Supporting a friend through IVF is tough enough without being pregnant yourself. When this happened to one writer, she had to deal with the biggest test of their friendship so far
Coping with fertility issues as a woman is one of the most challenging hands you can be dealt. Undergoing IVF can be similarly daunting, especially if you’ve always wanted children or are at the point in your relationship where you and your partner are both eager to expand your family.
But similarly, supporting a friend through IVF can be tough. When Elysa* found out her best friend was undergoing IVF treatment, she herself had just found out she was pregnant.
As she says herself, there’s no guidebook to friendship, but her story may help others in similar situations act with empathy. Here, she tells her story: of compassion, support, understanding and friendship, through the toughest odds.
If you yourself are struggling with fertility issues and need someone to talk too, head to the Fertility Network website for more information. You are not alone.
Supporting a friend through IVF while pregnant
“We hadn’t seen each other in a few weeks. I was terrified about the next time I would see Alice*. A few days previously, I had found out that I was pregnant. I didn’t doubt that my best friend would be happy for me. Still, I couldn’t shake the guilty feeling in the pit of my stomach. Only one month earlier, she had started planning for IVF treatment.”
“Alice walked in and I immediately turned bright red and couldn’t look her in the eyes. “What?!” she asked, my eyes shifting downwards to my stomach. “Oh my god you’re pregnant!” I nodded, looking like a deer caught in headlights. She pushed me onto the couch and hugged me hard, crying at the same time. “I’m so happy for you,” she said, eyes shiny. “Really. If I’m still working out how to get pregnant, then this is the next best thing.””
“Rewind exactly one year. Alice and I had met after work in Hyde Park. We were walking home arm in arm to our flats as we lived a couple of streets apart. Alice suddenly said, excitedly, “Come on, we’ve been trying for a baby for six months now – I think you should start, too!””
“I was as far from wanting a child as I’d been when Alice and I were 12, lying on my bed during a sleepover. We were talking about what age we thought we’d lose our virginities (we’d decided on 16, which seemed so far away at the time). We’d met a year earlier, age 11, when she’d joined my school as the new girl and we quickly became inseparable after I invited her over to my house.”
“Ever since then, Alice and I did just about everything at the same time – first kisses, first boyfriends, moving away from our hometowns for college, meeting our husbands, getting married. Even moving to London we did within a month of each other. We joked that we couldn’t do anything without the other following suit. Of course, what we didn’t realise was that getting pregnant isn’t something that everyone has control over.”
Facing the facts
“A few months later Alice and I were eating brunch at our favourite cafe when she put down her fork, emphatically. “So, I have my first appointment with an infertility specialist this week,” she told me matter of factly. I was surprised at the rush she was in – she was only 30 and she’d only been trying for six months. I’d heard that most couples try for at least a year before testing for infertility, so I tried to reassure her that she still had plenty of time.”
““But I’ll be 32 by the time I have my first kid at this rate,” she moaned. “What if I want 3? I’ll have to have my third at like, 36!” At first I didn’t understand why she was so anxious—we were only 30 at the time. But then I remembered Alice’s parents had tried to conceive for over 10 years. Her mum was diagnosed with unexplained infertility before IVF was even an option. They ended up adopting her three siblings before Alice was born, so Alice had always suspected that it might run in the family. Now she was terrified that her biggest fear was becoming a reality.”
The realities of IVF treatment
“Neither of us could’ve predicted the wild goose chase that would ensue for her, or what it would mean for our friendship. As Alice went in for test after test, the hunt for solutions forged the basis of our conversations. We’d discuss what specialist she was seeing next, what she was being tested for and when. She’d share detailed explanations of each doctor’s appointment. I think in a way that made it easier for us both, because there was always a touchstone, a linear protocol she was following, as prescribed by the doctors. We weren’t really swimming in the emotions of everything. Yet.”
“It was somewhere around this time that I told her that I’d stopped taking the pill; I won’t pretend her anxiety over becoming pregnant hadn’t started to majorly rub off on me. The struggle I was watching her go through made me feel compelled to start trying for a baby myself. I was developing a sensitivity for how fragile it all was. I assumed it would take a year, at least. And then one month later I got the positive pregnancy test.”
“Alice had seen a handful of specialists by now and despite test after test, they couldn’t find anything wrong. Her biggest fear had become a reality. She had what experts referred to as ‘unexplained infertility’, something that affects around 20% of couples. Her best bet was now IVF.”
“Things became harder to talk about then; the cracks in Alice’s resolve started to show. I got embarrassed when we’d take the tube home from work together and she’d force me to take the one available seat rather than sit down herself, or when we passed a children’s clothing shop on our local high street and she burst into tears. There were times when I didn’t have much to offer in the way of comforting words, and could only listen. But somehow we found a way to make space for both things between us. We took turns sharing upcoming doctors’ visits and progress, albeit in very different ways.”
Providing support, not pity
“The main thing Alice repeated to me was that she didn’t want pity. And so I tried my best not to censor myself. I discussed my pregnancy only when she asked how I was feeling but not bringing it up often. When I started showing, she always knew exactly what week pregnantt I was, and continued demanding belly pics, even when I was uncomfortable sending them to her. When Alice started going to IVF consultations, I sent her good luck texts before every appointment. She’s told me since that those little acts helped her through some of the roughest moments, just knowing that I was there in her corner.”
“Little did we know the kicker was yet to come. Alice’s first round of IVF would land her in intensive care. The guilt and shame of walking into an ICU room – visibly pregnant – after my best friend had been rushed in as a result of a botched IVF procedure is indescribable. I wanted to run over to the bed and hug her and hide behind anything I could find at the same time. I wanted to save her from it all, from everything she had been through over the last few months, but also, from myself and my obvious growing bump. Regardless, I visited Alice almost every day until she recovered and she could go back to work a full month later.”
Maintaining the friendship
“Unlike for pregnancy or IVF, there’s no guidebook to friendship. Ultimately, Alice and I have been able to navigate our relationship by constantly communicating, having the hard conversations, even if they’re uncomfortable at times, and acknowledging the reality, rather than shying away from it.”
“I don’t underestimate how Alice’s reaction the day I told her I was pregnant – and how supportive she’s been in the months since – has not only saved, but preserved, our friendship. It could easily have gone the other way. There are dozens of stories of lifelong best friends falling out over much less than that.”
““Show me your stomach,” I remember Alice saying to me from her hospital bed, white-faced and reaching out towards me. “It gives me hope,” she said. I reservedly lifted my shirt to show my best friend in the world my growing bump. She put her hand on my stomach and the baby kicked. And I put my hand hopefully on top of hers.”