My friend is having IVF. How can I help?

Fertility Coach, Lisa Marsh, looks at how to approach the subject of infertility with understanding as well as giving guidance on what ‘not’ to say to a friend experiencing fertility problems.

Top bugbears for infertile women

If you have a friend, relative or colleague who is contemplating or presently undergoing IVF, you may feel like there is an elephant in the room; that is, something that no one is sure whether to discuss or ignore. There is the procedure itself, but perhaps more so the infertility which is the cause for the IVF, that can be very difficult to discuss, because of the deep feelings that surround this very personal aspect of life.

  1. Let your relationship guide you
  2. Empathise with her
  3. Context
  4. How do I know what to avoid?
  5. 10 bugbears for infertile women

Take cues from the woman herself: Has she referred to her infertility and/or IVF in conversation with you? This will signal whether she wants to talk about it and have it taken into consideration in your dealings with each other. If not, then she may be guarding her personal privacy by limiting the number of people in whom she confides. Respect her right to choose her confidantes by not discussing her IVF in public and with other people, without her express permission.

Imagine how it feels to be “standing in her shoes.” It’s not just about how you would feel if you were infertile and required IVF, because you are different people. It’s more about how it feels to be her; at her age, with her partner, with her medical history, her finances, and her relationships with women who are fertile, pregnant or mothers already. Empathy will ensure that you are sensitive to her feelings.

The context of your conversation should guide you in the extent of your comments. If she has confided in you privately, or if you have been told of the IVF out of necessity, this is not an invitation to refer to it in front of others, give your opinion or make assumptions about her state of mind or ability to function. If she has been open about the IVF, it may be because she wants support, information and an exchange of views. In any case, it’s appropriate to ask for permission to talk about the IVF with her and/or others.

Think about both her stage of treatment and emotions when commenting on either your family plans or hers. Is she hopeful, positive and resilient about upcoming IVF? Is she anxious about her access to, or cost of, treatment? Is it the highly stressful 2-week wait between embryo transfer and test results? Have you conceived your own children easily? Always think of the woman herself and whether your comments or questions will be helpful or hurtful under the circumstances.

Inevitably, some people will put the proverbial foot in their mouth. Even with the best intentions, we can inadvertently betray a confidence, ask the wrong question or otherwise hit a sore point. If that happens to you, the best possible thing is to recover quickly and make a swift apology, i.e. “I can see that what I’ve said has upset you. I don’t know how it feels to be going through IVF. I’m sorry.”

However, be warned! Following are the top ten bugbears for infertile women, which will not earn you any thanks and may cause a rift:

  1. Whose fault is it; yours or his?
  2. Just relax. Go on holiday. That always works
  3. You could always adopt.
  4. Take my kids; they’re driving me crazy.
  5. Having children isn’t a right; it’s a lifestyle choice.
  6. Maybe it’s just not meant to be.
  7. Are you getting your IVF for free, because, you know I’m a taxpayer?
  8. At least you can have fun trying.
  9. You should count your blessings…focus on what you do have.
  10. I still love you.


Ed Yourdon @ Flickr

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