In their 2010 study, "Psychological Aspects of Infertility," researchers Prasanta Kumar Deka and Swarnali Sarma note that infertility has emotional consequences, "such as anger, depression, anxiety and feelings of worthlessness." Supporting a friend through "failed" in vitro fertilization, therefore, involves understanding the emotional vulnerability that comes with unsuccessful fertility treatments.
Define with your friend what she has lost because of her unsuccessful IVF. The National Infertility Association explains that complex loss comes with failed IVF treatment and couples need to acknowledge that they may never be parents. Assisting a friend in defining this loss and helping her say out loud that she may never have a baby with her hands or her partner's smile is the first step in healing.
Empower your friend to admit feeling like a failure and help her regain her self-esteem. The pressure to conceive is felt most significantly by the woman who has been unable to have a successful pregnancy. Language such as "failed IVF," and "miscarriage," imply that there was a choice to pass or carry differently. These word choices, combined with pressure from partners and families, chip away at self-esteem. Reassure your friend that there is nothing she could have done differently and alert her to the levels of pressure she has undertaken in the quest to have a baby.
Avoid minimizing the loss associated with unsuccessful IVF, which would suggest a lack of understanding for your friends situation. Saying to a friend that at least she will be able to travel now, or get a good night's sleep belittles her experience. Societal norms make it uncomfortable to sit with sadness; our instinct may be to lighten things up.
Stay present. Avoid talking about alternate ways to have children or substitutes, such as getting a pet, when your friend is trying to process her loss. These can be very insulting when your friend has undergone significant medical testing and treatment. Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Beth Jaeger-Skigen, recommends focusing on creative ways to grieve the current loss. She suggests activities such as encouraging your friend to express her feelings through journaling or helping her plant a memorial garden, if she's experienced a miscarriage.
Help your friend understand that she is not alone in her journey. Connect her with women who have experienced the same roller coaster journey with unsuccessful IVF. Help her call her infertility office and ask about support groups or one-on-one connection with other couples in a similar situation.
- There is no time limit on grief associated with unsuccessful IVF, so be patient.
- If your friend appears to be very depressed, please seek outside help as soon as possible.
Cate O'Reilly, who holds a Masters degree in social work, has worked with HIV widows and orphans in Zambia, chronically ill children in Ireland and maternal/child health in America. She has contributed to newsletters, developed protocol manuals and curriculum for education and public health forums.