Should you tell anyone you’re doing IVF?

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AFTER ONE OF MY FRIENDS GAVE BIRTH, SHE ACCIDENTALLY REVEALED SHE'D DONE THREE YEARS OF IVF TO HAVE A BABY. Did she, I asked, tell anyone at the time she was undergoing fertility treatment? “Tell anyone???” she replied, shocked. “I haven't updated my Facebook photo in over a decade, my colleagues don't know my birthday, and I won't even let my husband borrow my phone. I love my privacy. Of course I didn't tell anyone.”

This wasn't because she was embarrassed or ashamed: she just doesn't like revealing much about herself or her life. If you're like my friend, I'm not even sure why you're reading this article: the answer is clearly a no-brainer. You won't tell anyone unless you absolutely have to.

But what if you're not always quite so private? What if you do divulge titbits of information about your life from time to time? What if you and your friends sometimes share secrets and fears and hopes and dreams with each other? How do you weigh up the pros and cons of something something vs saying nothing?

And what about if you normally do reveal absolutely everything about your life? You might be wondering if IVF is as open to discussion as all the other topics you talk about, or if there's some sort of unwritten rule about if/how/when it gets brought up in conversation.

In this article, I'll help you decide by pointing out the pros and cons of each side.

Reasons for telling some people (or everyone!) you're doing IVF

There are a number of positives to saying something:

  • You no longer have to brush off any “So when are you going to have a baby?” questions with vague answers or fibs: you can just be open and honest, and offload the pressure (and potential embarrassment) onto the person who’s asked.
  • Even if you choose to tell just one or a few close people, you’ll have someone else to turn to (other than your partner) if you ever need a shoulder to cry on.
  • There’s no shame in doing IVF, so you should have no reason to be concerned what other people think.
  • If you’re having a bit of a hard day, people will know why – and they’ll (hopefully) be more sensitive around you as a result.
  • You won’t need to come up with excuses to colleagues about why you keep needing to leave work halfway through the day. (Aside: it’s a good idea to find out your company’s policy on absences for medical appointments before you start IVF, so you can know where you stand and who you might have to tell – even if you decide to only share that you have “a series of medical appointments” coming up.)
  • If your partner is away a lot, it might be nice to have someone to confide in, attend appointments with you, help with injections, etc.
  • You may well be surprised by the number of “Oh, we did IVF too” responses. Or comments like, “My sister went through it, so let me know if you want to be put in touch to share stories or get tips.”

Reasons for keeping quiet about your treatment

Telling people does have potential drawbacks:

  • While IVF is nothing to be ashamed of, that doesn’t mean everyone agrees with it – such as some who are religious and some who are in an older generation. And while it’s your decision and your body and nothing to do with them, you might prefer to avoid the hassle of being judged.
  • When you tell others, they may then expect to hear updates on how everything’s going. Which is fine if you want to tell them (or if you’re comfortable saying you’d rather not discuss it), but it might be another emotional burden for you.
  • If you decide to stop IVF treatment at some stage because it’s just not working, you might prefer not to deal with any (real or imagined) pity.
  • Had a big lunch or feeling particularly bloated one day? Are you OK with some people potentially assuming IVF worked and you’re now successfully up to the duff?

It's not “all or nothing”, of course…

My husband and I chose to tell a few very close friends, plus both sets of parents. We were lucky in a few respects: we’re both freelance, so we didn’t have to worry about any bosses or colleagues. And our parents were very respectful of our privacy: they never took it personally if we said, “Actually, we’d rather not talk about it today.” Also, IVF worked pretty quickly for us, so we didn’t have years and years of people potentially wondering if we’d ever have kids or not.

If you do decide to tell anyone, remember that you still get to control the conversation:

  • Rather not mention it’s down to your husband’s low sperm count? Just say, “I’d rather not go into details” if anyone asks.
  • Don’t want to provide a running commentary on how everything’s going? Let them know from the start: “I want to tell you that we’re doing IVF at the moment, but please don’t ask me any questions about it. If there comes a point when I’m ready to chat about it or give you an update, I’ll let you know.”
  • Don’t want any pity or sympathy? Make it known! “We’re doing IVF, but we’re coping with it well – and we’re the kinds of people who’ll enjoy life and make the most of it whether the IVF works or not.”

(In case it helps…) What have other IVFers chosen to do?

I went on a fertility message board and asked people “Have you told anyone you're doing IVF?” Here's what they said:

Questions to ask your doctor at every stage of IVF treatment: free downloadable guide

IVF isn’t just overwhelming; it can also be a mind-boggling and sometimes terrifying experience because there’s so much to learn and so many rules to follow.

Problem is, doctors are busy – and they often don’t have the time to anticipate your concerns and provide all the information you might need.

This downloadable guide contains questions that will help you understand the process better, get the answers you deserve, and feel more in control of the situation (and your rights as a patient).

Enter your email address to receive it right away.

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Question: “Have you told anyone you're doing IVF?” [All the names below are nicknames chosen by them.]

“At first we didn't tell anyone besides close family. Then when we moved away from NHS to private we shared. After 3 further failures we have not shared regarding our last round.

