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How To Support A Friend Dealing With Infertility

Author: Lauren Coleman

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.

Infertility Support

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.

Positivity

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.

Adoption

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.

Just relax

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.

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Photography by Little Beanies

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15 thoughts on “How To Support A Friend Dealing With Infertility

  1. Such an important post Lauren, thank you for highlighting. I had 3 rounds of ICSI IVF (and 2 losses along the way) before I had my daughter. The first cycle I told only my mum as I couldn’t bear to ‘load the dice’ any more by having others know. After it ended in a loss it happened to be that my second round coincided with a friend’s wedding. The wedding was in 3 different venues hours from home and I had the various medications with me including ones that had to be in a fridge (so moved from bar fridge to bar fridge all day). I was with my oldest school friends and decided to let them know what I was carting about. It felt amazing to offload and most of us ended up crying and hugging on the top of the wedding double decker bus (even the lads). From then on I felt a had a silent support from them- nobody was intrusive just rooting for us. I’m forever grateful that they didn’t break any of the weary faux pas that we all endure. I also agree that the adoption suggestion is a terrible one, however well-meaning. Like you say it is a totally different avenue and not a replacement for another. I hope lots of people read your post and it helps. Of course I am now asked by strangers ‘don’t you want another one by now?’ *EYE ROLL * but that’s another story hey…

    1. I welled up reading about the open top bus. It’s made me realise there can be some really beautiful moments along the way.
      Oh the flipping ‘do you want another one?’ question! We get that already and when I tell them Felix was a miracle baby, they always want to tell me about someone who got pregnant naturally with the second!

      1. I cannot tell you how many times people said this to me too Lauren. It’s great that happens for couples but our fertility issues have not been “fixed” by a round of ivf. And what I want so badly right now is to grow our family. We’ve had one FET attempt which ended in miscarriage in March and we’re just embarking upon another go with our last frozen embryo. The stakes are high! I don’t know who I want support from right now. Sometimes well meaning concern from family members I find stifling…..which then makes me feel ungrateful!!
        The other comments I had after our miscarriage earlier this year were “at least you already have one”…..which makes me feel greedy for wanting to grow our family so desperately. Sorry for the rant! I’ve missed these posts from RMF xxx

        1. Hi Sarah,
          So sorry to hear of your miscarriage. Please don’t think you are greedy – I think it’s very difficult for others to understand the longing.
          Hope everything goes well with the next transfer.

          x

  2. Oh I do hope that lots of people read this post! It’s such a minefield, it really is, and incredibly easy to get wrong. I spent 5 years and endured multiple IVF cycles, 2 miscarriages and an ectopic pregnancy before my son was born (just 2 weeks ago). I was generally very open about our issues but chose not to tell people when we were actually having treatment. I’m pleased I didn’t as unfortunately even those closest to me got it so badly wrong whenever I spoke to them about infertility, and particularly about our losses, and I’m not sure I could have handled that input when I was undergoing the treatment itself. It invariably comes from a good place but the sad fact is so many of the most well meaning comments, which are clearly intended to inspire hope and positivity, are just dismissive and can leave people feeling even more alone. As a result I largely shut down after a while – and lost friends in the process. This of course left me feeling even more isolated and misunderstood but a) the friends who left me probably weren’t worth keeping anyway and b) I had to focus on myself and my husband. So what I would say is this: never ever offer advice (unless you’ve been through the same thing yourself – and even then only offer it if asked); don’t judge how someone chooses to deal with their infertility because it is harder than you could ever imagine; and be patient, always.

    1. Anna, huge congratulations on your new arrival. I hope you’re both enjoying getting to know each other.
      Your advice is excellent, it’s heartbreaking what you had to go through in order to be in a position to give it x

  3. Thank you for this post. I am mum to an 8mo conceived naturally. My brother and his wife are desperate to start a family and are planning to start IVF. They are a very private couple and its hard to know what to say especially when they live overseas. I want to share pictures/stories of my baby but at the same time conscious it could be upsetting to see baby pictures at times
    So tricky, i wish more than anything that they could become parents as i know they would be amazing. I actually felt guily when i was pregnant that we had conveived relatively easy when they were having so much trouble. It must be so hard to go through IVF, complete respect to all those who do including you Lauren, i know its something i couldn’t cope with.

