In honor of National Infertility Week, I’m going to tackle how to support BOTH partners in a relationship during an IVF cycle, the person going through the IVF treatment, and their partner. (I will be using non-gender specific pronouns throughout this post to be inclusive of all types of family-making).
How to support the partner going through IVF treatment.
When I’m working with couples going through this stage of fertility treatment I often get this question, “How can I support my partner through IVF?” Many folks are aware that the actual process of IVF is not a walk in the park. (For those who aren’t aware, there are daily injections, subsequent hormone roller coasters that can cause intense mood swings, egg retrieval, and eventual (hopefully) embryo transfer to the uterus. And that’s on TOP of all of the other emotional aspects of going through another month of infertility).
So what are some concrete ways to support your partner through such invasive procedures that are, most likely, NOT AT ALL the way they had imagined their journey to getting pregnant?
Physical Support (but always ask first, some people with these hormones raging through their system would rather be thrown off a cliff than “cuddled”):
- Cuddling, hand holding, back/foot rubbing, hugs and kisses
- On the other hand, respect distance if they need it
- Be at every appointment if possible (if they have to be there, you should too)
- Checking in on a DAILY basis, such as, “How are you feeling today?”
- Asking what you can do
- Listening empathetically – i.e., don’t try to fix it! Sometimes “fixing it” is simply not possible
- Positive feedback: for example, telling them how proud you are of them, how much you admire and respect them for working so hard to add to the family
- Recognizing, out loud, how hard this process is, both physically and emotionally
- NOT minimizing any emotions they are feeling. For example, if they are feeling scared, or if they’re still processing the grief of not being able to get pregnant other ways. It’s ok to be hopeful, but don’t disregard their emotions.
- Don’t put up privacy blocks- Yes, going through the infertility process is so hard and, for some, embarrassing. Often there is one partner who wants to be more private than the other. But some people really feel best when they’re able to reach out to their supports. Try your best to allow that to happen- there is nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to infertility.
Other “Tangible” Support:
- Arranging for a surprise “date night”
- Helping with distraction during the dreaded 2 week wait (as in, the time between embryo transfer and pregnancy test)- take them to a movie, for example, or play a fun game.
- Chipping in a little extra help around the house- people going through IVF treatment can be physically and emotionally drained. Increasing your side of the daily chores, like cooking and cleaning, can be so helpful.
How to support the partner NOT going through IVF treatment.
So here’s the thing- in researching this topic I found NOTHING on supporting the partner of the person going through IVF. WHAT?! That’s crazy to me. That suggests that the non-gestational partner is some kind of innocent bystander, not at all affected by the intensity that is IVF. Having worked with multiple couples going through infertility, I know that is not at all true.
Here are some ways to support the person not going through the physical treatment of IVF:
- Check-in- Even if emotionally you’re feeling drained, it’s important to see how your partner is dealing with things. Just a simple, “How are you doing with all of this?” gives them a chance to express their own feelings about the process.
- Don’t minimize their emotions- If you’re checking in, be open to listening with empathy. Don’t minimize by saying something like, “well, at least you don’t have to get shots”. They’re going through it too, in their own way.
- Recognize when they are trying to be supportive and show appreciation
- Be careful not to blame- Let go of why you’re at this stage of the journey. It’s certainly difficult to be going through the physical challenges of IVF. It’s also difficult for your partner if they are the “reason” you have to do IVF. No one wants to feel responsible for the person they love’s suffering.
- Finally- if you’re not able to be supportive because you’re just dealing with too much yourself, which is understandable, encourage them to connect to some outside supports, like a therapist, or friend who knows about the IVF.
Any other ideas for supporting your partner through the IVF cycle? If you have any suggestions, please comment below!
Ariel is a perinatal therapist who works with folks going through the all stages of the fertility journey.