Fertility Support: Everything You Need to Know for Yourself and Others
Start with you.
You’ve likely heard the in-flight safety bulletin prior to air travel that instructs an adult to put on their own oxygen mask before helping children or others. It may seem cruel. Selfish, even. But it’s far from it.
Self-care is anything but selfish. It can come in the form of setting healthy boundaries in relationships, having clear communication or simply giving ourselves a break. As a fertility patient when we prioritize these things it helps us bring forward our best selves for every situation and makes the journey more supportive.
In this Egg Whisperer show, I share suggestions for patients and friends and family members of patients to help their fertility journey be one where they feel supported and loved.
My hope is that you’re able to apply this, no matter your situation, and find your fertility journey is better as a result.
Are you the fertility patient?
If so, consider this:
- Be direct with those you want to include in your fertility journey.
What kind of support do you want from them? Tell them! Instruct them. Make it easier for them to give you what you need.
Some questions to think through:
- Do you want to talk about treatments with the people in your circle of support?
- Would you like for there to be one person to support you in a specific way during the process?
- If yes, then what role do you wish that person to play for you? Be specific in thinking this through and identifying who that person may be. Talk to them.
To get what you need I recommend that you first identify what your needs are, and then specifically ask for it. We can’t expect friends or family to read our minds, and often they want to know how to be helpful. Feel free to also set parameters around what you don’t want help with too! This is all healthy to talk about.
2. Know that it’s perfectly okay to tell someone you don’t want to talk about it.
Sometimes the timing is off, or other times you just don’t feel like sharing. That’s okay. You don’t owe it to anyone to give them updates on your treatment or your fertility journey. Again, take care of your needs first!
3. Pick the group of people you share your journey with based on who will make you feel best.
You’ll need support. We all do. This is especially true with fertility treatment. Think wisely — choose who you share with after carefully thinking about the type of support they are likely to offer. Will they be able to make you feel loved and good about the process?
4. Create a safety bubble for yourself. This is your story and journey. You get to decide who you talk to and what you share with them. Don’t let the nosey aunt or judgmental cousin make you think otherwise. There will always be people that overstep boundaries and ask deeply personal questions, but it is okay to sidestep those questions and not feed into the drama they may be trying to stir.
5. Built your fertility TEAM.
TEAM stands for, Therapist, Exercise, Acupuncture, Mindfulness
Depending on your diagnosis, whether it’s PCOS, secondary infertility or a history of abnormal pregnancies, everyone is going to have a different team that they’ll need to support them through their fertility care. No matter the case, I always ask my patients to find a mantra or a superhero alter-ego that they can focus on to help them feel inspired. When you’re going through fertility care, it’s so important to find joy every day, so I always recommend building your fertility team with that in mind.
T is for Therapy: Since IVF can be emotionally challenging, it’s always good to have someone to talk to throughout the process. IVF can also make you more susceptible to depression and anxiety, especially if you have a prior history. It’s easy to find a therapist online these days — I often recommend an online platform called OOTify to find the perfect fit for you.
E is for Exercise: Try to get enough of it, mainly because exercise can help raise your serotonin levels to minimize anxiety and depression. Talk to your doctor about what they recommend for your particular situation. Eating well is also part of a healthy exercise routine, so remember: protein shakes, a Mediterranean diet, and healthy meal delivery kits to take the hassle out of making healthy choices.
A is for Acupuncture: Research has shown that fertility acupuncture has many benefits. A key advantage is that it helps to improve physical symptoms such as nausea and soreness in your belly. I’ve also seen that patients who continue acupuncture into their first-trimester experience less nausea and generally feel better.
M is for Mindfulness: Today, many apps can guide you through short meditations that help to clear and focus your mind on the present moment. Because there are so many unknowns in the IVF process, it can feel stressful. I always tell my patients to use mantras like “I’m going to be a parent one way or another.”
6. Make the time to do something unrelated to your fertility
It’s easy to feel like you’re in a fertility bubble when going through treatment. Each day can feel like it’s 100% about fertility. That may be true, but I encourage patients to consciously make an effort to break out of the fertility bubble. Do something — and it can be a little thing — that gives you a mental and physical break. What do you really enjoy that you could make time for outside of the fertility routine you’ve created? Do something every day! It could be going out to dinner, sharing a nice bottle of wine with your friends or partner.
7. Celebrate every win, no matter how small
Every experience, even though it may not involve a positive pregnancy test, is a learning experience that will guide you in the right direction. Practicing a positive mental attitude (PMA) is very important.
