In an alternate reality, I would be experiencing my first Mother’s Day this year. Miscarriage and infertility has led me down a different road, and while I have a wonderful relationship with my own mother, there is an empty space I thought would be filled by now with a child of my own.
Because infertility affects one in eight couples, it’s very likely that someone in your circle is also experiencing feelings of loss instead of joy this Mother’s Day.
For Ashten O'Malley of Ventura, California, celebrating motherhood prior to welcoming son, Jacob, felt like a painful reminder of her struggles.
"Someone going through infertility is likely going through the stages of grief," she shared. "The best thing you can do is listen, empathize, honor where they’re at, and don’t try to fix it."
Dr. Shannon Curry, clinical psychologist and director of the Curry Psychology Group in Orange County, California, affirmed to TODAY Parents that women struggling with infertility are likely grieving.
"It can be an agonizing and isolating roller coaster ride, and for anyone who knows grief — holidays can be especially hard," she said. "While everyone appears to be carefree and joyful, for the person who is grieving, the absence of someone or something cherished will be even more pronounced."
Curry said that because most of us feel uncomfortable talking about a person’s grief or sadness, our attempts to comfort are often misguided and can cause someone who is struggling with infertility to feel even lonelier than before.
Here is how to support women struggling with infertility this Mother's Day (or anytime):
"Don’t pretend that she’ll feel worse if she talks about it," Curry suggested. "Remember that her grief is with her everyday, especially on holidays, and that on Mother’s Day especially, she is likely feeling extremely alone."
O'Malley agreed, adding "Don’t shy away from the conversation or the hard stuff surrounding infertility. Give them space to share, to be vulnerable, and to grieve the way they need to. Ask questions, give them space to educate you on the process, the procedures, and what they’re going through — it’s the best gift you can give."
"The worst thing to say to someone who is bearing a seemingly unbearable loss is that 'everything happens for a reason'," Curry said. "What’s needed is a safe place to feel the loss, to feel the resentment of others who seem to effortlessly create new life, to feel the embarrassment and shame over the resentment."
"Share that you’re uncertain of what to say, and that you’re afraid you’ll say the wrong thing," Curry suggested. "Tell her if you feel powerless and afraid, because you want to do something so badly to help but you know you can’t."
"Allow her to speak freely, and don’t try to tell her you know how she feels because of something you think might be similar," Curry said. "Just listen, looking her in the eye, repeating back what she says, and letting her know if you feel sadness or anger along with her as she speaks, while keeping the focus on her."
Offer practical support
"Grief makes us tired and having help with the little things each day can make all the difference," Curry said, adding that the gift of time and space offers the ability to just "be" without distractions. The psychologist suggested purchasing groceries, doing laundry, hiring a cleaning service or sending a meal delivery credit.