The process of going through in-vitro fertilization (IVF) is challenging in every way imaginable. I should know — I went through it twice. I count myself as one of the lucky ones; my second attempt was successful times two, and I ended up with twins.
Along the way, my wife and I decided not to share with many family and friends that we were even trying to have another baby. Those who knew weren’t sure how to approach us and ask their questions, in fear they’d say or do the wrong thing. Moms like me who’ve gone through it have a few things to share with people who want to check in on their friends who are in the process of IVF.
IVF is a roller coaster of emotions — anxiety, fear, curiosity, hope. It’s scary. If donor sperm is involved, it is doubly scary. If a donor egg is involved, holy moly super-duper scary.
When friends want to show up and show compassion during the IVF process, finding the right words to say can be difficult. Here are a few ideas of what to say to your friend who is going through the IVF process.
“How are you doing?”
It’s a simple question with a (potentially) complicated answer. But your friend who is in the process of IVF wants someone to just ask, and if they are ready to share, they will — believe me.
“How is your body feeling?”
This one’s specific enough for the person to think about all that their body endures – which can be a lot. I chose to get acupuncture at some point during my IVF cycle, which helped tremendously.
“How can I help?”
Wait for the answer and be ready to truly listen. If you’re told “Please don’t ask me again about the process,” then do that; they may be tired of hashing out the medical details with partners and doctors and just want to talk about something else for a while. If you’re told, “Ordering takeout on the day of my retrieval would help a ton,” then do that. Just be a friend.
Sometimes it’s what your friend doesn’t say that speaks volumes; not everyone is comfortable asking for help. If they tell you they’re exhausted, just call in the takeout. Give them a comfy robe, a massage certificate, an aromatherapy candle, a latte. Make their lives a little easier even if they don’t specifically tell you what they need.
And then there are things you absolutely should not say, like:
“IVF is a one-and-done experience, right?”
Do not assume that everyone’s experience is the same, or that one IVF cycle will be their only one. More often than not, it takes more than one go at an IVF cycle to get pregnant; typically it takes a total of three IVF cycles before conception. Karen, a mom who went through both an IUI and IVF, shares, “I don’t think people understand the heavy toll that is involved with IVF. It affected me more than I anticipated on a physical level,” she says.
“Who is the donor?”
It is no one else’s business how your friend is going about the process, or why. Perhaps their husband or partner has a low sperm count and they’ll use donor sperm. Perhaps they are queer and chose to do IVF for medical reasons, no matter what; it’s personal.
When talking to a friend who is undergoing IVF treatments, it is no different than talking to a friend about any other topic. Your job is to be attentive and compassionate, to listen without being nosy and to support without judgment.
And to bring snacks, of course. Always bring snacks.