I’ve made no secret of the fact that my baby Leonardo was the result of IVF. I’m a pretty open person at the best of times but I wanted to be honest with my closest friends and family and I didn’t want to go through it all alone.
Of course, everyone copes with things differently and some couples choose to tell no one, or just a close and trusted few. But, I strongly believe that the conversation around infertility needs to be normalised in order to help those going through it feel supported, rather than isolated.
My experience of IVF taught me a lot about myself and those I surround myself with. It taught me how truly amazing some of my friends are and how you can find kindness in the most unlikely of places. Do you have a friend or loved one that’s about to embark on a similar journey? Here’s a few simple ways that you can help them.
The elephant in the room
If your friend has confided in you about their infertility problems or even that they’re trying for a baby, they probably want to talk about it. Don’t avoid the subject like it’s a taboo and make them feel awkward. Of course, you should be sensitive and ask at the right time but a simple ‘how are you and is everything going ok?” will give your pal an opportunity to share as much or as little as they like. Additionally, if they retreat and go a bit quiet, don’t take it personally. Just let them know you’re there for them.
Are you pregnant?
Try not to ask anything too direct or intrusive such as ‘are you pregnant yet?” which one very thoughtless friend text me out of the blue. They thought they were being cool and funny but privately i was in turmoil. They weren’t to know but that’s exactly the point: don’t assume everything is ok if you haven’t bothered to ask otherwise.
I was also asked the same question in front of a group of colleagues, just a few days after having an embryo transfer and during the dreaded 10-day wait. No one in this particular group knew i’d had IVF but it was awkward and uncomfortable and completely inappropriate. If you haven’t been told, the time isn’t right. So mind your own business and wait.
Kind gestures go a long way
One of the nicest things anyone has ever done for me was to create an IVF survival kit. The friend who made it had already been through the process a few times so knew exactly what I was up against. It included things like decaf coffee (as caffeine isn’t advised during IVF), tissues for teary days, arnica to avoid bruising after my injections and chocolate to enjoy after my egg retrieval procedure. It can be hard to know how to help someone preparing for IVF but this was both thoughtful and useful. I also really appreciated friends that organised fun days out and just wanted to spend time with me. Cards and presents are lovely, but your time will mean so much more.
Choose your words wisely
Thankfully my IVF treatment was successful but boy, did I struggle with those first few weeks. After the joy of a positive pregnancy test, I then descended into a spiral of anxiety – terrified that I would lose the baby. This is a totally natural feeling after IVF but made 100 times worse by well-meaning and tactless comments. One friend sent me a card and text saying they hoped ‘that little embryo stayed put’. That ‘little embryo’ was my baby and it not staying put would have meant a miscarriage. A rather traumatic and heart-breaking outcome minimised in one simple sentence. It knocked me for days.
Yes IVF is a remarkable work of science but let’s not forget the aim: a baby, a soul and a person. Be respectful or don’t say anything at all.
Try to understand the process
IVF is complicated, invasive and incredibly physical. This made it really helpful when friends took the time to understand each step of the process and help me with it where they could. For example, when my husband worked away, my neighbour (who has since become a very close friend) came and helped me inject myself. Another friend suggested a movie night (when the hormones needed to stimulate my eggs were making me nauseous and irritable). She brought sweets and ginger biscuits and paused the film every time I needed to pace the hallway. Another friend text me positive affirmations during particularly important stages of the process. All of these small acts of kindness gave me strength when I needed it the most.
Have you been through IVF or supported someone that has? What did you find helpful and what did you hate? Let me know by commenting below.