This article is part of Women’s Health’s coverage of National Infertility Awareness Week (April 24–30, 2022), in which we focus on stories that shed light on less-talked-about aspects of trying to conceive.


The first and loudest phrase you’ll likely hear if you talk to someone who has experienced pregnancy loss or infertility is this: Its so isolating.

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No matter your loss, so much can feel, well, gone: control, how you thought your life would look, hopes and expectations, trust in your body, a pregnancy, a baby. Thats why it makes total sense to approach fertility challenges, as well as pregnancy and perinatal loss, through a grief lens, says Dvora Entin, LCSW, PMH-C, a specialist in perinatal and reproductive mental health.

Yet while we tend to sit with people’s grief in other areas of life, attending funerals and honoring lives and experiences—too often, fertility challenges and loss are met with a flood of pat, inappropriate, uncompassionate, non-empathetic responses: “You’ll get pregnant again!” “At least you have another child.” “This happened for a reason.” Loss is often invalidated, which compounds feelings of isolation. “People can wind up thinking, I’m not going to tell anybody about this because no one is going to get it,” says Entin.

About 10 to 20 percent of known pregnancies end in loss; in the U.S., among heterosexual women ages 15 to 49 years with no prior births, about 19 percent struggle to get pregnant within a year of trying.

Fertility struggles are common—and so is not knowing what to say to communicate thoughtfulness and sensitivity to a loved one experiencing them. WH spoke to perinatal mental health professionals and people who have faced loss or infertility to help guide you toward providing caring, compassionate support.

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Say, “I’m here.”

“What I found most helpful was people who said, ‘I'm here,’ ” says Tiffany Conyers, LCSW, PMH-C, a psychotherapist who has experienced miscarriage and lost a son, Miles, in 2020 to a condition that was incompatible with life. “Simply put, you cant say the right thing. Just being present with someone and sitting with them is helpful.”

Other moms echo this. Erin Erenberg, a mom of three in Hilton Head, South Carolina, and cofounder of The Chamber of Mothers, recalls “something very specific” a friend said to her that meant the world: “Losing a baby is a very lonely kind of loss. Im here if you want to talk.” Erenberg adds, “Those words rang so true to me.”

Simply communicating to someone who is suffering that you’re there helps them to not feel alone—and to know that they don’t have to retreat with their pain, Conyers explains.

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Show up in small, consistent ways.

When it comes to supporting someone through loss or infertility, its often much more about what you do and how you continue to show up versus what you say, Entin says. Showing up can look different for everyone: It might be physically showing up. It might be mailing a letter every now and then to tell someone you’re thinking about them. It could be dropping off breakfast or leaving it on someone’s doorstep.

For Sierra Jonathan, a 29-year-old in St. Paul, Minnesota, what helped her the most after loss were friends who said things like, “This sucks. I’ll have dinner (or groceries) delivered sometime this week for you.” The directness and specificity of that type of care is “easy to say yes to, requires no mental space by having to explain or choose something, it’s not overwhelming, and it’s helpful,” Jonathan explains.

Entin points out that throughout grief, many people say they feel as though they have to start comforting others, instead of the other way around. “By giving someone permission to not answer the door or answer questions, you’re honoring not only their privacy but also the depth of what they are experiencing,” Entin says.

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Say, “Let me know if you need anything!”

While well intended, instructing someone who is experiencing grief to tell you if and when they need support puts the work on them. It’s also “too ambiguous,” says Jonathan. “How am I supposed to say, ‘Yeah can you please send us groceries for the week and come fold my laundry?’ ”

Just doing—and doing with specificity—is key.

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Roc Canals / Getty Images

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Check-in without expectation.

An important reminder: “If someone tells you about a loss or a fertility challenge, you have privileged information,” says Entin. “When someone shares privileged information, you need to hold that information sensitively and also with respect.”

If, for example, your friend who is freezing her eggs tells you she’s going to the doctor next week, Entin suggests checking in the next week with a statement like this: “Hey, I’ve been thinking of you. I hope your doctors appointment goes well.”

For someone grieving a loss, you might say something along the lines of, “Youve been on my mind,” “I have been thinking about you,” or, “My heart hurts with you.” These sentiments offer support without expectation. “Sometimes when people share sensitive information with you, you can almost feel as if youre entitled to get more information, and you're not,” says Entin.

You might even add a sentence like, “You don’t have to share more with me if you don’t want to.” The goal is to have people around who “check in with no expectation for a response, a hangout, or a validation that what you said was right or wrong,” adds Brianna Davin, a mother based in Weston, Connecticut, who has experienced loss.

“Allowing a person to maintain their privacy while also reminding them that they are on your mind is powerful,” Entin says.

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Bombard with questions.

One of the biggest mistakes people make is firing off seemingly benign queries about what someone is going through, says Entin: “How are you? How did things go at the doctor?”

“Answering questions can be invasive and exhausting,” she says—even if that’s never the intention! People can wind up thinking, What do you mean, “How am I?” I just lost my baby, how do you think I am?

“I always encourage, more than anything else, the use of statements over questions,” Entin says.

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Save the date of a loss.

The mourning of pregnancy loss doesn’t end at a certain time. Healing is subjective and nonlinear. That’s why Entin suggests noting the date in your calendar. When it comes up, you can say, “I know you’re coming upon a month thats difficult for you,” or, “I know that next week is the anniversary of your loss.” That holds so much supportive presence for an individual even a year later.