    1. Hi Rachel, hope your little one is doing well.
      The guilt is very hard to deal with. I have it even though I had difficulty conceiving! Maybe have an honest chat with your brother about the pics and stories. They would probably be gutted if they didn’t hear about the milestones and fun that comes with an 8 month old.
      I remember I still loved getting updates about friends and families babies but the stories about how difficult parenting was seemed to really get my goat. Obviously now I see both sides but I’m grateful to be able to moan about sleepless nights 🙂

      1. Good point about the how the difficult sides of parenting are hard to hear when you are going through IVF. We had a very tough start (or at least i found it all incredibly hard til 4 or 5 months in) but luckily i *think* i spared them of those stories as i vented to a close friend with a baby of similar age when times were hard! 8 months is a really great age, laughter a plenty! If he didnt crawl away during every nappy change i’d be tempted to say it was all very easygoing, but i think we’re due a break after all the crying and screaming in the first few months!!

  4. Great advice Lauren, and so happy everything has worked out for you 🙂 . I am currently in the midst of another cycle at the moment (each allegedly getting ‘better’- regardless how far it still feels we’ve got to go!). My body finds the physical demands pretty darn tough so have to make sure i enforce some self care where poss, and as a result I am not my usual social self. I find with each cycle there’s a new or different challenge to overcome and deal with. The hardest without a doubt and the most hurtful part of the process I have found is the surprising lack of support/ insensitivity from some close friends and family. Some friends have taken the “ok, let me know when everything is normal again!” approach, occasionally asking for updates to be ‘in the loop’ which sometimes feels its more for their benefit than mine (a red flag for me) – in some cases ironically I get the sense they’re actually disgruntled by me having to put my health first for one.

    The most hurtful experience was family in laws avoiding me with no contact at all after we opened up, reason apparently being because they “don’t knowing what to say” – so opted to do *nothing*. No communication at all. Personally I find this approach worse than risking saying the wrong thing. What riles me the most is after the year of agony we’ve gone through, if we ever were to have any success, they’d be the first I’m sure to suddenly be jumping on the opportunities to celebrate, as if they were somehow part of that journey with us – “well that took a while didn’t it?- ok all back to normal now please!”. I can completely understand how it impacts on some relationships long term… undoubtedly I’ll end up allowing myself to drift from some people, but I’ll ALWAYS remember the kindness and support from others and cherish it forever – regardless of the outcome.

    To anyone worried they may say the wrong thing – there’s lots of other ways you can show your love and support to someone gong through IVF.. you could send them a face pack for a pamper sesh you “spotted in Boots and thought they might like”, a little relaxation candle, a card with a simple X in it – anything. If your friend/ family member has confided in you by opening up about something so personal and risked making themselves feel vulnerable – they at least deserves a kind acknowledgement. Even if its a simple “babe – I’m sh*t at this.. tell me how i can be here for you”.

    xxx

    1. Hi Lottie, thanks so much for your comment. I’m sorry some of your family and friends have been so hurtful.
      I think unless you’ve been through it it’s so difficult to empathise. I wrote a post last year about the types of friends you need in your life, which came as a result of going through IVF treatment and my mum’s illness. I learned you can’t expect all friends to do all roles and if I had a couple supporting me through that stage of my life then I would be okay. It’s is true though that’ll you’ll never ever forget those who were your support system, and probably never forget those who weren’t really there either.
      I wish you all the luck in the world with this current cycle x

  5. A lovely post, thank you so much! A friend of mine has been TTC for 2 years now. Even being a gyn/obs I sometimes am att a loss at what to say!

  6. Great post Lauren. We went through two cycles of IVF around the same time as you and I followed your posts eagerly as they made me feel less alone. I really agree that it would be so helpful if friends took time to understand the actual process of IVF, I would have loved that and found the support I got from people who did understand it so valuable. Fortunately our IVF didn’t work, I say fortunately as we then went down the adoption route and last week our 6 month old baby girl came home to us forever. This was definitely our path – she’s perfect and we feel so privileged to be her parents!

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