I feel that so much of this process is mechanical and out there for the world to see and examine – least of all my lady parts inside and out – that I wanted to take something back to just be us. I didn't want friends asking every few weeks “so when is it you are trying again”. I don't ask them if they had sex last night and when they are testing every step? But it seems to be ok for people to ask what happens at what steps. I have found that quite hard and tried to explain to people how that makes me feel.

I think they understand now, not least because the last time was so close but anembryonic. I am not the best at sharing my thoughts and feelings at the best of times and this has been so hard. I know people mean well but I want to keep some part of this private and special between my OH and I.”
– Camillage

“We didn't tell anyone, I think announcing it would have added extra pressure and then having to explain the ins and out of the whole process, as well as why we're doing it to people who would probably not have any understanding, would have made it more stressful, it was something between me and my partner, something we had to go through without prying eyes, and I didn't feel like it's any of their business for them to know the way our child was conceived.”
– Lianna89

“We chose to tell family, because we had to as we needed them for childcare for our little girl when attending appointments, our managers, my 2 best friends and a few workmates each.

Unfortunately our first ICSI attempt ended in a twin MMC and 3 hospital admissions so I asked my manager to tell my work team why I have been off work so now they all know. It was the right decision for us to share what we were doing with those around us but i won’t be sharing dates next time.”
– Aprilmama

“I haven't really wanted to tell family and friends (let alone work or anyone else) because when it hasn't worked you've got to face them and tell them that! It's hard enough for me to accept it hasn't worked and then having to face someone, trying not to break down into a blubbering mess just adds more pressure.

My OH though finds it easier if his family knows and if they know my family should know so for him, and to make it easier for him, we agreed to tell family and close friends. I've explained to many friends and family the process but I'm not really sure they get any of it, most of the time it's a biology lesson for them and most of them have children. The longer the process goes on though the harder it is to keep it from people.”
– AnnieAnnie

“I told my 2 best friends and my boss. My OH told his mum and sister.

I do feel that I would have told more people if the fertility issues had been mine as I’m quite an open person. But it male infertility and we need to use donor sperm and it truly makes him sad every time we talk about it and so I’ve kept quiet for his sake. He’s terrified that people will make comments about him and think he’s less of a man, which isn’t true, but his feelings matter and so it’s a small circle of trust really.”
– Kyell2

“I only told my mum for my first IVF attempt which sadly ended in a miscarriage.

I was more open with my second attempt and told family and 2 close work colleagues. I did the same for my third attempt, both of which sadly ended in negatives.

For my fourth attempt, I’m only going to tell my mum again, I can’t face updating everyone on each step of the journey and then feeling sorry for me if it doesn’t work… I found it mentally draining explaining a number of times over that it failed or next steps.”
– Lou7744

“Yes and no. I told ppl the first time, and it was nice to have support but when things went wrong it was so sad because they all felt the sadness and disappointment I felt.

Next time, I’ll do it secretly.”
– AJJ123

“We told both our parents, some of our siblings and a couple of very close friends. However my husband in particular found it quite upsetting when these family members then constantly asked for updates about treatment. He felt like it was added pressure. I also told my line manager at work as I needed time off for appointments etc. They were very understanding and supportive which was great. At the very start I was probably a bit protective about people knowing we were having IVF as I was still coming to terms with the idea of it myself but as time has gone on.”
– Dunla

“I told a handful of my nearest & dearest when we went through our recent first IVF cycle. No fault of theirs, but next time we are going to keep it strictly private & between myself & hubby. In my experience it just added extra pressure & the need to manage others' expectations as well as our own. Also, when things go wrong it’s worrying and disappointing for our loved ones as well.

Support sometimes feels easier from those that seem impartial. I find forums such as these [HealthUnlocked] great!”
– MrsAdzee

“I’ve been open to my friends and family. I’ve told a couple of work colleagues too. I’m a great believer of talking your issues through and a problem shared and all that. I’d hate to be going through this with just my partner for support.”
– SRA8

“Family and friends know and I had to tell my work because of the job i do and have also told close clients so they would understand me having to move appointments last minute as i have been off work sick a lot in the past with health issues and didn't want them assuming i was just off sick again and I'm glad I have as they have been lovely about it they do ask me for updates a lot but i can deal with that.”
– Lyne84

“Hi there, we have decided not to tell anyone! Only both parents and siblings know anything. We are quite private with this really, 1 set of parents are in the medical profession so that helps a little. We just don’t want people asking things all the time, and it’s no one else’s business. I find it hard sometimes hiding it I guess, when friends ask ‘ oh when will you be announcing news?’ … I’m just crossing fingers that someday soon I’ll have good news.”
– Sweets1

Questions to ask your doctor at every stage of IVF treatment: free downloadable guide

IVF isn’t just overwhelming; it can also be a mind-boggling and sometimes terrifying experience because there’s so much to learn and so many rules to follow.

Problem is, doctors are busy – and they often don’t have the time to anticipate your concerns and provide all the information you might need.

This downloadable guide contains questions that will help you understand the process better, get the answers you deserve, and feel more in control of the situation (and your rights as a patient).

Enter your email address to receive it right away.

I won't send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time.