Many couples spend years and huge sums of money trying to fulfil their dreams of falling pregnant. Coming to the realisation it won’t work is incredibly painful. Picture: iStock
Many couples spend years and huge sums of money trying to fulfil their dreams of falling pregnant. Coming to the realisation it won’t work is incredibly painful. Picture: iStock

How to support friends going through infertility

THOUSANDS of Australians are battling infertility. It's often a hidden fight - people don't want to burden their friends and family with their struggles.

But when they finally do share their story, others are often at a loss as to what to say; or worse, they say the wrong thing.

Below is a letter from an infertile couple who have finally decided to end their IVF battle. They've shared it in Liz Ellis's new book If At First You Don't Conceive, in the hope it will help other couples.


Hi everyone,

After a long discussion with [partner] and a lot of soul searching I have decided to let you know about a significant challenge we have recently been facing. We are unable to have children. IVF has proven to be a long, painful, expensive and heart-wrenching journey for us. The medical reality for people in our situation doesn't match up with the media portrayal that IVF is a cure-all. For us, it has not worked, for most people it does not work. This IVF journey has now ended.

Now, I'm not telling you this for sympathy, I'm telling you so you will hopefully understand why I sometimes might struggle to talk about babies. Mostly though I hope that it will put an end to jokes about "ticking clocks" and "leaving it too late" - for me, they aren't funny, they are hurtful. This situation is about no-one else, it is about us and I am so proud of how we have coped together through this and as much as I am devastated that this will not be our reality, I am very much looking forward to sharing my life with [partner] and having our own adventures together.

In these situations sometimes people are confused at what to do and truthfully, each person experiencing this probably wants something different. So if you would like to help me through this, here is what I would like and not like.

What I want and need from you is this - your love, understanding and support. I don't mean the kind of support where you feel you need to check on me 24/7 (we are OK and will be OK), just be there for me (and for [partner]) without judgment or assumptions.

All this means is, let's have normal-people conversations about normal-people things. Let's plan things to do together like normal. Don't feel like you have to get everything "right" but just take into account that this is a tricky time for me. We just need empathy, for you to not try and fix things, for everyone to accept that a s**t thing has happened for us and to help us imagine a different (still positive) future.

Specifically, the things that I do not want or need from you are:

Sympathy and platitudes: Hearing "sorry" or "you poor thing" is bloody awful and makes me feel worse. Hearing "everything happens for a reason" or "don't give up, keep trying" really underestimates the pain we are feeling and what we have been through.

Advice: Honestly we have heard it all! We have researched it all! And hearing "just keep trying" or "my best friend's neighbour's sister tried for 10 years then fell pregnant" is neither helpful nor a true indication of what we've been through or the medical reality for us. Unless you have a degree in reproductive medicine there is nothing you can say that we haven't considered. It also makes me feel like you are saying we haven't tried or are not committed. This is not a problem you can fix for us, so please, just sit with us and say, "Well, this is s**t."

Questions: It's never appropriate to inquire about the status of someone's uterus, so I hope you will understand that we don't need to discuss the whys and why nots of the situation. If we want to share something with you, please trust that we will come to you.

Avoidance: Please don't avoid us. I still want to hang out with my nieces and nephews (blood relatives or not) - kids are like crack for me - I still want to play with them and hear about their first steps or the fact they have done something crazy. Being an aunty has always been such a pleasure for me and while I am very sad about not being able to have my own baby, I truly hope that I can help you with your little people in my own ways. As for [partner], you only have to watch his eyes light up when he sees his nephew to realise that he is an awesome uncle.

All we want in the long-term is to feel like we have a bright future, with or without kids. The ending of our IVF journey is very fresh at the moment and is taking some time to grieve so please be gracious with us while we learn to imagine a different future for ourselves. I am not ashamed of our infertility; it's not a dirty little secret. I just ask that you are all respectful of the way we want to handle things.



Liz Ellis has detailed her infertility journey in her new book.
Liz Ellis has detailed her infertility journey in her new book.

This is an extract from If At First You Don't Conceive by Liz Ellis, published by Macmillan Australia, out April 24, $34.99.