As I've opened up about my infertility journey, I often get asked how to support a friend or coworker who is going through treatments. I first want to acknowledge how to deal with this yourself and what I went through, and hopefully it will enable you to help a friend or coworker through these extremely difficult treatments.
Something that really surprised me before going through IVF was learning that several studies have shown that the stress caused by infertility is comparable to receiving a cancer diagnosis. In fact, Psychology Today states "Current research has shown that the stress levels of women with infertility are equivalent to women with cancer, AIDS or heart disease, so there is no question about infertility resulting in enormous stress." After going through the IVF process not once, but twice, it doesn't surprise me at all.
It's emotionally tolling because your whole life plan is now out of whack. Something that comes very naturally and easily to most people is now going to cost you thousands of dollars, and in our case, no guarantee of a baby.
I've shared before that the first thing I did when I found out I had to do IVF was google "How do I tell my boss I'm going through fertility treatments?" and I couldn't find anything! There are a lot of really brave women who share about the details of IVF, but what I'd like to do is go over how to support yourself and also how to support others throughout this journey as a working woman.
Figure out how to tell your boss
If you're going through IVF and working, you have to make your supervisor aware because you'll have a ton of appointments. After a lot of soul searching, I decided to simply meet with the CEO of my company and let him know I was undergoing some health treatments, and over the next few months I'd have appointments leading up to a surgery. He was gracious but didn't say much. Knowing how he'd acted about other people on my team having gone through difficult situations I didn't want to tell him much more than that, and it was the right choice. I didn't feel supported at all during this time and it was one of the hardest things I've ever gone through.
I've had other friends tell their bosses everything that was going on, but in those cases their boss was always a woman. My friend Moka covers a lot of good strategy ideas here about managing her chronic illness that also apply to how to handle fertility treatments and work.
Give yourself grace
This process is BRUTAL. I've never felt crazier in my life. Given that I actually don't have a fertility issue, but deal with a chromosomal problem, the drugs were especially tough. I like to help people understand by saying.... "imagine the emotional toll of PMS and multiple it by 1,000, and then it's almost as bad as shooting yourself up with drugs, taking pills, prepping for surgery, telling your family what's going on, watching your friends and family have babies all while spending thousands of dollars. And all while you're going to work every day!"
I remember walking back to my car after an especially tough day at work. That morning, none of my pants had fit me because I was so bloated. My ovaries were the size of grapefruits. I'd had a difficult client meeting and one of my employees was really struggling. I was in so much pain and bruised from my shots that morning. When I got to my car I couldn't find my keys! It was 7:30 and I was so ready to get home. And then I looked into my car and saw them sitting in plain view on my carseat. I couldn't believe my car hadn't been stolen! But I was so out of it I didn't even remember to lock my car. This entire process just forces you to be in survival mode.
Press Pause on Career Success
I wish I could go back in time and tell myself that my career progression wasn't important at this point in my life. I truly believe we have seasons for everything and this was not the season to be stressing about a promotion! But unfortunately, I'd just been promoted and was really struggling with the emotional weight of my personal life and the stress of the new role. Add to that issue that I was the only woman in my peer group in a really toxic environment and it was just too much.
I've since figured out that the path I was on was not one that was sustainable given how I was going to have to have children, and that family is my priority. This took years to come to terms with and it's still hard! Several of my friends have had to quit jobs while going through IVF, and I was hoping that wasn't going to be the case for me, but I was wrong. And that's ok! Sometimes life causes us to make tough decisions that end up paying off.
Fertility treatments are already so tough, so don't beat yourself up. Allow yourself to feel all of your feelings and recognize that they won't last forever. And get a therapist who specializes in working with those going through these issues. Mine saved me!
Now, for those of you who have friends or coworkers going through fertility treatments, here are my ideas on how to best support them.
Check in and listen
Almost everyone in my life was extremely supportive as I opened up about what we were going through, but like with anything difficult, I had a few friends and family members who didn't handle it well. I try really hard to remember that people who haven't gone through what I had don't know the right thing to say, and that's ok! But what helped me the most was being checked on.
I get asked CONSTANTLY "Britt, what do I say to my friend going through fertility issues?" and my response is always "Just check in! Ask them how they're doing!" It's my friends who disappeared who hurt me, not the ones who said something slighting insensitive. It's always better to reach out, even though there is no perfect thing to say.
Talk about other things
Infertility feels like it takes over your entire life, so while you should check in on your coworkers, let them know you're ok with talking about other things as well. Nothing made me happier than getting a funny video or text on the day of a procedure. It meant so much to me that my friends remembered who I was before I was longing to be a mother. Reminding your coworker what they're good at and being able to focus on their whole self is really important during this process.
And please, don't make this process any harder but reminding them how someone you know got pregnant after adopting, or that you got pregnant after trying for a few long months. This is about them and their issue and they don't need that kind of help. It's ok that you don't fully understand, just remind them that you're there for them!
Some helpful gifts and ways to reach out
I also get asked a lot about how to reach out to friends, coworkers or family and gifts are an easy way to let someone know you care!
Socks are a big thing in the infertility community, so getting a friend a special pair, or even just a fuzzy pair is so fun! There are tons of options on Etsy.
This book is SO sweet. My husband and I read it often as we were going through treatments, and I can't wait to read it to my little boy when he's old enough to understand. It doesn't mention any specific treatment, just a sweet story about two elephants longing to add to their family.
One of my sweet friends sent this package with Reeses eggs but the note meant so much to me! A sweet gesture like this can do so much during this time.
One of my oldest friends sent me a journal during our second IVF cycle and I loved being forced to find something to be grateful for!
I've shared before that I LOVE the company Bright Box, and my college roommates sent me this box during IVF. It made my whole week! The packages are so easy to send and really affordable too.
It means so much to me that anyone would ask my thoughts on this process, so if you are going through it yourself or are wanting to help someone else, feel free to comment or reach out to me! If I can help even one woman feel more empowered during this trying time, I will have fulfilled my purpose.
To read more about my background with infertility, click here.