't want to talk. You almost just have to let them know that you are there and waiting whenever they need you like you mentioned. I think the points you brought up are great guidelines to follow.

  7. Great post with so many great reminders. Really looking forward to hearing the perspective of your friend who supported you through your journey. We rarely get to hear the take from that side.

  8. Hello Em, thank you for posting this , this is my third attempt to write a reply it seems my computer is against me today ;-p.. I am not a blog 'follower' but after reading 'if your child marries my child' post you sucked me right in!! and I have been reading your blog(s) since then!
    I am posting this to ask questions. I am the 'friend' (btw looking forward to reading the blog from your friend). I have friends who have gone through IVF some successfuly others not ..and friends who are having difficulty conceiving without IVF (miscarriages and other). I pray for them and I try to be supportive and sensitive. However I find myself cringing whenever I bring my baby along and the friend(s) are around and especially when I hear news of somebody getting pregnant my friend(s) name pops in my head.. I feel blessed and feel happy about my babies but I don't want to be insensitive towards my friends. should I avoid brining or mentioning my babies? Most of them try to be graceful about things and situations but I can't imagine the pain they are going through.. although I had a friend who was real crabby to me when she was going through IVF strait mean at times and was real upset with me when she found out I got pregnant, I think the experience ruined our friendship, but I wonder if I could have shown more grace… I thank you for posting this and shedding real light for me.. x

  9. Thank you for this post. This confirms to me that our struggle to have another child after we had already had 3 was very much real. Not "all in my head" or "not meant to be" or "don't you already have enough kids", like I heard from different people. 4 years and an angel born to Heaven and we were finally able to have my precious daughter. I had friends who were there for me and all before we knew this had a name because no one talked about secondary infertility. Just thank you!!

  10. Hello Em is there a support group or community I can turn a friend to in Houston tx area?

  11. Em, I admire you more and more every time I read a post. You have such a tender heart.


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