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How to Maintain Relationships During the Stress of Fertility Treatment

Navigating connections with family and friends can be tough - especially if they don't understand what you're going through.

February 19th, 2024 | 9 min. read

By Sierra Dehmler

Finding ways to stay connected with loved ones while navigating the stress of fertility treatment can be incredibly difficult - but here's why making the effort is so important.

In this article:

Fostering Connection During Infertility

"Worst club, best members" is a commonly repeated phrase in the fertility community, and for good reason. No one understands what you're going through quite like those who have been in your shoes. Connecting with fellow fertility patients can be a lifeline, helping you to feel less alone on this challenging journey. 

Leaning on those people who "get it" can be so comforting – whether you meet in Facebook groups, your fertility clinic's waiting room, or on social media. Knowing others who can truly empathize with you through the ups and downs of infertility is priceless.

At the same time, it's critical to stay connected to the friends and family who make up your lifelong support system. Because this isn't just about fertility treatment – your personal support system helps bolster you through life’s positive and difficult moments.

Don't Disconnect From Loved Ones 

It can be hard to maintain your regular relationships and talk about anything but fertility treatment when your entire world feels consumed by appointments, test results, and hormone levels

But when your family-building journey is finally complete and the stress of it is all over, you will want those people in your life again. That's why it's so important to try to keep in touch with your loved ones, make plans when you have the energy, and treat these relationships with care. 

Note: Of course, this advice only applies to relationships that are healthy, helpful, and supportive. If you have a family member who refuses to respect your boundaries or a friend who tries to force their opinions onto you, don't feel pressured to try and engage.

Infertility & Mental Health

It's no secret that fertility treatment can take a major toll on your mental and physical wellbeing. Focusing so much energy on expanding your family, particularly when conceiving hasn't been easy, is an exhausting endeavor. 

Studies have shown that fertility patients can experience the same levels of anxiety and depression as patients diagnosed with cancer. According to fertility specialist and researcher Dr. Alice Domar, "The majority of infertile women do not share their story with family or friends, thus increasing their psychological vulnerability, [causing] feelings of shame, guilt, and low self-esteem."

These negative feelings can lead to depression, anxiety, and poor quality of life. Opening up to trusted family and friends is one great way to reduce the risk of additional mental health issues as you pursue fertility treatment. 

How to Keep Your Relationships Strong

People need people. It may sound a little corny, but it’s true.

That's why we offer so many different forms of support here at Illume Fertility - from mental health counseling to support groups, we know just how essential connection is during this time. 

But we also care about what comes after you "graduate" from your fertility clinic and move into the next phase of your life. The health of your long-term relationships matters. With all of that in mind, let's explore a few helpful reminders that can help you nurture the relationships in your life - even while going through fertility struggles.

1. Perspective Is Everything 

The first thing to remember is that we all have our own set of preconceived ideas, belief systems, and thoughts about how things work in the world.

Part of this comes from the way we were raised, part comes from our temperament, and part comes from our current life circumstances. All of these pieces come together and influence the way we communicate and react to difficult situations.

Note: Even though fertility treatment is stressful, this period of your life does not need to define you, and it does not have to strain your relationships. Good communication, as well as awareness of your own needs, is key. 

Keep in mind that things like intense hormonal fluctuations, anxiety about an upcoming procedure, grief over an unsuccessful embryo transfer, or a variety of other emotions may shorten your fuse and cause you to react in a different way than you normally would. 

How to practice:

Before assigning intent to a comment or question you receive from a friend or family member, try to pause and remind yourself that everyone has their own "stuff" going on. We all attach different meaning to our interactions with others, so before making assumptions or judgments, consider that others have their own perspective too.

Even if you feel triggered by what they've said, you can make the conscious choice to take a deep breath and react differently than you may want to in the moment.

2. Assume Positive Intent 

When the first point is still proving tough, remember that communication is the key. 

One of Illume's counselors shared the following story after working with a couple in treatment. It is a perfect example of just how critical it is to keep lines of communication open and stay patient and persistent while trying to understand where someone else is coming from - whether they are your partner, a friend, or a family member.

