What do you talk about when you talk about IVF?
February 1, 2016 6:11 PM   Subscribe

A friend recently told me that he and his wife will likely be starting IVF soon. I didn't know what to say and felt quite awkward. I've figured out how to talk with friends about being pregnant, but how do you make polite conversation about IVF?
posted by kayram to Human Relations (23 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Ask your friend! Seriously. I had a friend who, when he and his wife started going through this process, talked to me about it, and after a few days of wondering to myself exactly like you're doing, I up and asked him if it was okay for me to ask questions about it (not intimate questions, but "how's it going?" questions), or if I should wait for him to bring it up, and like that. I was glad he told me and I let him know that, too.
posted by rtha at 6:19 PM on February 1, 2016 [3 favorites]

What's worked for me is pretty much the same thing I'd say to anyone trying to get pregnant by any method: "good luck, I hope you're successful!"

No need to discuss their medical procedures, just as there is no need to discuss their sex life.
posted by easily confused at 6:20 PM on February 1, 2016 [13 favorites]

I try to take the positive approach, sort of like, wow, that's really exciting, you could be holding your child in your arms soon etc, I can't wait to hear your good news. Treat it like the wonderful potential it is rather than looking on it as a tragedy that they can't get pregnant naturally. I wouldn't really think he expects you to have an in depth conversation about it, he's more giving you a heads up as to what's going on in their life.
posted by Jubey at 6:22 PM on February 1, 2016 [4 favorites]

IVF can involve some very stressful and painful procedures. If it were my friend, I'd ask him how they (he and she) were doing periodically (in addition to being congratulatory about starting the process, etc.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:29 PM on February 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

It can depend upon how well you know them, why they're telling you, etc. At the outset, I would just say, "best of luck and let me know if you guys need anything."

If it's a close friend, you can also ask them, "how much support do you want? I'm here to listen if you want that or I can be your non-IVF friend (I always had one non-IVF friend who I knew understood that I wanted to talk about anything but IVF.")

Be prepared for some roller coasters of news and for the process to take a while.
posted by tafetta, darling! at 7:24 PM on February 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

When my wife and I went through IVF over several years, all we wanted to be asked were the most general and innocuous questions. That is, after it failed the first time. Anything else was just to painful.
posted by OmieWise at 7:31 PM on February 1, 2016 [7 favorites]

Periodically I ask my friends, "is there anything you want to share about how the ivf is going lately?" It allows me to raise the topic and show that I care while giving them a polite way to completely shut down the topic should they want to.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 7:31 PM on February 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

People have really different comfort levels when it comes to talking about this stuff. When I was going through IVF I wouldn't have minded questions about the medical details or how I felt about the process. I probably wouldn't even have minded if you had asked me how much it cost and how I was paying for it, or why I needed it. But if you want to be sure not to offend, you obviously want to stay away from questions like that.

Now that you know one couple doing IVF you have a safe response to use with different people in the future. "Oh yeah, I know someone else who did that/is doing that. [Insert not-too-personal info about the other couple's experience if you have any.]"

You could always say something along the lines of "Isn't it great that this option is available nowadays? So many people are having babies with IVF who wouldn't be able to have them otherwise."

It would probably be safe to say something like, "I hear that can be a pretty stressful process. [Insert something sympathetic.]"

You could also ask about the doctor they're using - whether it's someone nearby or if they have to travel for appointments. After they've started the process, you could ask how they like the doctor.
posted by Redstart at 7:55 PM on February 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

My go tos are, "I hope it goes well! I'll keep my fingers crossed/pray for you" (depending on the relationship) and then later when hearing complaints about how hard/miserable it is (because it is!), "Wow, that is really tough, you guys are troopers. I'm holding the good thought."
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:56 PM on February 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

When I was going through it, the best response I got from a friend I told is: "Thanks for sharing. Let me know how I can support you."

Everyone's different. I told people sparingly because after approximately 5 minutes I wanted to punch everyone who told me to "think positive!" or "relax!"
posted by frumiousb at 9:07 PM on February 1, 2016 [11 favorites]

(And I for sure wouldn't try to relate from your own experiences unless you've done IVF. Most of us who had IVF know at least one person who did the whole "I know *just* how you feel! It took me 6 months with our third!" response. Don't be that friend.)
posted by frumiousb at 9:09 PM on February 1, 2016 [8 favorites]

It would probably be safe to say something like, "I hear that can be a pretty stressful process. [Insert something sympathetic.]"

