One of the comments on my anonymous fertility series came from a very thoughtful reader who asked the best way to support a friend dealing with infertility.
I underwent two cycles of IVF treatment before I became pregnant with my little boy Felix. As a result, I have been contacted by dozens of women who are unfortunately struggling to conceive. As well as friends and family wanting to offer support to their own loved ones.
I’m conscious this doesn’t come across as a do’s and don’t article as I have more than likely uttered some of the words below to others who were having difficulty conceiving. Everyone is different so below are my own thoughts on supporting a friend affected by infertility. It comes from a female perspective but I know the men also appreciate a shoulder too.
Keep in touch
I was supported through both cycles through two amazing friends; one who had already gone through fertility treatment and one whose sister conceived her first daughter through IVF. It’s fair to say, without them I would have lost my mind. They texted me after every procedure, appointment and scan and checked in regularly to see how I was doing. It was so lovely to know they had made a note of when things were likely to be happening in my cycle and gave me a little virtual hug when I needed it.
Familiarise yourself with the process
Infertility can result in many invasive explorations. I’d suggest having a google if your friend mentions a particular procedure so you can gain an understanding of what she’s about to undertake.
I mentioned in this post that I had absolutely no idea what IVF entailed. In the simplistic of nutshells, a long protocol of IVF treatment involves daily injections to shut down the ovaries. Then additional medication is administered to stimulate the ovaries artificially and produce eggs which are extracted using a needle through the vagina. The collected eggs are then mixed with sperm to fertilise. After a period of time (around 5 days) an embryo is then transferred back to the woman’s womb where hopefully it will implant and become a successful pregnancy.
Understand their needs may differ depending on where they are in the process
It was always quite exhausting keeping people up to date with the outcome of hospital and clinic appointments so it’s something to bear in mind. My head was often filled with my own questions I wished I’d asked the professionals, and then my loved ones would throw a few more in the mix!
After my first IVF cycle ended in a chemical pregnancy (the term used to describe a miscarriage prior to 6 weeks), just our families and a couple of friends knew about the second cycle. It felt necessary to protect ourselves and so I stopped communicating, which might be the case for your loved one too.
Luckily my physical side effects were fairly minimal but for many, it can mean headaches, nausea, mood swings, hot flashes, bloating and fatigue. This could mean your once chatty friend can become withdrawn.
Don’t get me wrong, I am all for positivity but sometimes your friend might be having a truly shitty day and it can feel very dismissive to be told to keep positive. Once in a while, we all deserve to dwell. You don’t always have to come up with a solution. Just be there.
I lost count of people who told me ‘You can always adopt’, and I lost count of the times I bit my tongue. Adoptive parents are bloody legends and are far stronger than me. These little ones are often waiting to be adopted due to very troubling circumstances and it’s an extremely long and complex process to place children.
If you’re reeling from finding out biological children might not be a possibility, adoption isn’t a cure. By all means, discuss their thoughts on different routes to parenting but bear in mind they need to come to terms with not being able to have bio children first.
It’s true stress can have an impact on fertility, but as one reader mentioned on one of my posts; people get pregnant in war zones.
Everyone has a story they can tell you about the cousin of the woman’s ex-husband in the post office who thought they were going to need IVF treatment. Then they found out they were pregnant after they let their hair down a bit. That’s great for them, but this isn’t your friend. She has her own circumstances and while it’s nice to hear a success story there’s a lot more involved than going off to a spa for a weekend.
Understand she may be skint
When I take in to account the acupuncture, the procedures, the drugs, the food, the books, it cost around £12K to have my son (and that’s with one round of IVF funded by the NHS). While I loved the idea of escaping on holiday it just wasn’t financially an option. We did however do a few days trips around that time and I threw myself into planning a party for my in-laws birthday. Definitely suggest your friend does something to take her mind elsewhere but think on a budget. Also consider she might be restricting alcohol or making dietary changes too.
Think about how to break the news of others pregnancies
When I finally did get pregnant I was very grateful for the advice readers had given in this post about pregnancy announcements. The general consensus was to share via text rather than face-to-face to allow for composure. Also try and share as early as you are comfortable with so they don’t feel they are the last to know.
Don’t automatically think a person having fertility struggles won’t want to be included in baby showers and chat about little people. It can be very upsetting not to be included. I purposely didn’t have a baby shower because of this reason but a few of my chicas threw me a small informal surprise lunch instead. Show understanding if they decide not to come and offer some flexibility for them to change their minds.
We all balls up and say things we wish we hadn’t. I’ve still slipped up a few times and I have the benefit of experience. Just be there and tell her you care.
You can read my previous infertility posts where I blogged under the pseudonym of Jane: Introduction, What’s involved in IVF, Dietary and lifestyle changes, The first IVF round, The pain of pregnancy announcements and The two week wait.
Please do feel free to ask any questions about the process and I’ll try my best to answer them.
Photography by Little Beanies