Life is too short not to celebrate every single success. I tell my patients that no matter what happens each experience is helpful and can be positive in the bigger picture of what your fertility journey is.
Are you a friend or family member of someone going through IVF treatment?
If you’re a fertility patient this is the section of the article that I want you to please share with your selected fertility TEAM.
Here’s my advice on how to be the best fertility TEAM member for your friend or loved one.
- Ask them how they would like to be supported.
Try not to assume anything. Go in with an open mind and let them lead you to provide the best care.
Do they want to talk about the treatment? Or perhaps they just want to be together and not talking about the treatment is what they need. Are there topics that are off-limits? Ask your friend what feels right for them.
I’d love to talk with you about this if you’re up for it.
Hey — want to go out? We don’t have to talk about fertility. Let’s just grab a bite to eat.
Hey if there’s anything at any time that I bring up that feels uncomfortable for you, can you just let me know that you don’t want to talk about it?
2. Don’t shy away from your friend just because you don’t know what to say.
If you jump in and say something heartfelt that will mean so much to them. It will strengthen your friendship.
A quote I try and keep in mind is, “You didn’t have to know what to do, but that didn’t mean you should do nothing at all.” I wish I knew who said this because it rings so true in fertility medicine.
Just saying something like, “Hey friend — I’m here for you no matter what’s going on right now. I’m here to listen or just hang out. Let me know how I can help.”
3. Come at the situation from a place of being curious.
You may ask, “Hey — how are you feeling?” If they don’t mention anything about fertility then please don’t probe. Be sure and take their lead on where they want to go with the conversation. If there is something they want to share with you, if they are a close enough friend then they will confide in you. It feels very uncomfortable for people to answer questions about topics that may be private.
4. Conversations around an IVF cycle that didn’t take are hard. Check-in with your friend to let them know you care.
If you’re able to do more than check-in that’s welcome too. Don’t feel like you have to fix anything for someone that’s going through a hard time. Giving them space to “just be” is often the biggest gift you can give them.
Just reach out and say, “Hey — I’m thinking about you.” That’s it!
5. If you’re really motivated and curious you can do research to better understand what your family or friend is going through.
Find out how the treatment works and dig in. Read up on the topic. However, don’t necessarily be the friend that shares that information. I can assure you that your family or friend already knows the diagnosis.
Try something like this instead, “Hey — I’ve done a lot of reading. Do you want me to share some of the information I’ve been reading?” If they say no then leave it there.
What I don’t like is when family or friends research and then send articles to their family and friends. That can be seen as insulting to someone who already knows everything about their diagnosis and much more than you. Also avoid telling someone to stop stressing. To relax. Or to chill. That is not supportive.
6. Be mindful that the friend going through treatment likely doesn’t want to talk about who else is having a baby.
When someone is under the care of a physician and gets outside advice from friends, family, or someone else suggesting they “try this” or sharing stories of their friend from college getting pregnant, it’s not helpful. While the intention may be good, it is best to avoid this type of advice as your friend is likely already doing their own research and already planning treatment options with their doctor.
7. If a friend declines to attend your baby shower and doesn’t want to talk about your pregnancy please let it be okay.
Please be empathetic and caring and welcoming. “I totally understand why you’re not coming to my baby shower. I wish you could be there, but I am excited for the day when I can attend yours.”
It is just an emotional thing to watch other people pass you by with the life milestones you were hoping to experience.
8. Do be the friend who shares about your journey if you are asked.
It’s a very lonely process to be going through fertility treatment if nobody opens up. If you experienced any struggles with fertility, then consider opening up and letting your friend know about your path. Often we feel so much better knowing we are not alone. Fertility topics are still not talked about as openly as they could be, but we (as a society) are making progress. Be part of the progress!
Here are five questions that you can ask a friend or family member that’s going through fertility treatment.
- What can I do for you?
- What do you need?
- How can I help?
- Can I bring you anything?
- Can I come with you?
This is a lot better than telling a person to relax or chill out.
This advice came from an incredibly wise patient of mine:
The best thing to do is not get offended during this time. Fertility awareness is a newer topic for people and we have to be accepting of people’s lack of knowledge about how to ask us about what is going on. If someone asks us a question in a way that triggers our emotions, we should step back and realize people don’t mean to offend. They just need to feel confident in their intuition about how to approach a touchy topic. This process is a way to bring people together, teach others, and bring new life into this world.
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