I'd stick with something like this. We had people say "Congratulations" and "That's so wonderful, how exciting". I'd had two miscarriages, was bloated to twice my size and felt like bursting into tears at any given moment from the hormones, not to mention the roller-coaster of hope and disappointment. Congratulations wasn't even on the same planet as me and excited hadn't been on my radar for 12 months.

Since we've taken a break, we've raised it with more people and the best responses have been along the lines of gentle questions about how we're holding up and what we've done so far, rather than focusing on the potential outcomes of the procedure. The fact is at this point in time we're very unlikely to have children and IVF hasn't made a difference for us. Frankly, that's not something I want to be congratulated about.

Other things to avoid:
-- have you tried this natural medicine? (basically if you're at the IVF stage where you're doing some really drastic things, you're well beyond this realm)
-- I hear accupuncture helps! (they are still studying the effect of accupuncture -- they know it helps with pain relief, the evidence for conception is not yet convincing)
-- you need to stop getting stressed -- it will stop you getting pregnant so you really need to relax!
-- oh I know someone who stopped IVF and then they got pregnant!
-- just keep trying! You'll get there! (yes and I have untold $$$ and energy and did you know after a certain number of cycles the chances drop dramatically?)

The fact that you're even asking though suggests that you're never going to ask/say something like that. Stick with questions and empathy and you will be fine.
posted by prettypretty at 9:20 PM on February 1, 2016 [16 favorites]

We did many, ultimately successful, but harrowing rounds. We told people but it became distressing when people kept asking us how it was going. Particularly after a loss or negative.

What a lot of people don't realise is that there are no guarantees of success. So you can spend $100k like we did, and may not end up with a baby. It's like a marathon but you don't know if there actually is a finishing line.

Give hugs, if they want them. Tolerate their moodiness, withdrawal, ebullience and all the shades of human emotion in between. Babies and visible pregnancies caused me enormous pain to hear of and be around for a long time.

Be patient. Make statements of support and openness. Don't ask questions. Just say, "I'm here for you. If you can think of anything I can do or not do, or get others to do or not do, please tell me."

Don't ever speak about it as if it's inevitable that a baby will happen...or won't happen. Nobody knows. Acting one way or the other diminishes the struggle or destroys hope.

Expect them to sound rational and reasonable one day and utterly insane and incoherent at others. It's not just the hormones. It's the diabolical stress. It's terrible for friendships, marriages and careers.

You're a lovely person for asking this. I wish my dearest, ex, friend had done similar recognisance.
posted by taff at 9:41 PM on February 1, 2016 [3 favorites]

Treat it like they said, "we're about to undergo a very stressful and costly series of medical procedures with no guarantee of success." Other people have filled in the details much better than I could, so I'll just share a link to a blog where someone recounts her IVF journey. That link goes to the beginning of a story that includes multiple IVFs and IUIs. With the important caveat that everyone is different, reading one person's story might help you start to figure out what kind of conversation would best fit your specific friendship.
posted by salvia at 10:42 PM on February 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

OMG.... Not meant for you, you seem to be a genuine friend who is trying to be supportive. But to every else who may read this thread... Please DON'T tell the couple to "relax and it will happen". Don't tell them about your cousin who got pregnant after they adopted. Yes, that happens.... But people going through infertility treatments have done everything. You just may not know about it. You wouldn't tell a cancer patient or a person with diabetes to "relax". I'm not fussing at the OP, as a former infertility person, I just wanted to throw that in here. It's a medical condition...it needs treatment. Sometimes it's absolutely heart wrenching. Be present, be supportive, be helpful and never say "just relax!" Ugh!!
posted by pearlybob at 11:24 PM on February 1, 2016 [10 favorites]

how do you make polite conversation about IVF?

This part of your question makes it sound like you don't consider this person a really close friend, are not interested in getting closer, and are mostly looking for a way to be responsive to their conversation without being a jerk.

(That's fair! You don't have to be close friends with everybody!)

