Helpful Things to Say to A Loved One Going Through Fertility Treatments

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Fertility treatments are notoriously arduous and emotionally taxing. For Nina A, 33, it wasn’t only the anguish of two rounds of unsuccessful intrauterine insemination (IUI) treatments that left her tired and disheartened, but also the physical stress and bruises caused by daily injections. 

And during her final in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) attempt, the stress continued: “I was excited when I was told 19 oocytes (developing eggs) had been extracted from my ovary – but then we realised only nine were of a good size. Later, we found out that only two had passed the five-day fertilisation stage, as the others had stopped fertilising. I was anxious because it meant we were left with only two viable chances – and if both failed, I would have to go through the whole process again.” 

Fortunately, the first of two eggs from Nina’s IVF treatment was successful, resulting in the birth of a healthy baby boy. The second egg remains in an incubator – should Nina and her husband want to try for a second baby.

According to Qi Zhai-McCartney, a therapist with Alliance Counselling, even contemplating IVF is a form of loss, a legitimate type of grief. “Those facing infertility often grieve the life that they imagined having: the ‘easy’ blissful conception process that others have – or at least what they show on Instagram – [has been replaced] with the compromises they have to make in their life.”

And if you find it difficult to find the words to comfort someone going through fertility treatments, you’re not alone. “Socially, we don’t have the vocabulary to describe it,” says Qi. “It is actually a form of grief that isn’t associated with a physical loss like a death of a loved one, or a major life event like a disease diagnosis.”

fertility treatments
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So what can comfort a loved one? Here are five phrases that you can start with.

“I can’t imagine what you’re going through, but I’m here to support you.”

Acknowledge that you may not fully understand their experience, but emphasise your willingness to stand by them. 

Although Nina did not face any insensitive comments, she understands that not many people have knowledge on fertility treatment. “I appreciate those who ask and genuinely want to learn. I’d rather that, instead of talking behind my back and making their own assumptions.”

You can also show empathy and compassion by acknowledging the difficulty of their situation. “If someone has gone through a setback or a loss, treat them as though they’re grieving the death of a loved one, because that’s what it might feel like for them,” advises Qi. 

“I will keep checking in on you. Will you let me know if you’d rather I stop asking?”

As they may need time to process their own feelings, your friend may not always be in the mood to talk or explain. So when it comes to discussing difficult or sensitive topics, it is always best to ask for permission. 

Ask the person what they are comfortable disclosing, and when they want to be left alone, such as “I want to be supportive to you during this time. May I ask about your treatments?” and “If you’re tired of talking about it, just know that I’m always available to chat when and if you need someone to listen.”

“Is there anything specific I can do to support you right now?”

Offer practical help or assistance based on their needs, whether it’s accompanying them to appointments, helping with chores, or providing emotional support. 

Nina suggests for loved ones to take over the mental load of day-to-day life. “During the two-week waiting period after insemination, I appreciated my partner helping with chores so I could rest fully,” she says.

Offering to “be there” for them can be lovely, too. Qi suggests offering to attend an appointment with them (the waiting periods for scans and blood tests can be especially long), or making a care package. 

“If you know your friend is going through a period of sadness and frustration, put together a basket of things they like, be it chocolate or books,” she says. “Ask about her energy levels and match an activity to distract her from her worries – be it fun activities, a movie date or a spa outing.”

“How are you feeling today?”

This opens the door for them to share their emotions without imposing your own opinions or advice. Respect their privacy and let them control the narrative of their fertility journey. Some may prefer to keep details private, while others may appreciate a listening ear. 

A kind reassurance was also important for Nina to hear, as it validated her decision to undergo treatment. “Hearing that they are proud of us for not shying away from getting treatment, and trying – by all means – to be pregnant, was good,” she says.

“It’s okay to feel a range of emotions. Take your time to share as much or as little as you’re comfortable with.” 

If your friend can’t quite describe what she’s going through, or even apologise for “rambling”, you can validate her feelings and reassure her that it’s normal to experience a mix of emotions during fertility treatments.  

When you’re out of words, do some research

After undergoing arduous treatments, your friend may simply not have the energy to talk about her feelings and educate you about the processes. Often, they are learning as they go too! 

With supportive communities now available on the Internet, you could find a local group of people – such as the Fertility Support SG group – who are going through the same thing your friend is. 

By educating yourself through online talks with experts and reading through forum threads, it may give you insight into what your friend is experiencing. 

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What not to say and why

Qi, who has shared many tips online about navigating the fertility journey, gives us five common statements that friends tend to make and why they should be avoided.

  1. “Relax, it’ll happen when you least expect it”/“Just stop stressing about it.” These can dismiss the complexity of fertility issues and its emotional journey.  
  2. “Maybe you’re trying too hard”: Implying that their efforts are the cause of their fertility challenges may add unnecessary pressure and guilt.
  3. “Just adopt”: Suggesting adoption as a quick fix can minimise the emotional and physical toll of fertility treatments, as well as the personal choices involved in family planning.
  4. “It’s all in God’s plan”: While meant to offer comfort, this phrase can be insensitive, especially to those who may not share the same religious beliefs or are struggling with feelings of unfairness.
  5. “Have you tried [insert alternative method]?” Offering unsolicited advice on alternative treatments may come across as dismissive of the medical advice they are already receiving.
  6. “I know someone who got pregnant right away”: Comparing their situation to someone else’s success story may unintentionally heighten feelings of inadequacy or failure.