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How to support someone going through fertility treatment

With infertility affecting up to one in six Australian couples of reproductive age, it’s likely someone you know has had a hard time getting pregnant.

But unless you’ve struggled with infertility yourself, it can be difficult to fully understand the huge emotional and physical toll fertility treatment can take on a loved one.

Often, feelings of isolation, anger, grief and hope are coupled with uncomfortable physical symptoms, too.

By educating yourself on how to support a friend or family member going through fertility treatment, you can make a big difference to their wellbeing in a difficult time.

Here’s our guide for how to support someone going through fertility treatment.

Know what *not* to say

Even in 2020, infertility is rarely discussed openly, so it can be hard to know what to say to support a loved one when they’re undertaking fertility treatment.

You might mean well with comments like:

“Relax and it will happen!”
“Take a holiday!”
“Have you tried…”
“You can have my kids if you like!”
“At least…”

But these statements are excellent examples of exactly what not to say!

With infertility affecting up to one in six Australian couples of reproductive age, it’s likely someone you know has had a hard time getting pregnant.

But unless you’ve struggled with infertility yourself, it can be difficult to fully understand the huge emotional and physical toll fertility treatment can take on a loved one.

Often, feelings of isolation, anger, grief and hope are coupled with uncomfortable physical symptoms, too.

By educating yourself on how to support a friend or family member going through fertility treatment, you can make a big difference to their wellbeing in a difficult time.

Here’s our guide for how to support someone going through fertility treatment.

Know what *not* to say

Even in 2020, infertility is rarely discussed openly, so it can be hard to know what to say to support a loved one when they’re undertaking fertility treatment.

You might mean well with comments like:

“Relax and it will happen!”
“Take a holiday!”
“Have you tried…”
“You can have my kids if you like!”
“At least…”

But these statements are excellent examples of exactly what not to say!

They may be considered insensitive, and unhelpful, by someone going through fertility treatment – including Cara, who experienced infertility for five years before welcoming a daughter last year.

“‘Relax! Oh, relax and it’ll happen, just go on a holiday and relax’ — I’ve had plenty of comments like that,” she told ABC Life.

“The whole process of trying to conceive is not a situation you are able to relax about.

“And it’s not what the medical advice is. A doctor won’t just say, ‘Take a holiday, get a dog’.”

With this in mind, it’s important to try and be mindful of your conversations with your loved ones.

Understand that fertility treatment is an emotional and stressful process

One study of 200 couples seen consecutively at a fertility clinic found that half of the women and 15 per cent of the men said that infertility was the most upsetting experience of their lives.

In addition to the huge time commitment, and emotional toll of fertility treatment, things like medication side effects, money worries, and uncertain outcomes can all contribute to infertility-related stress, too.

How couples, and women and men individually, manage the emotional toll of fertility treatment can be very different.

This is something Fertility SA’s counsellor, Rebecca Kerner, spends a great deal of time focusing on with her patients.

“It’s one of those things that’s quite challenging for couples going through treatment, as we [men and women] do have different ways of managing it,” she explains in ‘The emotional battle of infertility’ podcast.

“Part of my work is making sure that couples understand that although their feelings are different, they’re both ok.”

Try and remember that your loved one might not have as much emotional or physical energy when she’s in treatment as she did before – and might seem fine one day, but wobbly the next.

Ignorance is not bliss

Sadly, the topic of infertility is still considered ‘taboo’ by some, meaning that many couples dealing with infertility suffer in silence.

Other people might be worried about saying the wrong thing to a loved one, which prevents them from saying anything at all.

If you don’t know what to do or say to support a loved one seeking fertility treatment, Rebecca recommends something as simple as: “I’m worried about getting this wrong, but I’d really like to support you. What can I do to help?”

“Take your lead from the person/s undergoing the treatment,” Rebecca explains.

“This allows people to think for themselves, and identify what they think would be helpful.”

Check-in, and listen if they want to talk

Being an active and mindful listener can make a big difference to someone going through fertility treatment. Listening and validating your loved ones’ feelings of sadness and need to grieve – without offering unsolicited advice – can have a positive impact on their wellbeing.

Cara believes it’s best to ask whether your loved one is ready to discuss their fertility struggles before launching into questions, by saying something like: “I’m here for you. Do you want to talk about it?”

“Then, even if at the time they don’t want to talk about it, they at least know they have a family member or friend who is happy to talk about it when they’re ready.”

Becoming a good ‘active’ listener takes practice – Beyond Blue’s ‘When to talk vs when to listen’ guide is an excellent resource to help strengthen your listening skills.

Social events can act as a trigger

At times when sadness or frustration are particularly raw, give your loved one permission to opt out of social events where they might feel more vulnerable.

Events like baby showers and baby birthday parties can act as a trigger for someone going through fertility treatment. You should still invite your infertile friend to the event — but approach the invitation sensitively, and make it clear they don’t need to attend if they’re not feeling up to it.

Talk about non-baby related things

Remind your friend that they do not need to put their life on hold while seeking treatment for fertility issues.

Their identity is not defined by infertility – infertility is just a chapter in their book, not the entire book.

So, encourage them to take that promotion, buy that house, and keep up with other hobbies they enjoy.

“Infertility can become all consuming, so, just having your mind around other things that you could do might support you in going through treatment,” said Rebecca.

Creating South Australian families

If you haven’t been successful in conceiving naturally, or you would simply like to find out about your fertility health before you start trying to conceive, we’re here to help.
Call Fertility SA on (08) 8100 2900, to make an appointment with one of our specialist doctors.

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