Supporting a friend struggling with fertility issues

If you’ve been lucky enough to conceive easily, it can be difficult knowing how to talk to friends experiencing fertility issues. Here are some tips to help.

When my wife and I struggled to conceive naturally and embarked on fertility treatment, many of our friends and family had a hard time knowing how to broach the subject with us.

That’s completely understandable. And to be honest, we didn’t know how to talk about it amongst ourselves early on, let alone with others.

Here’s some suggestions to help you best support friends in this situation.

Do some quick ‘fertility cramming’

When most people think fertility issues and IVF, things like injections, test tubes, petri dishes and multiple births tend to spring to mind. But there’s a lot of complexity when it comes to fertility treatments.

For example, we were fortunate to have had healthy twins, but it wasn’t by chance, and it wasn’t because of the medication. We chose to put two embryos back (due to a number of factors) and had a conversation with our specialist about what this could mean in the long term and the risks associated.

The best place to start researching is via a local and reputable fertility treatment centre website. Find the fertility page and have a quick read. The key here is to understand the many different factors that can contribute to fertility issues and the multiple ways of tackling them. Having some of this knowledge on hand can help you ask the right questions and better understand the answers.

My wife and I found that other people who had been through the journey themselves were the most supportive because they understood our challenges and emotions. However, we really appreciated friends and family who had researched the topic, and we found conversations with them much more rewarding and supportive than friends who didn’t understand the issues as well. 

Empathise and listen, but don’t talk potential solutions

With one in six couples experiencing difficulty conceiving, most of us know someone, or at least a friend of a friend, who has undertaken fertility treatment. But there are many different scenarios and treatment options, so don’t assume that what worked for one person will be relevant for another.

Rather than suggest they do or don’t try a particular treatment, perhaps ask whether they’ve discussed it with their specialist, and if it’s relevant to them.

Throughout our fertility journey, we tried all kinds of different approaches – including acupuncture and changes to our diet. But truth be told, we have no idea what actually worked for us, except that it eventually did.

When I talk with people about our fertility journey, I’m happy to outline what we did, but I never suggest it’s going to be the right solution for them.

Bring some ‘normal’ back to their lives

Fertility treatment consumed nearly four years of our lives. It was incredibly stressful, but one of the biggest sources of support was friends who helped bring some normality back to our world.

It sounds simple, and it is. But sometime people forget just how beneficial it can be. When you’re dealing with fertility issues 24/7, a coffee and a chat about someone else’s life is probably just what you need. Or, find something ‘normal’ to do together, whether it’s an activity or an outing – just as you would have before dealing with fertility issues. 

Some people also try to filter what they tell you to avoid upsetting you – particularly when it has to do with their kids or pregnancy. Don’t. While this type of news can be confronting for a couple struggling with fertility, we understood that all our friends’ lives couldn’t go on hold for four years just because of us. And we most certainly still wanted to share in those joyous moments, even if it meant having to deal with our own emotions after the fact.

 

Keep in touch, follow up, but don’t insist on details

With fertility treatment, the journey to becoming pregnant becomes a whole lot more open. You’ll probably know when you’re friend is going through a cycle, and even the key dates. You’ll naturally want to know how she has gone, because you care. But sometimes, the level of detail involved can become a little confronting.

Throughout our fertility journey, my wife and I quickly learnt how things could change from good to bad and bad to good in a day, if not hours. One minute we had eight fantastic eggs, then before we knew it we had two poor quality embryos that couldn’t be implanted. On another occasion we had fantastic news we were pregnant, only to then go through the heartbreak of the embryo not progressing.

It was hard for us to work out how much of the detail to share with friends and family. Some friends chose not to ask about things at all while others asked us directly, and we found ourselves fibbing to them because we weren’t emotionally ready to share. Neither approach was ideal.

What worked best for us was those friends who asked after us, and how we were doing, and left it in our court to tell them as much or as little of the detail as we felt comfortable doing.

Let them know you’ll be checking in on them regularly and, if you’re open to hearing about their experiences, that they can share as much detail as they’d like with you, when it suits. 
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