Like asking a friend whether they got dressed in the dark this morning, there are some questions that should simply never be asked.
When it comes to a friend who is trying to conceive, direct comments about their fertility or lack of it, suggestions about lifestyle changes or treatments for infertility, or even a suggestion they don’t know how lucky they are, are an absolute no-no. The majority of people who have no trouble getting pregnant may not realise that this is far from a rare occurrence. Around 1 in 7 couples in the UK may discover that they have difficulty conceiving. This is approximately 3.5 million people, and between 1991 and 2016 there were over 1.1 million IVF fertility treatment cycles in UK licenced clinics. That covers a lot of people, so one or more of them is likely to be among your friends.
1. How long have you been trying to get pregnant?
This is the sort of question that smacks more of busybody than concerned friend. It’s really nobody’s business except that of the couple or person concerned how long they have been trying to conceive. You can be quite confident that they have researched all the standard advice about timescales. The current advice is that they should keep trying unassisted for a year unless they’re 35 or over, in which case 6 months is a more realistic timescale after which to seek some help. If your friend has been trying for a long time she is probably distressed and acutely sensitive, so any comment from you that suggesting that it’s too long or not long enough can come across as uncaring and dismissive.
2. Why don’t you forget about it and just try to relax?
Telling someone to stop thinking about what’s foremost in their mind is not really a friendly response, and one that’s sure to make your friend shut down rather than share her worries. In any case, she’s bound to be familiar with the argument (and whether it contains a grain of truth or is simply a meaningless platitude), that stopping worrying will miraculously achieve the desired result. There’s a lot to be said for cultivating a calm state of mind whether or not it leads to the desired pregnancy though, and the best way you can encourage this is to listen, hear her out and offer your support. ‘How can I help?’ is a much better question than one beginning with ‘Why don’t you…?’
3. Do you know the best time to have sex?
Given that there is a whole industry surrounding fertility trackers and menstrual cycle monitoring apps and systems, not to mention a wealth of articles, books and advice about ovulation and fertility, this is well known. The NHS sets out the simple facts: you’re most likely to conceive if you have sex within a day or so of ovulation, which is usually about 14 days after the first day of your last period. But since there are all sorts of variables around the timing of ovulation and conception, it concludes that when you’re trying to get pregnant, having sex every 2-3 days throughout your cycle gives you the best chance.
4. Why did you leave it so long?
We all know that life can take a course that may not be our dream ideal. But a ‘friendly’ enquiry about the passing of time and with it the inevitability of declining fertility probably isn’t a good starter for a supportive conversation. Maybe your friend has only just heard the ticking of the body clock turning into a strident alarm. Maybe career, economic or relationship reasons meant that she just wasn’t ready to start a family. It’s also probably not the best time, once she’s actively trying to conceive, to point out that she could have planned for the future with fertility preservation treatment. But in a different conversation, with a different friend, you could always point the way to our IVI video about vitrification of oocytes and how it works!
5. Whose fault is it?
If your friend is starting to suspect she and her partner may be facing infertility, blame or finger pointing is the last thing that’s helpful. In fact when couples have trouble conceiving, the cause may originate in the man (30%), in the woman (30%) or in both. In some cases, it may not be possible to explain the cause at all. Unless your friend actually wants to talk about infertility and what may be causing it, it’s much better for you not to jump to conclusions. After all, there may not be an infertility issue at all, and she’s just keen to put an exciting decision into action. Given that about 84% of couples will conceive naturally within a year if they have regular unprotected sex, it’s not unreasonable to hope for the best.
6. Have you tried losing weight?
Normally this is not a topic that friends tend to avoid, in fact it can be a favourite topic of conversation while having a relaxed chat. But in these particular circumstances, it could sound as though it carries a slight hint of blame. This is definitely not a question to ask when someone is trying to get pregnant. We all know that a healthy weight helps fertility in general, and if she is trying to lose weight, no doubt you can chat about it as you normally would.
7. Have you heard of the new miracle fertility diet?
Whether a vegan, paleo, spirulina-enriched or avocado-and coconut-oil-only diet is the latest fad, the ‘miracle ingredient’ conversation comes into the same ballpark as losing weight. Lots of fun for a friendly subtext-free chat, but not one for this particular circumstance. Any hint that she’s not consuming the right foods just implies that she’s not trying hard enough and so it’s her fault that she’s not yet pregnant. It’s very unlikely that she doesn’t already know about folic acid supplements and their role in preventing future problems. If she doesn’t, this is the one exception that is so important that you could risk a mention.
8. Why not just adopt?
Plenty of people do adopt and as a result have a happy and fulfilling family life. But at this point your friend is clearly hoping for her own pregnancy and genetic offspring and your suggestion at this stage would seem to suggest that she should give up. In any case, advances in assisted fertility treatments, including egg donation or sperm donation, may be options that she and her partner would prefer to consider if it became necessary. But for now, a thoughtless remark about adoption is not the kind of support she needs.
9. Why on earth do you want children anyway?
It’s a perfectly good question, but not right now. It comes loaded with the implication that crying babies, sleepless nights and a lifetime of commitment are not worth the hassle. And what about your own circumstances? If you already have children you risk coming across simply as smug, and she will think it’s easy for you to be flippant. If you’re happily child-free, it’s best to simply distance yourself. She’s feeling the maternal tug, you’re not, so just try to understand how she feels and show sympathy.
10. Finally, one simple question that you should ask. How can I help?
All of our tips lead to the conclusion that a good friend offers support rather than invasive questions, unsolicited advice or thoughtless suggestions. if, and only if, your friend mentions that she is thinking of finding out about IVF or other fertility treatments, you could offer to go with her, or take care of things at home while she attends her appointment. You could also let her know that there are open evenings at IVI’s five clinics in the UK. A visit to one of these could be the ideal opportunity to find out more about fertility treatment while still keeping an open mind. You can explore your options confident in the knowledge that there won’t be any pressure to make a decision one way or the other.
Contacting us at IVI
If your friend were to decide to get in touch with us, or if you would like to know more about any aspect of our work, do have a look at our website. It has all the up-to-date facts and figures about our success rates as well as the treatments and techniques that we offer. You can call us on 0800 52 00 161 from anywhere in the UK. Alternatively, get in touch using our online contact form and choose an option to receive more information, make an appointment, or book a patient evening at one of our UK clinics.