A bunch of friends who are also going through/have gone through fertility treatment have contributed to this list. Some of my points are more relevant for single people who don’t have a partner supporting them and sharing the journey. I’ve found that I wanted to be much more public about my IVF than most of my coupled friends (hello, I’ve written a bloody blog about it!), and this is largely due to the fact that I didn’t have that one special person to share the ups and downs with. Also, I tried to make a point of reaching out for support, which meant having to talk about it openly. Obviously everyone is different, and what works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another. I can only suggest that, if in doubt, ask what the friend needs, and then respect their answer.
1) Ask them how they are.
Some people decide they don’t want to be asked about the IVF stuff. If this is the case, it doesn’t mean don’t check in on them at all, it just means they don’t want to be asked directly about the IVF. There’s no definite right and wrong here, but instead, try “How’s your week been?”, or “How are you holding up?” or something. This gives people the space to talk about it if they want, and also reminds them that even if you’re not talking about it together, you’re still aware they’re going through it and are thinking of them.
2) Do your own reading on the IVF process.
[Read my blog post “A Dummy’s Guide to IVF”!] One queer I know said she told a close friend she was starting IVF and the friend just said, “What’s that?”, and then brushed it off and started talking about something else. It helps the person going through IVF if their close friends show some active interest and have a bit of a grasp on the enormity of what they’re going through, so if you don’t know much about IVF have a quick google. One or two people said they just wanted to let me decide how much I wanted to tell them about it all. The sentiment was nice, and to a certain extent I was happy to educate my friends about what was going on, but it meant they were relying on me to educate them each step of the way, which got tiring. If you’ve done a bit of reading about the stages of IVF you will understand the significance of each little success or heartbreak along the way, and then you can help your friend celebrate or commiserate where appropriate, which is the best support you can give.
3) Offer to go to appointments with them.
Some of my friends did this and it made the daily grind of ultrasounds and blood tests and injections a little bit less lonely. Plus it felt really great when my butch friends sat with me in the waiting room and finally gave me some queer visibility A fellow queer blogger suggested I add being cooked for or looked after in some other way as being another awesome way for friends to support you, especially after one of the horrible procedures like the egg collection or a laparoscopy.
4) Hold off* on unsolicited advice.
It’s usually not useful. Or wanted. “A friend of a friend of mine got pregnant using ___(insert name of herb, meditation course, or magical cure-all acupuncturist).” “You should do more yoga.” “You should do a detox.” “Just stop worrying about it and it will happen.” “Are you sure you want a baby? They’re hard work, you know.” “Maybe you should think about changing donors.” “Maybe you should think about adopting.” Maybe you should fuck off.
Trust that your friend has spent PLENTY of time reading and researching this stuff, and that whatever decisions they’re making, they are the best decisions for that person at that time. Whether this means respecting their choice to only eat purple cabbage for the next three weeks, or whether this is trusting that they really DO need to lose three kilos to improve their fertility, try to avoid judgement on these decisions and just stick to being supportive. NB: being told that you’re stressing out too much about your diet, for example, can end up feeling like your OTT nature is being blamed for your infertility. Which obviously isn’t helpful!
*One friend I consulted said she actually liked hearing success stories to keep her morale up, and also that she often found information-sharing to be really useful. I guess the trick with any of these tips is to tread carefully, and to try and gauge whether the advice is wanted or not.
6) DON’T ask “Are you pregnant yet?”
(And don’t get all excited and assume someone is pregnant simply because they’ve stopped drinking or something.) Likewise, questions such as “And when do you find out if it’s worked?” asked only days after starting the IVF drugs, or “any updates??” the day after the egg transfer, or the blanket “any news?” are all really painful questions to have to field. As a friend pointed out, these questions are really outcome-focused, as opposed to being supportive of the entire process. She said: “Of course that’s all you want too—the pregnancy. And the friends asking these questions would love nothing more than to celebrate with you. But the IVF process is a series of slow as fuck hurdles and happy/heartbreaking roller coaster discoveries along the way, and you don’t get much time to revel in one small success before the next set of doubts and physical challenges are presented.”