The heartbreak of fertility struggles, fertility treatment and loss can really only be understood by those who have experienced it firsthand.
If you’re watching from the sidelines as a friend battles infertility, it can be difficult to know what to say or do.
It hurts to watch people you love go through something so painful.
All you want to do is take their pain away, to help them get the happy ending you know they deserve. Unfortunately, you can’t. And you feel utterly helpless.
There are things you can do, though, to make their experience a little more bearable.
10 Ways To Support A Friend Going Through IVF
You can’t take her pain away, but you can be a shoulder for her to cry on. You can’t give her the baby she and her partner so desperately want, but you can help her feel less alone.
Not all of this advice is right for everybody. You know your friend best, and you’ll be able to work out the bits that are useful, and the things that won’t work.
For example, some people find humour to be a good way of getting through difficult times; to others it’s just insensitive.
Here are 10 ways to support a friend going through IVF:
#1: Ask Questions
Asking questions is an easy way to show an interest. If your friend is talking to you about her treatment, avoid making sweeping statements or giving your opinion. Ask questions instead.
The questions might even help your friend to process the information she has been given, and it will give her another chance to think through the details of her treatment.
If you’re not sure she wants to talk about it, just check. Ask whether it’s ok to ask questions, or tell her she doesn’t have to answer if she doesn’t want to.
Some women find it helpful to talk through the details, whereas others might prefer to keep their treatment private.
#2: Make A Note Of Any Dates
While you’re talking, if your friend mentions any dates, such as the date of transfer, or her next appointment, make a note of them.
When the day arrives, she’ll appreciate a message to let her know you’re thinking of her. You could send her a card in the post, or a warm positive message via text.
You don’t have to ask how her appointment went – especially if you think she might not want to talk about it – but a simple card or flowers or even a bar of chocolate will remind her she’s not alone. Send her a good book or a magazine or something to keep her busy during the two-week wait.
#3: Respect Her Privacy
Be respectful if she doesn’t want to talk about what she’s going through. It can be hard to see somebody suffering and not be able to help, but you need to let her deal with it in her own way.
You can’t force her to talk to you or rely on you. And you shouldn’t try to push her into telling you. She might not want to share the details of her treatment because then she would also have to tell people if it failed.
All you can do is make sure she knows you care, and you’re there if she needs you. Sometimes that’s enough.
#4: Vet Your Recommendations
If your friend is struggling with feelings of anger and jealousy, she probably doesn’t want to sit down and watch a movie all about motherhood. She might not want to read a book where the main character is struggling to get pregnant.
Before you recommend a television show or book, think about whether there are any potentially sensitive topics in it.
This will also make you realise how hard it is to avoid themes of motherhood, pregnancy and fertility; those storylines are everywhere. Your friend is probably finding it very hard to cope with the constant focus on these topics.
#5: Censor Yourself
Try to be sensitive to her feelings. It will sting when she hears about other people’s pregnancies.
If you can shield her from the news somebody is pregnant, do. Obviously, if it’s her friend, she’s going to find out, but if it’s the woman you sit next to at work, she doesn’t need to know that.
If you have children, try not to moan about how hard it is to be a parent.
Parenting is hard, but so is infertility. She would probably do anything to be able to moan about sleepless nights and kids who answer back. Save your moans for other people.
If you’re currently pregnant, avoid talking negatively about your pregnancy to your friend. You can complain to anyone else in your life, but spare the friend who is desperate to be pregnant; she’s probably trying hard enough to feel happy for you as it is.
#6: Be A Distraction For Her
Organise things to keep her busy. Invite her out for lunch, go to the theatre or the cinema, or meet up with all of your friends. Keep her diary full of fun social activities to distract her from her treatment.
And be understanding if she cancels at the last minute. She might not always feel like seeing people, especially if she’s struggling with depression or anxiety as a result of infertility. Be a constant for her, so you’re always there if she needs someone.
#7: Don’t Talk Rubbish
Being confronted with somebody else’s suffering can be really difficult. When we don’t know exactly what to say, we sometimes randomly say meaningless things like ‘It will happen when it happens’ or ‘It will happen when you stop trying’.
Don’t say those things; she is sick of hearing them. You don’t need to say anything. The pressure isn’t on you to say the right thing; she just wants you to listen. She doesn’t expect you to have the answers, or solutions to her problems; she just wants to voice them out loud to somebody with an empathetic ear.
Let her talk. This is about her, not you. Don’t tell her it will happen one day, because you don’t know that.
Not everybody has a happy ending, and your friend is very much aware of that. Of course, you want things to work out for her, and it’s ok to say so, but don’t make promises you can’t keep.
#8: Don’t Tell Her The Success Stories
Your colleague’s sister finally got pregnant after eight years of IVF. That might sound like great news to you, but to your friend it’s a story about how she might have to endure this pain for eight whole years.
The story about your cousin’s best friend, who became pregnant naturally after her first IVF baby, might sound positive to you, but to your friend it’s yet another story about someone else who got pregnant before she did.
You can be almost sure other people are bombarding your friend with these infuriating stories. You should focus on being the person who doesn’t.
#9: Don’t Forget About Her Partner
Infertility can put a huge strain on a relationship. Don’t forget your friend’s partner is going through it all, too. If you’re friends with him, check in to see how he is. He might need somebody to talk to.
Ask your friend how her partner is handling it, and how they’re both coping with the process. Lots of couples will find they have more arguments, thanks to the hormone treatment and the stress of IVF. Help them both feel supported if their relationship is under strain.
#10: Be Honest With Her
It’s ok to admit you don’t know what to say. It’s ok to say you hope things work out for her. It’s ok to say you want to help but don’t know how.
Admitting these things gives your friend the opportunity to tell you what she needs. She might want you to back off a little, or to come round and keep her company, or to cheer her up with some good news, but she probably won’t tell you any of that unless you ask her directly what exactly she needs from you.
The most important thing to remember: this isn’t about you. Your heart will break if the IVF treatment doesn’t work; you will share her frustration at the negative pregnancy tests; and you will sob tears of joy when she finally gets a positive result. Even then, you can never know exactly how she feels. You can be there for her but you’ll never truly understand how it feels and it’s important to remember that.
If she does get the long-awaited positive result, your role doesn’t end there. She is likely to feel anxious during the pregnancy and her experience of IVF will stay with her long into motherhood. She will still need your support.
Be sensitive to the fact she carries additional emotional baggage during her pregnancy. Make sure she knows she can turn to you for help if she needs it. Be the nonjudgemental ear she needs to help her through the months of worry that lie ahead.