How to Support a loved one through their fertility journey – Part 2

Dear Family or Friend of a fertility warrior (Part 2)

Welcome back! Thanks for joining us for part 2 of this collaborative article with NISIG (National Infertility Support and Information Group) to help you cross these challenging waters and provide a situation by situation guide to supporting those you love. NISIG recently carried out a survey asking their members to tell them about comments made during fertility issues that they found difficult to handle.

Situation 4 Getting Medical

What to say/ doWhat not to say/ do – all quotes in this column are from a survey carried out by @NISIG
Starting treatment is full of fear and very messy emotions. Adding your emotions and expectations on top can be too much for your loved one. Therefore, many people keep it all a secret.   Explaining it all to people who have no experience in fertility issues is challenging and uncomfortable.

People often ask us questions that we haven’t been brave enough to ask ourselves yet. I spent a lot of time saying, “I don’t know”, which made me feel worse and full of even more shame because I didn’t have answers. Questions like “what happens then”, “will it hurt”, “how long does that take” all come from a place of curiosity and genuine care and interest.
For my mental health, I had to take IVF literally one step at a time, so I often didn’t have the answers to loved one’s questions.  

Some doctors and nurses in the clinics can also, unfortunately, lack bedside manner. Badly phrased comments about parts of your body, eggs or sperm can add to the feelings of deep shame. If I could go back in time, I would encourage myself to speak up more and ask for more sensitivity and respect from my clinic.   If we need to admit that IVF isn’t working and start thinking of surrogacy, adoption, egg donation or sperm donation it gets even more complex and deep values issues can arise for the infertile couples. People have a lot of opinions and don’t seem to be able to help sharing them.

For single or same sex couples, the judgement and opinions they face can be hard to stomach. The vulnerability and shame we are dealing with is deep which means it’s hard to get tough and tell people to butt out, we don’t have the strength left for that.  

In summary, if you have an opinion please keep it to yourself unless expressly asked for it. If asked you should start with “I have no experience in this and I have never been in your shoes, therefore my opinion is mostly emotionally based”.
“Oh my god! The amount of drugs!!” – the overly shocked response of a family member when they saw the two huge carrier bags of the medication I needed to take and inject for an IVF cycle. I was already very upset at the amount as I had had no idea until I saw them. It had taken me aback and I wasn’t able to deal with this person’s response on top of my own fear and worry of what I was getting myself into.

“Oh, I wouldn’t do IVF, those kids always grow up to have something wrong with them.”  

“Who is the problem? Why can’t ye have more kids?”.  

My friend constantly saying I can have his super sperm even though I’m the one with the issue, not my partner.  

“It’s really exciting to be doing treatment” is it??  

“So, your partner isn’t really his dad if it wasn’t’ his sperm.”  

“Oh my god, I could never do that”, when you share with your mate that you are thinking of using donor eggs.  
Clinic comments: “Your eggs are crap.”
“Sure, you already have a child, you should count yourself lucky.”
“The semen result is very bad; you need the most expensive IVF (ICSI) each time and you will need a number of them as it mightn’t be successful.”    

Situation 5 Miscarriage

What to say/ doWhat not to say/ do
Miscarriage is so common that it’s a little surprising how cavalier people can be about it.   Again, keep an eye on your loved one’s mental health.

Often, we are so caught up in dates and treatment options that we don’t take the time to grieve properly, thinking that just getting pregnant again will take the pain away. This can and does backfire with serious anxiety and depression arising months later when you feel you should be fine and over it.
“You are lucky you weren’t further along, at least you can still get pregnant.”  

“How many miscarriages have you had now?” (eh – why do you need to know?)  

“You’re young, you have time to have another.”  

“You’ve a lot to be grateful for at least you can have a child.”  

“No point crying over something you never had.”

Situation 6 Secondary Infertility

 What to say/ do What not to say/ do
What stood out for me, looking at the NISIG survey was the lack of sensitivity about secondary infertility. It’s probably less spoken about even within the IVF community. I have been educating myself about this as its not something that happened to me. I was happy with my one baby and wasn’t willing to put myself through more.

However, it’s important to understand that not everyone feels that way, they may have more than one child and still ache for more.   What can you do/ say? – as already advised, be the rock.  
“Can you not just be grateful for the one you already have?”  
“But you have kids, so it’s not that you’re infertile.  Maybe if you relax.”  

“Why would you want another baby when your youngest is almost reared?”  

“Sure, you already have kids, surely you’ve enough?”  

“Would you not be happy with the one child?”    

And finally,

Keep in mind that it might never work and be ready for that day. The day of realisation, the day a couple decide that they are done trying is probably going to be one of the hardest days of their life.

In summary:

  • Don’t trivialise it in the hope that this will disguise your feelings of discomfort.
  • Settle into the feelings in the room.
  • Breathe.
  • Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. When you sit with discomfort rather than run from it, it gets much easier to deal with.
  • Be the rock – strong, solid and mostly silent.
  • Keep your opinions to yourself.

What you can learn in supporting a loved one struggling with fertility can be applied to many other challenging, emotional situations. If you have any questions on how to support a loved one please contact NISIG (National Infertility Support and Information Group) or StephBe (Instagram, Facebook, Linkedin), we are always happy to advise and support. Together is better.

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