If you know someone going through IVF, it might feel tricky trying to tippy-toe around the issue. Here are some things I wish I could just come out and tell some of the people around me:
1. You don’t have to bubble wrap conversations, but be mindful of the kinds of things you say: She really does want to hear your stories about your children, but save the judgemental comments about how her life might be easier, or how she’s lucky she doesn’t have to worry about diapers and snacks, or how she would only understand if she had children. Childlessness is not her fuss-free choice, and her life may be filled with child-related experiences you know nothing about.
2. IVF is not anything like having “tried for a while”, and the physical, psychological and emotional journey is quite unlike anything you can ever fathom. If you haven’t done it yourself, hold back on the advice: I can’t speak for all IVFers, but listening to someone who has not done IVF talk about it based on Google and “a friend of a friend” is positively grating. Every journey is quite different because we’re all dealing with different fertility setbacks, drug combos and circumstances, and just because one person gave up gluten and got pregnant on the second try does not make it the way to go, even if you’re trying to be helpful. Many of us are also not just dealing with the physical toll IVF (especially multiple rounds) takes on the body, but also the effect it has had on our finances, relationships and even sex lives. I have done IVF six times, and every cycle affects me differently and leaves a different nightmare in its wake. Yes, you really don’t know anything about it, even if life might have sprung from your loins.
3. Ask if we’re ok – outside the baby making mission: In fact, too few people do, and it’s really so important because so many aspects of life get darkened by IVF’s horrible and long shadow. Ask how work is, how life is, how our husbands are. Share an easy recipe, tell us something funny or surprising. Suggest a movie, going for nails, any kind of distraction, and don’t bring IVF up unless we do. IVF might be a big piece of our lives, but it’s nice not to feel like that’s all life is, and that you’ve been reduced to your failed fertility.
4. Understand why we fall off the planet: IVF is a consuming process. First, there is the mental and physical prep for it, birth control to regulate the cycle, and giving up a lot of things we like – whether it’s coffee or alcohol or cigarettes or sugar. And then – and while trying to work and run a home – we have scans and shots and hold our breath as we will our battered eggs to grow while eating more egg and avocado than anyone should consume. And then there is the retrieval, more breath holding and praying while you’re seeing if you end up with anything to transfer, then the transfer, and then more breath holding to see if it takes. In the meantime, you’re hormonally, psychologically and physically whacked. It doesn’t make for the most social of company. If we turn down a well-intentioned dinner party invite it’s because we feel/look like shite and also may not want to cause awkwardness by asking for tap water and not eating your beautiful steak. It’s sometimes easier to hide.
5. We may not want to talk about any or all of it: Infertility is a story you don’t want to relive constantly in the telling. Most times when people ask about kids, I say oh I have a dog because she doesn’t talk back, or I say we simply don’t have kids yet and change the subject as elegantly as I can. I stay silent when friends muse about the downsides of older parenting and adoption. Close friends know if I’m having a day when I want to bitch, or if I simply want to talk about something else. The latter is always a safer place unless we bring it up first.
6. Don’t tell us to relax, go on holiday, have a drink, or have sex upside down: We. Have. Done. It. All. Hundreds of times.
7. Don’t bring up the cost: Failed IVF feels like going to the bank, drawing $20,000, and then setting it on fire. For many of us, repeated failed IVF and failed pregnancies have taken an unimaginable financial toll – one most of us probably cannot afford. We don’t view it as a choice, and certainly don’t need the reminder. And please don’t suggest that adoption might be an easier or cheaper option. It is actually neither.
8. There are days when talking, smiling, or behaving like a functional human being is near impossible. Sorry if we snap: It might be something as basic as a missing invoice or a broken plate, but I have grossly overreacted to situations on multiple occasions, including when my brain is on a hormonal trip, the two week wait when I am anxious about everything, and in the days, weeks and months after a failed pregnancy or IVF attempt. It’s the hormones, yes, but it also this ridiculous loss of control over our lives, our feelings, our bodies, and our futures that we feel. It is quite a horrible place to be. It feels like walking on broken glass.
9. If you’re lucky enough to be privy to an ongoing cycle, and nothing is being said about the progress, don’t ask: More often than not, when nothing is being said, it might be because there is no happy news to share, or that things are up in the air, or that we really just need the space. This process is really quite relentless: a positive pregnancy test could have lightened, HCG levels may not have climbed enough, I have been pregnant one day and not the next. Know that when there is something to tell, if you’re supposed to know, you will.
10. Tell us what’s going on with you: We may be going through a difficult personal situation, but we still love you and want to be there for you. Don’t change the friendship to “spare” us any agony. We might actually appreciate being able to do something positive for someone else and to continue to feel relevant and useful to someone. Let us in. Because we already feel like outsiders to ourselves.
Ok, I hope that hasn’t sounded like one long rant. It really isn’t. Some points might even sound like they contradict each other (welcome to the inside of my head). But if you’re going through IVF or supporting someone through it, I hope you’ll find something useful in there.