IVF Patients Navigate The Holidays

As surgical director of Illume Fertility — the largest reproductive IVF center in Fairfield County — Dr. Spencer Richlin has seen just about everything.

The longtime Westport resident and reproductive endocrinologist treats male-female couples who — like 1 in 8 in the US, — are having trouble getting pregnant.

He works with male-male and female-female couples, and those in which one partner is transitioning, He sees women about to undergo chemotherapy, who want their eggs harvested and frozen.

All are at different parts of their family-planning journey.

And all have different feelings about the holidays.

Dr.Spencer Riichlin

Dr. Richlin recalls one woman, who asked for extra copies of her sonogram. She planned to pass them out at Thanksgiving, as her way of announcing her pregnancy.

But for many others, the next month will be filled with fear.

They’ll be at parties surrounded by children — a quiet (or loud) reminder that they don’t yet have any.

Well-meaning friends — knowing they’re trying — will ask if they’ve conceived yet.

Thoughtless relatives will say, “Don’t you want kids?” “You’re not drinking. Are you trying to get pregnant?” “Have you thought about adopting?” “We can’t wait forever for grandchildren!” 

They’ll even be advised: “Try harder.”

Whatever the reason — low sperm count, unopened fallopian tubes, the need for donor eggs — Dr. Richlin and his colleagues (and doctors at many other IVF clinics — can help.

Modern technology has made starting a family a reality for people who, since the beginning of time, have otherwise been unable= to.

Yet Dr. Richlin cannot control the things people who already have families say to them.

So along with doctors, Illume’s team includes social workers who help patients navigate other stresses.

Like the holidays.

For those who fear awkward or intrusive questions, or may feel out of place in large groups, Dr. Richlin and his colleagues advise: “Take care of yourself. Don’t put yourself in situations that might cause stress. Surround yourself with people who love and care for you.”

If you must be in a place where you might be asked questions, prepare a response. Something as simple as “Thanks, but that’s a personal issue” can be very effective.

(The same goes for people who recently suffered miscarriages, he notes. They too may have difficulty during the holidays.)

For friends and relatives, Dr. Richlin advises: “Don’t ask anyone about their reproductive journey. It’s none of your business.

“Sometimes people will bring it up. If they do, follow their lead. If they don’t, respect where they are.”

And if they happen to pass around a sonogram at the Thanksgiving table: Give thanks for IVF.

(Dr. Richlin’s podcast, “Fertility Now,” deals with a wide variety of reproductive issues. Click here for more information.) 

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4 responses to “IVF Patients Navigate The Holidays

  1. Many, many thanks for sharing this story, particularly at this time of year. We were that couple for many years and even without prying questions and insensitive comments, the holidays were especially difficult. Hopefully everyone will heed this advice. You never know who’s going through this very painful journey.

  2. Thank you, Dan, for this bit of empathy. The holidays can be an emotional minefield. Curious people who are unsure should be ready to listen if asked, nothing more. If people want to talk about it, they will.

  3. Eric William Buchroeder SHS ‘70

    Without meaning to shed rain or cast any aspersions on this fine gentleman’s area of medical specialty, I’m all for helping people conceive, I’m particularly glad my parents did. Having said that, might it make sense, as a public service, for couples seeking to conceive via IVF, surrogacy or any other 3rd party method, to be gently and tactfully but clearly reminded prior to embarkation, that there are many, many “orphans” available, particularly among the less fortunate and less ethnically/racially and gender privileged and that adoption of a person conceived by others, just may provide a more universally beneficial outcome. And on that happy and optimistic note, I would like to wish all Westporters a very Happy Thanksgiving and a fruitful Black Friday.

  4. Agreed Eric.

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