5 things NOT to say to IVF patients
IVF treatment is tough – and the best people to tell you that are fertility patients themselves. The simple truth is, unless you’ve had IVF treatment, you can’t fully understand the emotional upheaval patients go through. It’s very real and very hard. Life-changing. Friends and family are generally well-meaning, but they can still say the wrong thing at the wrong time. So based on our experience, and that of our patients, here are five things NOT to say to IVF patients.
1. How’s the treatment going?
Sounds like a fair question, right? Wrong, though it does depend on your relationship with that person. That question from a close friend or family member could be fine. But generally, IVF patients don’t want to provide a running commentary and won’t appreciate being asked for a progress report. If a treatment cycle works, they’ll tell you. But probably not till the 12-week mark. Or maybe after the 20-week scan. So until you’re told, bite your tongue and just be patient.
2. Keep trying – you’ll get there in the end.
That’s not for you to say. You mean well, but no. First, it’s the doctor or clinic, based on medical opinion and prognosis, who should say this. Second, asking fertility patients to keep trying shows a lack of empathy in what they’re going through. Third, saying they’ll get there eventually may offer false hope. Not all fertility patients succeed. Don’t give hope instead of support. There’s a big difference.
3. Why don’t you adopt?
It’s so easy to ask this. But IVF patients already know their options. They’ll resent you for asking this deeply intrusive question. Adoption may be something they’re considering but they don’t need you to point it out. It’s a solution in your mind, not theirs, so be wary of recommending parental choices. Suggesting adoption also shows a lack of understanding of other options open to IVF patients, including embryo adoption, donor eggs or surrogacy. The point is, try to avoid giving parenting advice or opinion. It could backfire.
4. Not having kids is okay.
Best not to say this to patients knee-deep in IVF cycles – particularly if you’ve got kids yourself. It also implies you already think they’ve failed or decided to stop having treatment. It’s not your call to suggest a child-free life is fine. It may well be, but it may also be the last thing a couple struggling with infertility wants to hear. Actually, they may never want to hear it. So be careful about looking into their future – they’re doing this themselves. On a daily basis.
5. You’re using a donor – really?
Many infertile couples consider donor eggs or donor embryos if IVF using their own eggs fails, or is unviable. Sadly, despite donor treatment becoming mainstream today, some people disapprove. Don’t be one of them. Show support, not surprise. Donor eggs and embryos are a wonderful way to start a family and, for thousands of couples, including us, the end of a long and painful fertility journey. Besides, how people choose to conceive is their business, not yours. Love their donor-conceived child as much as they do and you’ll remain firm friends.
To summarise, choosing the right words to say to couples going through IVF is a challenge. Personally, we think gestures are best. The best support we received was actually not from family and friends at all. We’ll never forget the kindly neighbour who asked us round for supper the night before we had to terminate our first pregnancy at 14.5 weeks gestation for medical reasons. (This contrasts with a family member who said “it was only an embryo” after that termination.) Or the female taxi driver who waived her fee after driving us back from hospital. Or the school friend who asked if he could call us every so often to check how we were.
Kind gestures matter the most. And if you’re not sure what to say, silence is not an option either. It’s a tricky juggling act. But whatever you do or say, think first and offer support when you can. Be kind and you can’t go wrong.