Ashley & Steve's* Donor Dilemma

*Names have been changed for patient privacy.

A patient (Ashley) was trying to choose a donor with her partner (Steve). Ashley was growing increasingly frustrated because Steve was avoiding discussions about choosing a donor. 

Internally, Ashley wondered if he was avoiding the conversation because he either did not care about her, did not want to have a child, or was just concerned about the cost of working with a donor. Steve had previously voiced his concerns about the cost of donor conception, and also wondered if using a donor was the right choice for their family.

Subsequently, the couple had resolved those concerns, and Steve had told Ashley he was on board, and wanted to move forward with treatment. But that is not what she heard. She became very upset when he continued to put off plans to discuss choosing a donor, and she began to worry that he did not want to have a child at all.

For example, whenever they made purchases together, she would become angry when he chose the more expensive option - frustrated that he would spend money on those items, but not on a donor. Every time they argued, Steve would become withdrawn, in turn making Ashley more upset. She was quite distressed, and considered stopping treatment altogether. 

When they discussed this ongoing conflict with their counselor, Steve shared that he struggled greatly with decision making in general, and that he was feeling pressured to be the one to make this monumental choice. In the end, it wasn't even about using a donor or continuing treatment.

Once Ashley understood this, she was able to mentally let him off the hook. She asked Steve if he would prefer that she do the research and make the decision, and simply include him in the next steps of the process. He immediately said yes! 

The moral of this story? It can require a lot of patience, vulnerability, and openness from both sides of a relationship to understand each other. Whenever you're feeling frustrated during a conversation with your partner, family, or friends, try to remember that you're both seeing the situation from a different perspective.

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How to practice:

It can be so hard to get out of your own head and put yourself in someone else's shoes - particularly when you're going through something as taxing as fertility treatment.

Whenever you're feeling frustrated and confused by someone's response (or lack thereof), remember that it's okay to ask clarifying questions and/or seek outside support from a counselor. Share your own emotions around the situation, and be patient, but persistent.

Here are a couple examples:

  • If you ask your partner a question and they are short with you, ask them to clarify or rephrase their comment, rather than jumping to the conclusion that they’re angry.
  • If your best friend hasn't returned your texts all week, ask her if she received them and check in to see what’s going on in her life. 

Note: When you're stressed, this is likely the last thing you want to do. You may feel like you simply don't have the energy or interest to take the extra steps needed to clear up communication with loved ones. But it’s always worth making the effort.

3. Control What You Can 

What if someone makes me feel uncomfortable? Where do I draw the line? 

Ultimately, you get to decide what is worth your time and what is helpful (or harmful) on your family-building journey. Always trust your intuition when it comes to interacting with others.

Here are two important ways to protect your peace as a fertility warrior:

Set Boundaries

Learning how to establish limits is essential while undergoing treatment. Depending on your personal situation, you may be trying to avoid unsolicited advice, halt inappropriate comments, or make it clear that the decisions you're making simply aren't up for debate.  

Change the Conversation

There may be some people you don’t want to talk about fertility treatment with, but that doesn’t mean you must cut them out of your life. When you don't want to answer an invasive question or discuss your progress, you can either ignore it completely or quickly address it before moving on to a different topic. 

Life After Infertility

If you're feeling overwhelmed or isolated right now, know that you're not alone. Even though millions of people experience fertility struggles each year, it can be hard not to feel like the only one going through it. One day, this journey will end, but while you're in the trenches of infertility, lean on your loved ones and stay connected to those who support you.

We encourage you to stay in touch with your Care Team, attend support groups, and join us on social. But before you decide to put friends or family completely on hold during fertility treatment, take a deep breath, reach out, and try to maintain those relationships.

Future you will be glad that you did.

Sierra Dehmler

Sierra Dehmler is Illume Fertility’s Content Marketing Manager - and also a fertility patient herself. Combining empathy gained on her personal journey with her professional experience in marketing and content creation, she aims to empower and support other fertility patients by demystifying the fertility treatment process.

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