How to support a friend or colleague going through fertility treatment

If you know a friend, loved one or colleague going through fertility treatment, here is some advice to help you offer them your sensitive and sincere support. 

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Trying to conceive is not a process to be taken lightly. Research shows that around 90% of people who struggle with fertility also experience symptoms of depression. So it’s vital that people undergoing treatment feel loved and supported both at home and at work.

If you know a friend, loved one or colleague going through fertility treatment, here is some advice to help you offer them your sensitive and sincere support. 

Don’t assume anything. Always ask.

You will never know exactly how your friend or colleague feels towards particular events or situations. They might not even know how they feel until they get there. So don’t assume you know what’s best for them. Always check first, just to be safe and considerate.

For example, if you or somebody in your office is pregnant, your friend may or may not want to go to the baby shower. If they’re having a particularly tough day, they may or may not be up for a picnic in the park with all of your friends and their kids. But never assume either way. Be there for them as they make their own choices based on how they’re feeling day by day.

Be sensitive to things they might have seen on social media 

Your friend or colleague is likely to feel a big mix of emotions when they see pregnancy announcements or gender reveal pictures from your team or friendship group on social media: happiness, excitement, wistfulness, guilt, jealousy, and then guilt at their jealousy. They might also be impacted by big news stories featuring celebrities’ fertility struggles or miscarriages. It’s a rollercoaster and the best thing you can do is be there for them.

When you see a pregnancy post, gender reveal post or story online that you know they will have seen, check in with them. Let them know you’re there if they need anything.

Get to know your cycle – it will help you know when and how to support them during theirs

If your friend or colleague is in the Two Week Wait (TWW – the 14-day period in between intercourse or insemination and testing for pregnancy) they will likely need distraction. It can be an anxious time. Movies, a mid-morning coffee, a lunchtime walk in the sun, an activity after work, their weekly food shop… anything they want to do that you can accompany them on is helpful. The anxiety can hit at the strangest of times, so having friends nearby for support during this period (especially during the working day) can be a real help.

Secondary infertility is very real. Be there for these friends.

It’s widely acknowledged that NHS fertility provision is patchy at best, exclusionary at worst. It’s a postcode lottery, and in many CCGs you cannot access treatment unless you are in a stable relationship and under a certain age and BMI. But very little attention is given to the exclusion of people who already have a child and are experiencing secondary infertility. Anyone who is already a parent but is struggling to conceive again has little to no hope of accessing NHS treatment, even if it’s their first time in the system.

This is a big but very ignored aspect of the fertility sector. People experiencing secondary infertility can often feel overlooked and forgotten. Their pain is invalidated every time they hear “but you already have one child” or “at least you have one!”. Be there for these friends. They need you more than you know. 

Remember that infertility and perinatal loss has the devastating effect of robbing you of joy

Starting a family can be a journey of joy. For some, it can be a journey of grief. Your friend or colleague may have gotten that promotion, but because they’re not pregnant it doesn’t matter to them as much as it may have before. They might finally be pregnant but feel terrified every time they go for a scan. The small moments of that those who conceived easily get to experience are just not the same for someone who’s had to fight to get there. Remember that – and remember to check in on your friend at critical moments of the conception and pregnancy journey, to remind them that you’re there with them every step of the way. 

Know that sometimes all you can do is be there

Unless you’ve been through the process yourself, it’s impossible to fully understand what it feels like to struggle with your fertility. So offering advice will rarely help. Sometimes, all you can do is be there for your friend or colleague in whichever way they need you that day. 

Every single cycle that ends in a negative pregnancy test will be an emotional trip: hopeful, expectant, anxious, devastated. Your friend may just want to take a nap or take some time off work – and that’s ok. Sometimes all you can do is give them the time they need – and a comfortable lap for them to lay their head on whilst they rest and prepare for the next cycle.

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