How can I support someone going through IVF?
For many reasons (some known, some unknown), overall birth rates in the West are falling rapidly, while infertility is on the rise.
For those having trouble conceiving naturally, there are fertility treatments available to lend a helping hand. And, contrary to what you may think, this is far from a rare occurrence.
It’s estimated that, in the not so distant future, as many as one in 10 children born in the UK will have been conceived with the assistance of fertility treatments – one of which being in vitro fertilisation (IVF).
IVF is a type of fertility treatment where fertilisation takes place outside of the body. It’s suitable for heterosexual couples, single women and female couples (through sperm donation), and males couples (through gestational surrogacy).
Why, then, if it is set to become more common, are we unsure of what to say to those around us when they are going through the IVF process?
Perhaps it’s because, for so long, fertility treatments have been shrouded in secrecy and mystery. Maybe you don’t know anyone who’s been through IVF before. Or, maybe you do – they just didn’t make it known, for fear of being misguidedly judged.
So, if someone you know tells you that they’re undergoing IVF treatment, it can be hard to know what to say or do. But, even though you might not know exactly what to say, that doesn’t mean it’s OK to say nothing at all. Even if your silence is well-intentioned (you’d hate to say the wrong thing), it can leave the person feeling alone during a really difficult time.
To help you, here’s our advice to best support a friend going through IVF.
IVF isn’t straightforward – it doesn’t always result in pregnancy, and it can be both physically and emotionally demanding. Counselling is usually offered to help with the process but, as with any emotionally-draining situations in life, support from friends and family is really important.
It’s ingrained in us that, often, our actions can speak louder than our words. So, rather than focusing solely on what you should say, try to focus more on how you are with this person. The right words will then come naturally.
You’ll know instinctively how to do the right thing for this person – whether that’s giving them a hug, making them a cup of tea, or taking them for a day out to take their mind off things for a while. After all, they’re still your friend – nothing has changed there.
“Why don’t we [insert fun, distracting activity here]?”
While it’s important to allow them to talk to you about their treatment if they want to, it might be a welcome relief for them to talk to you about something else.
Remember, this is a big deal for your friend and, just as you might not know how to react, they probably don’t know how to expect you to react to the news either. But, one thing they’ll likely value just as much as your support, is your honesty.
“I don’t know anyone who’s been through IVF before. I can only imagine what you’re going through.”
This can give them space to think about why they’ve chosen to tell you in the first place. Perhaps they don’t want your advice, they’re just looking for someone to share what’s going on in their life.
But, even if you do know someone who has had fertility treatment before, that isn’t an excuse to regale stories or ask them, “Have you tried X fertility treatment?”. You might mean well, but it’s usually best to leave the advice to the medical professionals.
It’s worth bearing in mind that there are some health risks involved in IVF, including side effects from the medications used during treatment, such as hot flushes and headaches. Be aware that your friend may not be feeling her best all of the time.
A simple “How are you feeling today?” can go a long way – you might be the first person to have asked.
IVF can put significant stress on a woman and their partner, so it’s important to treat them kindly – and encourage them to treat each other kindly during this time.
“Let me know if you need anything. I’m always here to walk and talk with you.”
Listen to them, and pay attention not only to what they say but also to how they say it. They might be frightened, anxious, or they might be excited about what’s to come. Try to reflect their feelings in the way you respond to them.
We’re not asking you to put yourself in their shoes or pretend you understand all that they’re going through – just be compassionate. But, more than anything, just be the person they know and love.
It’s clear that you care about this person and you want to do what you can to be there for them. Remember, they’re lucky to have you in their life and they’ll be grateful for all your support.