real life

LIZ ELLIS: How to tell the people you love about the end of your fertility journey. 

The following extract is from Liz Ellis’ book, If At First You Don’t Conceive.

One woman in her early forties who I met while researching my book was incredibly inspirational in how she had dealt with the failure of her treatment, and not being able to realise her dream of being a mum. She was in the advanced stages of working through this and was incredibly comfortable talking about it.

One thing she had done which I thought was super impressive was to put her story out to her friends and relatives in the hope that it would help them to help her. She did it by way of an email, which she has very graciously allowed me to reproduce, in the hope that it will help someone else. She says feel free to use this as a starting point for setting up a discussion with the people you love.

A template – telling the people you love about the end of your fertility journey…

Hi everyone,

After a long discussion with [partner] and a lot of soul searching I have decided to let you know about a significant challenge we have recently been facing. We are unable to have children. IVF has proven to be a long, painful, expensive and heart-wrenching journey for us. The medical reality for people in our situation doesn’t match up with the media portrayal that IVF is a cure-all. For us, it has not worked, for most people it does not work. This IVF journey has now ended.

Now, I’m not telling you this for sympathy. I’m telling you so you will hopefully understand why I sometimes might struggle to talk about babies. Mostly though I hope that it will put an end to jokes about ‘ticking clocks’ and ‘leaving it too late’. For me, they aren’t funny, they are hurtful. This situation is about no one else, it is about us and I am so proud of how we have coped together through this and as much as I am devastated that this will not be our reality, I am very much looking forward to sharing my life with [partner] and having our own adventures together.


In these situations sometimes people are confused at what to do and truthfully, each person experiencing this probably wants something different. So if you would like to help me through this, here is what I would like and not like.

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What I want and need from you is this – your love, understanding and support! I don’t mean the kind of support where you feel you need to check on me 24/7 (we are OKAY and will be OKAY), just be there for me (and for [partner]) without judgement or assumptions.

All this means is, let’s have normal-people conversations about normal-people things. Let’s plan things to do together like normal. Don’t feel like you have to get everything ‘right’ but just take into account that this is a tricky time for me. We just need empathy, for you to not try and fix things, for everyone to accept that a shit thing has happened for us and to help us imagine a different (still positive) future.

Specifically, the things that I do not want or need from you are:

Sympathy and platitudes: Hearing ‘sorry’ or ‘you poor thing’ is bloody awful and makes me feel worse. Hearing ‘everything happens for a reason’ or ‘don’t give up, keep trying’ really underestimates the pain we are feeling and what we have been through.


Advice: Honestly we have heard it all! We have researched it all! And hearing ‘just keep trying’ or ‘my best friend’s neighbour’s sister tried for ten years then fell pregnant’ is neither helpful nor a true indication of what we’ve been through or the medical reality for us. Unless you have a degree in reproductive medicine there is nothing you can say that we haven’t considered. It also makes me feel like you are saying we haven’t tried or are not committed. This is not a problem you can fix for us, so please, just sit with us and say, ‘Well, this is shit.’

Questions: It’s never appropriate to enquire about the status of someone’s uterus, so I hope you will understand that we don’t need to discuss the whys and why nots of the situation. If we want to share something with you, please trust that we will come to you.

Avoidance: Please don’t avoid us! I still want to hang out with my nieces and nephews (blood relatives or not) – kids are like crack for me – I still want to play with them and hear about their first steps or the fact they have done something crazy. Being an auntie has always been such a pleasure for me and while I am very sad about not being able to have my own baby, I truly hope that I can help you with your little people in my own ways. As for [partner], you only have to watch his eyes light up when he sees his nephew to realise that he is an awesome uncle!

All we want in the long term is to feel like we have a bright future, with or without kids. The ending of our IVF journey is very fresh at the moment and is taking some time to grieve so please be gracious with us while we learn to imagine a different future for ourselves. I am not ashamed of our infertility; it’s not a dirty little secret. I just ask that you are all respectful of the way we want to handle things.

Liz Ellis if at first you don't conceive

This is an extract from Liz Ellis' book "If At First You Don't Conceive", available now.