I think the answer to this is to follow his cues, don't insert your own biases, feelings, ignorance into the conversation, and also don't get into deeper follow up questions that imply you're looking to be a more significant source of support than you want to be.

I think the fact that he mentioned this to you, in what sounds like not the context of a super close friendship, indicates that he is comfortable and looking to talk about this in a less intimate/closely held way, maybe as part of his process of de-escalating emotions or de-stigmatizing the process, or maybe just because that's how he naturally approaches things like this. So just because to you this feels like a Big Disclosure requiring something Different from ordinary human interaction norms, does not mean it's the case to him.

Something like, "Wow, I hear that can be rough, I hope everything goes as well as possible, best of luck!" could be a good place to both start and end the conversation, indicating that you've heard what he had to say, have a human empathetic response to it, and that you don't need it to be the beginning of a Thing.
posted by Salamandrous at 4:58 AM on February 2, 2016

Don't assume the wife wants/will want to talk about this with you at all, even if your friend does. If she brings it up, fine, but even if he does in front of her, I'd be a bit reticent and very open to the topic changing abruptly. (And actually, that goes for him too. Sometimes one gets deeper into a vulnerable conversation than one can handle being, and the only thing to do is bail.)
posted by teremala at 5:34 AM on February 2, 2016

Typically when someone I'm not so close to says something like that to me, I'll ask back, "That's a big move, how do you feel about it?" That gives them an opening to say whatever. This person shared this information with you for a reason and they don't want congratulations or assurances.

Let them say whatever they want to say about it, and then respond appropriately. I usually say, "That's intense, I wish you all the best. I'm here if you want to talk."

There's nothing more to say really. Don't ask how it's going, even if there's a positive, the couple may want to wait until after the first trimester to share their news.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:05 AM on February 2, 2016 [3 favorites]

I like Ruthless Bunny's approach!
We had two artificial inseminations which went fairly well, once we figured out the way that worked best for is. Before we did, it was a bit harrowing.

I told a lot of people we were having an IVF, basically whenever they asked how I was (and wanted a serious answer). My motivation was that I didn't want to feel like there was a stigma on it. Like it was this big deal that made people nervous to talk about. It was the main thing going on in my life and I wanted to be able to talk about it, danmit! I mentioned it conversationally and liked it best when people responded in kind. I even welcomed natural curiosity: "wow, big step!"
"And what's that like?"
"Friends of mine did that."
Depending on the conversation even "so how are the chances of success with IVF?"
Basically, I liked being treated as the expert on my IVF, but didn't like being pitied.
posted by Omnomnom at 11:21 AM on February 2, 2016

And no, better not ask how it's going. That's like asking how the job search is going. If you came off like a good-person-to-talk-to, they'll tell you by themselves.
posted by Omnomnom at 11:28 AM on February 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

Having been through fertility treatments, "good luck!" is a positive, innocuous response that lets them know you are supportive. If you know the person well, you can tell them that you're there for them if they need anything.

I would never take the conversation further than that unless they keep going, for the many reasons other people have mentioned above. Infertility can be a very personal, very intimate topic.

While we were going through the process, and then later through a worrisome pregnancy filled with complications, it helped to speak with people who had been down a similar road, and had come through it okay. You are not that person. Which is fine, of course. But your lack of personal experience may make it difficult for them to speak about what's going on in any depth. And seconding pearlybob, I would not offer links to blogs or reassurances like "relax and it will happen." Ever. Infertility can be caused by many, many different conditions, and is equally likely to be a result of male factor infertility as female.
posted by zarq at 3:07 PM on February 2, 2016

Has the friend mentioned why the couple is doing IVF? Something else to consider is that not everyone who does IVF does so because of infertility issues. A couple I know is in the process right now because the woman has a genetic condition that she doesn't want to pass on and is doing pre-implantation genetic screening (PGS) and pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD).
posted by obscure simpsons reference at 4:45 PM on February 2, 2016

(To clarify, I offered the link for OP's info, as having more background on a topic makes it easier to imagine what someone might be going through. I wouldn't send that to the friend.)
posted by salvia at 6:51 PM on February 2, 2016

« Older How does a desk potato get comfortable typing all...   |   How do I meat? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.