‘Social infertility’ is a phrase used to describe individuals who long for a baby but who don’t have a partner and are therefore not in the situation where they can start trying to conceive naturally. I’m not yet sure what I think about the words themselves, but I’m starting to use the phrase more frequently as it captures the phenomenon well. This is becoming a much more common situation with women in their mid to late 30s and early 40s.
There has recently been much discussion about the wrong thing to say to people who are struggling to conceive. I have shared in the past what I believe to be insensitive things to avoid saying to single women who want to become a mother.
Often loved ones are trying to be supportive but they can say the wrong thing and leave you feeling hurt, frustrated, misunderstood and sometimes even angry.
So what are the right things to say? How do you support someone who wants children but is single and worried about their fertility? These are my top tips based on my experience (and I think they apply to all situations not just solo motherhood)
1) Rather than presume what support someone needs, clarify it with them
We must remember that everyone is different, so what one person might find supportive can look entirely different from the next person. This means there is no easy formula of how to best show your support. The most effective strategy you can follow is to ask them what support would be most useful for them at any given time. Sometimes we want advice, sometimes reassurance, often just someone to listen and agree with us that our situation is a bit shitty. Finding out what a friend or loved one needs from you means you are less likely to get it totally wrong.
2) Rather than presume you understand how someone is feeling, ask them
We often base our views on how we think someone must be feeling, on our own circumstances and beliefs. It is wise to remember that they might feel completely differently from what you presume or how you think you would feel in the same situation. Rather than making any presumptions and believing you understand exactly how their emotions are playing out, try asking them. Asking someone how they are feeling about a situation is really powerful and gives them the opportunity to share openly with you.
3) Rather than offering advice and opinions, just listen
When people close to you share their concerns and anxieties about their situation, they are not always looking for a solution. Rather than trying to solve their problems for them and potentially saying the wrong thing, try just letting them talk and really actively listen to what they are sharing with you. Practise listening without offering your thoughts. Ask more questions to really understand them and try refraining from putting your view on it, unless they ask you for it.
4) Rather than sharing your beliefs, keep an open mind
Solo parenting might not be something you would consider yourself, but try to be open minded. It doesn’t necessarily matter what you think about it, the point is to be there as a support for your friend. We don’t all always have to agree with the decisions the people in our life are making, but we can still be there for them. You might think someone should wait longer before taking the solo mum route. Maybe you think they should adopt rather than go through donor conception. Do you believe they need to accept that parenthood wasn’t in their destiny? You might think they should try harder to meet a partner.
None of these thoughts will likely be helpful to be shared. If you want to be supportive, it could be best to keep these thoughts for you and focus on how you can support your friend with whatever they have decided. (Although of course if you are genuinely worried about someones well-being, I am definitely not saying to ignore that)
5) Rather than supporting remotely, be there in person
One of the best ways to show support is to be there in person with someone. It’s great to support through messaging and phone calls but nothing beats that face to face support. Try to make time to be with someone. This isn’t always possible, but it’s worth making the effort to try where it’s an option.
It is useful to remember that most people have the best intentions, even if they say the wrong thing. This usually only happens because they are not clear what the right thing is to say.
Open up the communication channels. Explain to them how they can best support you. If someone is getting it totally wrong, talk to them about where things are going wrong.
Let me know in the comments below the best support you have received and take a moment to appreciate who has given you this.
If you are currently considering solo motherhood check out Going Solo, my group online coaching course.