To experience infertility can feel very isolating, especially if you don’t know how to talk about it with friends and family and haven’t found a support group. You have extra appointments with an entirely new doctor (a reproductive endocrinologist or “fertility specialist”), you may be on different medication, experiencing loss, going through failed IUI (intrauterine insemination) cycles or failed transfers during IVF (in vitro fertilization), or flipping through donor catalogs…all while being expected to go about your daily life in a regular fashion. What?! Through all the ups and downs of TTC (trying to conceive), it’s important to remember that you’re not alone–there’s a community of people who know what you’re going through.
In addition to your fertility journey, you have a life full of family members, friends, possibly a job, and maybe even a child. These people want to help, understand what’s going on, and be there to support you. Plus, you want to talk with someone about your fertility issues, right? But sometimes sharing too much or too little can make things harder. There is a struggle between wanting to tell your own experience to a loved one while also not having the energy to listen to their suggestions on how to fix whatever is happening in your life. Or the dreaded “if you just relax, you’ll get pregnant” comment. Ugh, I’m way too familiar with that one.
I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on my own fertility journey to best help others going through it too. I would love to share what I consider to be helpful boundaries, comments, and ways to find support in order to open up to the people in your life.
To start, I’ve put together a list of common groups of people you may encounter and how to deal with them.
Maybe you work in an office or you’re remote—either way you still have coworkers. Just because you spend a lot of time with them, doesn’t mean you owe them information about your life. Read that again! Your employer, boss, and coworkers basically need to know when you’ll be missing work. That’s it. I give you permission to not share any more than that…if you don’t want to.
When it comes to reproductive health, the biggest disruptions in work can come from juggling appointments at a fertility clinic, your fertility treatment schedules, or working through a pregnancy loss. If you know you’ll be missing some work, it’s best to communicate that in a simple way. In this case, I recommend something like this when notifying your team you’ll be out:
“I am healthy, and I have a benign condition that needs a minor surgery. I will be required to attend some check-ins before the surgery, which may mean I am late for work a couple of days, and then be off work for X amount of days for the procedure and recovery. I will keep you posted as the exact timing of the procedure comes up.”
It is important to start with “I am healthy” so that they don’t have to worry or give you the tilted head (that always signified pity to me).
Family & friends
Ok, so now that we have a game plan for work, let’s get a little deeper. Have you had a relationship permanently change for the worse because of something insensitive someone said? Did it make you shut down? I’ve been through this. It’s really hard because family and friends want to help and support you. They mean well, but their quick comments meant to be helpful can actually be hurtful. You don’t always have the energy to give them the details or show up to the tenth baby shower in a year with a big smile on your face. Sometimes the Cliff Notes version can even be too much! And that’s ok.
Boundaries are necessary in any healthy relationship. When you’re using all of your T.I.M.E.—Time, Investment, Mental Health, Energy—to grow the family of your dreams, it’s ok to guard yourself more! This includes scrolling and following friends on social media who might have just posted about their pregnancy announcement. And if you have healthy boundaries in place but still have that pesky loved one that can’t help themselves, I find this saying to be most helpful:
“I am actively working on trying to conceive, and when there is news I will definitely share it.” Just keep on repeating this if they keep asking questions. Even if they don’t get it the first time, they should get the hint after you say it twice.
If you want to, it’s also ok to share what you’re going through in a loving and direct manner, without giving away specifics. These simple steps can make such a difference in keeping the relationship strong, even when you’re having a hard time:
- Remind them how important they are to you and how thankful you are to have them in your life.
- Let them know this extraordinary journey you’re on has ups and downs, and sometimes it’s hard to manage.
- Share with them how confident you are this will happen. That you’ve decided you will be a parent and you’re working hard to be the healthiest, most mentally decluttered version of yourself you can be so when it’s time for your baby to show up, you’ll be ready.
- Let them know you’ll be sharing news when you can and thank them for their support.
If I was reliving my fertility journey, I would do this one very differently. You know what you need during your journey, but maybe you don’t understand what your partner needs. It’s simple: they need you to over-communicate. They need to be part of the journey and not left in the dark. But that’s easier said than done, right?
Here are some things I think are helpful to talk about with them: explain the physical side of your journey, what it feels like, what you’re going through emotionally, and remind them you don’t need answers, just someone to listen. Share your feelings and sadness. Anytime you are thinking or feeling about it, tell your partner. It can even be a simple text like this:
Share the feeling or thought and then add “Nothing to do about it. Just wanted to share. Can’t wait to see you later!”
Including them in the process will not only help them feel more involved, it will also bring you closer. Oftentimes they want to help in any way they can. Their side of this journey is often hard in a different way. They may feel helpless. They aren’t the ones going to the fertility center for every single appointment, or receiving fertility treatments physically inside their body with you. Give them a way to support and help by including them.
If you’re experiencing secondary fertility challenges, this can feel intimidating. Going through this journey while parenting a child, giving them love and attention? I have been there! Children are perceptive and want to be close to you, so they constantly watch what you do and listen to what you say. When I was waiting for my second child to show up, my son was old enough that we needed to give him some basic details.
I told him that I was putting a baby seed in my belly. We talked about how when we put seeds in the garden, sometimes they grow and sometimes they don’t. Same with the baby seed in my belly. This made it helpful for him to understand and gave him a concept he could grasp. I love telling people about this because I found it to be such a simple way to explain what he needed to know about our growing family.
Unfortunately, many of us on this journey have had to endure bad news–sharing it can be even harder. This is when I am a fan of writing instead of talking with someone in person, because it gives the other party time to process what you are saying. It also keeps you safe from any unintended, hurtful comments that may come your way.
You can start this letter with:
“I’m going to tell you something, but you have to promise you will only respond with ‘I’m sorry’ and a hug. And nothing else.”
Then simply communicate what happened. Let them know you’re ok, and you appreciate them listening and having them to share with.
Throughout this journey, I want to remind you that YOU are the most important person to take care of. Your wellness and well-being need to be prioritized. If you have someone in your life who needs consoling when you go through difficulty or who needs your support when you have a loss…that relationship may not be beneficial to you right now. Take time to declutter your life, so you can give love, energy and self-care to yourself. Allow yourself the space and grace to communicate, as you’re comfortable, with the people that you want to share your journey with.