A general assumption about grief is that people think if they remind others of their loss, they will make them sad, so they shouldn’t bring it up, Entin says. But the opposite is usually true. “I did not appreciate when people would act like Miles never happened,” says Conyers of her son who passed. “Im sure people didn’t want to trigger me, but I love talking about Miles,” she explains. “Most people whove experienced the loss are always thinking about them; theyre never going to stop. So give them an opportunity to talk about them.”

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Follow their lead on language.

Listen to how someone describes their own experience. For example, when your sister speaks about her loss, does she call the baby a baby? Does she say the word fetus? Does she use a name?

Following someone’s lead on language is key in meeting them where they are in their grief, says Entin.

If you’re very close to the person, you could even ask a question like, “Did you name the baby?” If a friend says yes and tells you the name, you can use the name going forward.

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Recognize someone's hardship.

Have a friend doing in vitro and find yourself complaining about your baby? Try to find someone else to vent to. Being conscious of the conversations that are going on around a friend on a fertility journey is a form of respect, says Entin.

If you do have something personal to share that may conflict with what theyre going through, it’s also okay to name the other persons suffering and acknowledge pain. “Its been really hard to watch friends get pregnant with and give birth to baby girls since we lost our baby girl,” says Sasha Pullan, head of content for Robyn, who experienced a stillbirth. “The hardest part is that theres been little recognition of our loss during their pregnancy and birth journeys. I certainly don't want them to focus on the negative—and I want to celebrate them—but I wish there was some mention of it, something like ‘We're having a girl. I know this might be hard for you because you lost your baby girl.’ ”

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Assume you know what someone needs.

Everyone’s fertility journey and experiences are different. Read. That. Again.

That’s why, if you really don’t know what to do or how to help, asking can be useful. Say something like, “Is there any way I can support you right now?” or, “Is there anything specific you need that I might be able to assist you with?” These conversations can be particularly helpful when it comes to journeys like egg-freezing or single parenthood, as people might already feel more isolated.

Its also important to keep in mind that, while some people may need lots of time and space to grieve, others may not. Hali Buch, a mom of one in Roswell, Georgia, says that after her loss, she wanted to try to conceive somewhat quickly, and her ob-gyn listened and was supportive and encouraging of that—versus assuming she wanted to take time off.

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Use platitudes.

Telling someone they’re amazing or saying, “I don’t know how you do it,” are no-nos, says Entin. Here’s why: If someone is experiencing loss or fertility challenges, they don’t have a choice, and phrases like these minimize their experience. When someone says, “You’re amazing,” it also closes the door to vulnerability, says Entin. The person might be less inclined to tell you that they’re having a horrible day or that they couldn’t stop crying yesterday at work.

Instead, acknowledge the unique strengths you see in that person. Try, “You're showing such courage in making the decision to do fertility preservation,” or, “I know this process takes a lot out of you, and you're doing it with such grace.”

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Spread toxic positivity.

Rah-rah optimism does not necessarily help the grieving process. “When you’re in the thick of it, being and feeling negative is actually really important to process and move on properly,” says Davin. “A good friend would follow their infertile friend’s lead—empathize when they’re negative, be positive when they’re positive. But let them have their time and space to feel what they need to. The 24/7 positivity is not it.”

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Use the phrase “at least.”

At least you’re young. At least you already have a child. At least you lost the baby early. At least you have more eggs frozen. “At least” phrases are one of the most common ways we minimize people’s pain and engage in comparative suffering (i.e., “Well, X didn’t happen to me, so I guess I don’t have it as bad as X”).

These phrases also involve so many assumptions. “You likely don’t really know the ins and outs of someone’s reproductive journey. You don’t know how hard it is for them to have babies or not,” Conyers notes.

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Talk about bigger meanings.

Avoid language that circles around how “there’s a reason for this,” or justifying/excusing/finding bad explanations for something so painful, suggests Jonathan.

Comments such as telling someone their baby is in a better place or that this was part of a bigger plan are often the result of someone trying to find the right words to say, notes Conyers. While these words may sound poetic, they are not appropriate and diminish the present experience.

In her experience, Conyers tried to find kindness and grace for loved ones who used these phrases, understanding that they, too, were at a loss for words. (A good reminder that even when support doesn’t land well, most people are just trying to help.)

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Give a meaningful gift.

“A friend gave us a plant after our stillbirth, and for whatever reason, it was so much more meaningful than flowers,” says Pullan. “I still keep it on my desk, and it reminds me every day of the baby I lost, in a good way. It is very special that I get to take care of it and watch it bloom.”

She also shares that her mom gave her a necklace with a baby carriage on it as a symbol of what happened. “I had struggled with the fact that when I walked around the world, no one knew what happened. I joked about wanting to wear a T-shirt that explained that I lost my baby. The necklace served as a way to share, a talking point.”

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Check in about things other than fertility.

Your friends and family who are going through infertility are also people outside of that experience, reminds Entin. Be sure to stay in conversation with them about things that are important to them outside of the fertility journey. Talk about work; make a reservation at a fun, new restaurant; plan a night in.

Life is full of unexpected turns and unknowns—and supporting someone through struggles also means allowing them to be their full selves, which involves so much beyond their reproductive journey.