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If you're looking for ways to be more supportive but don't know where to start, these tips from those with firsthand insight and experience can help.

January 27, 2021
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An image of two friends.
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When she was 39, Betsy Ducat, a 48-year-old from Hoboken, New Jersey, decided to freeze her eggs. "I wasn't in a committed relationship and I wasn't at a point where I was ready to take the leap and have a baby on my own," she says.

So she underwent the retrieval process that more than 10,000 women go through in this country every year.

Freezing your eggs can be a game changer for reproductive capabilities. It's essentially a way to press "pause" on your fertility, explains Thomas Kim, M.D., a reproductive endocrinologist with RMA, a fertility care company with clinics and labs around the country. And women freeze their eggs for a number of reasons: because they're pursuing professional and educational goals, they're not ready to have children, or they don't have a partner yet, says Dr. Kim.

But while empowering and useful, going through the process can also be confusing, stressful, emotional, and overwhelming, he says.

To this extent, support systems are an important part of the egg-freezing process. Ultimately, talking about her own egg-freezing journey with loved ones was hugely helpful for Ducat who, today, has a 19-month-old daughter thanks to the eggs she froze.

Of course, it's not always easy to know what to say or the best ways to show support to someone on their fertility journey. And whether you're freezing your eggs or have a friend who is, there's room for improvement when it comes to both feeling comfortable sharing your experience and asking each other questions, says Dr. Kim.

Here, the best ways to support someone through the process.

Be Curious

The more we discuss fertility preservation and normalize the process, the more everyone will feel empowered and confident as they take control of their fertility, says Dr. Kim. Of course, that can sometimes be easier said than done. "It is not exactly a very 'how is the weather?' type of discussion topic," says Ducat.

She, for one, liked sharing her experience around her fertility journey, but felt like she was always the one to initiate the conversation. "It wasn't until I would share an update that I would realize how curious and supportive everyone was."

As for how you can initiate the convo with someone in your life? She suggests incorporating discussions surrounding fertility into conversations you might already be having about family or the journey to creating the family you envisioned. "There are so many shapes and forms that this can take that it doesn't specifically focus upon the topic of freezing eggs; it doesn't specifically ask 'when are you having a baby?' but it does open the door to that conversation and all of the possibilities that can follow."

This way you leave space for friends to open up without feeling like you're prying.

Ask Friends What They Need

"Our internal patient data shows patients need and want emotional support before coming to the initial consultation, and at the start of the treatment cycle," says Dr. Kim.

What that means will be different for everyone. In order to figure out how to help, ask if there's anything specific your friend knows that they need, such as help with medication administration or just a listening ear. This approach will allow you to follow a friend's lead, knowing you're providing the support that's truly helpful.

Help Do Research

Egg freezing can be overwhelming, in large because the person going through the process likely doesn't know what to expect, Dr. Kim says. For example, at the time she froze her eggs, Ducat didn't realize that even if you're blessed to harvest and freeze a large number of eggs, that doesn't always mean you'll have that many embryos once the process is through.

For example, of the 11 eggs Ducat successfully froze, only nine made it through the "thaw," and only seven of those made it through fertilization. "Only one tested as genetically normal," she adds. "So I had one shot and it worked." She says that knowing more about the process and what to expect from it would have been comforting.

Offering to search for clinics that take a friend's health insurance, looking up the basics of what the egg-freezing process entails, or even finding local support groups or online communities can go a long way. The more someone knows about the process, the less overwhelmed and anxious they might feel.

Support a Friend Through the Physical

The egg retrieval itself is a quick outpatient procedure, and Dr. Kim says most patients are back to their normal routines the following day. But, he says, many people may experience PMS-like symptoms leading up to the egg retrieval procedure due to hormonal fluctuations from medications (follicle-stimulating hormone, menotropin, or GnRH-antagonist). It's also common for injection sites to become red or sore.

"Medically speaking, patients should have someone's help the day of their egg retrieval, as they will be under anesthesia," notes Dr. Kim. So, offer to drive a friend to and from their appointment or help out with meals if they're feeling groggy afterward.

Form a Diverse Support Community

Ducat says that it helped that her closest circle of girlfriends were going through their fertility journeys at the same time. "One of us went through the egg freezing and IVF journey, another solely went through the IVF journey, another had two children naturally, and one has chosen not to have children, but is a wonderful aunt to all of ours," she says.

But women don't always have friends who have been through the process to lean on, which is why having the information for online support groups can be so beneficial. Groups like Warriors (which is for people in all stages of their fertility journey), Egg Freezing Support Community (which is for women interested in freezing their eggs), and Resolve (which helps pair people with more targeted fertility support groups in their area) are good resources to know about and share.

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