How to Support a Friend With Fertility Issues
Infertility is an emotional rollercoaster that impacts even the strongest relationship
For the majority of couples, the route to having a baby involves falling in love, having lots of great sex, and then grinning down at a positive pregnancy test within 12 months of ditching contraception. But one in seven couples in the UK, and one in eight in America, have difficulty conceiving and face fertility testing, intrusive procedures and years of heartache to achieve their dream of becoming parents. It is emotionally and physically exhausting, financially draining, hugely stressful, and sadly it doesn’t always end with a little bundle of joy.
Facing infertility is a deeply private matter and couples are often selective about who they confide in. Why? Because it’s devastating. My personal experience is that it’s a scary and isolating situation to find yourself in. My biggest fear is that I’ll never be a mum and, after two early miscarriages, our diagnosis of ‘unexplained infertility’ means the doctors are yet to find a reason why we’re not nursing a newborn.
I often feel embarrassed and blame myself. I don’t like being judged, being talked about, or thinking about the fact there are questions, along the lines of ‘I wonder if it’s him or her?’ that my partner and I both know people can’t help but think. It’s our issue, and it hurts us both.
Infertility is an emotional rollercoaster that impacts even the strongest relationship. Let’s face it, planning sex at specific times, taking your temperature every morning, cutting out alcohol and saving all your money to pay for fertility experts is not remotely fun or romantic.
Often, there’s a lot of pressure from others, with in-laws desperate to be grandparents or friends and colleagues asking, ‘When are you starting a family?’ as they give birth to a second or third child. These baby-making questions almost always come from women, who never accept a vague answer regardless of the tears in my eyes. They keep probing and then offer well-intentioned but completely thoughtless advice such as:
Let’s get real! Women who long for a baby have read every book, joined every pregnancy forum and paid for every holistic treatment you can imagine, so don’t insult us by stating the obvious. We know how to have sex, and if relaxing was the solution then doctors would send couples on holiday rather than to hospital.
My fertility journey has had a huge impact on every area of my life. I now struggle with my confidence, which makes it difficult to give presentations at work or apply for promotions. I face new financial pressures, as the cost of IVF and holistic treatments cut into my savings and pile up on my credit card. I avoid people who were once good friends because of the insensitive things they say, and my heart breaks every month when have to I buy tampons instead of maternity clothes.
People need to realise that IVF is not a miracle cure. It’s a difficult physical and emotional process, with a high failure rate and a hefty price tag that not everyone can afford. Using the word ‘just’ when talking about IVF, adoption or using donor eggs or sperm makes incredibly complex decisions sound easy and straightforward. And that one little word dismisses the pain of infertility and the longing to create your own biological child with the person you love.
So, if you have a friend in my position, please help her through it by saying things like:
And you can support her in the following ways:
It’s hard to understand unless you’ve been through it, but please try. When women stick together, we are so much stronger.
*Name has been changed on author’s request