Support is crucial for those on ‘lonely’ infertility journey, say IVF patients, doctors

Dr Suresh Nair from fertility centre Seed of Life in Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital said that he has encountered men who break down because they don’t know how to accompany their wives without support from their employers.

“They get criticism like ‘why are you so special … why you must spend time with your wife? My wife goes for checkup alone, why must you follow your wife’,” he said. He added that they may be mocked for being “henpecked”. 

Dr Nair has seen female patients who were not allowed time off work for their fertility appointments. He has spoken to such employers, and played hardball when they were not understanding, he said.

He said that couples having fertility issues need a lot more support at the workplace.

Besides having the support of managers, colleagues’ support matters too, he said. Colleagues could offer to cover for those who need time off for fertility treatments, and such help should be reciprocated by the IVF patients and their partners, he said.

Employers can also play a part, as far as MP Louis Ng (PAP-Nee Soon) is concerned. Mr Ng, who has three children through IVF, suggested last year in Parliament that the Government should offer gender-neutral fertility leave so that men can accompany their wives for appointments and show support. 

Ms Dyan said that employers could also be more understanding of women who need to take time off for their frequent hospital visits, and also offer fertility leave.

For Ms Nur, who plans to start her IVF journey next month, quitting her job appeared to be the only option.

She was already feeling guilty about her colleague having to take over her workload. But it was her employer’s response on how it would be difficult for her colleague to manage if Ms Nur had to take time off frequently for IVF that steeled her resolve to leave, she said.

Open communication with the human resources department and direct supervisors is important, said executive director of the Singapore Human Resources Institute Alvin Goh.

“I strongly believe that we can be more empathetic to our fellow colleagues who are going through IVF to provide more annual leave if needed,” he said.

The most significant impact lack of support can have is making a couple give up their journey early, Dr Nair said.  

“IVF cycles are successful when you do repeated cycles,” he said, adding that couples may give up after the first cycle if they find it too stressful.

Similarly, Dr Lim said that the woman may forget to go for her appointments or take her medication erroneously, which would affect the success of the cycle.

“Stress can have a negative impact on semen quality,” Dr Lim added.

HOW TO SUPPORT SOMEONE GOING THROUGH IVF

Husbands need to be aware that their wives’ hormones would be running “wild” and that this could lead to them experiencing emotions like fear, sadness and a need to cry, Ms Unwin said. 

“They shouldn’t say things like ‘why are you feeling that way?’ and ‘Can you stop being like this?’” she said. 

She suggested saying things like “I don’t know what you are going through at the moment but I will be here for you”. 

But if he can’t find the words, he should stay quiet and be there for her, she said. 

“Small things like that really make a difference. Just knowing that we aren’t going through this alone makes the journey a bit easier,” she said. 

During the two-week wait after the embryo has been transferred into the womb – a time of high anxiety – Ms Unwin said husbands should take their wives’ minds off thinking about the success of the cycle. 

In the event that the cycle fails, it’s important for the men to see their wives through their sadness, she said. 

Finding out more about IVF is one way of supporting a friend going through the process, Ms Dyan said. Sending foods like chicken essence and confinement food that is typically consumed during the IVF journey is also a good idea.

Ms Sueann Yao, also a co-founder of Fertility Support SG, said that colleagues do not need to keep mum if they know that their coworkers are going through IVF.

“If your colleague is very open to sharing already, as and when you can drop a text to ask how things are, let them know you are there. Don’t suddenly keep quiet about it and think that nothing is happening to your colleague,” she said.

“They should be more aware about how people feel when they go through fertility treatment.”

For Ms Tan, it was the words of encouragement, as opposed to sympathy, that helped.

“At that point in time, the words I found comforting were: ‘You are strong, you are resilient, you can do it, I am here for you whenever you need me’,” she said.