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Fertility and your relationships

Changes to fertility can have a huge impact on your close relationships, whether they are romantic or with family and friends. You may feel worried about telling people and their reactions, or be feeling isolated, which can add another layer to an already stressful situation. We want you to feel as prepared and supported as possible, so on this page we talk about managing any impact and ways to have those conversations.

We also have information on:

If you are the family or friend of someone with fertility changes, Fertility Network UK's Guide for Families, Parents, Friends & Colleagues may be helpful. Read it here >

Partners

During their time together, many couples think about starting or completing their family, even if it’s not something that will happen immediately. If you have a partner, you may have already spoken about it casually or made definite plans for your future. But talking about changes to your fertility can be harder, especially if the future now looks different. 

If you are in a relationship

If you planned to have a child or more children, you may feel guilty or that you are at fault for the changes to your fertility. You might even think you are letting your partner down. Try to remember that the cancer is not your fault and there are next steps you can take together. 

If your partner is struggling, we have information to help support them >  

The life you planned together, with a focus on children, may now need to be rethought. As well as coming to terms with the emotional impact this can have, it may help to take practical steps towards new goals and milestones. These can be anything you want – such as a holiday or completing a course. By building these up bit by bit, you can shape a life that works for you and your partner. 

Before you do this, it can help to have a conversation about the changes to your fertility. Only you know when you feel ready to talk about this. If you feel very anxious or upset about it and find it’s constantly on your mind, talking about it with your partner may help lessen those feelings. Here are our tips for talking with your partner.

Make sure you have time and space

Once you are ready, find a quiet, private place and time to speak. Try to make sure you won’t be interrupted and can take the time you need for the initial conversation. You may end up having a lot of conversations, so don’t worry if you do not say everything you want to.

Talk through the situation

Your partner may have been with you throughout treatment and understand the changes to your fertility, but it can help to voice it again, away from a medical setting. Give your partner time to ask questions and process what you are saying. If you need it, remember to ask for support from your partner.

Be open to talking about the future

After you’ve talked, you and your partner can begin to think about what your future together might look like now that things may have changed. If you think it would be helpful to have some expert support, counselling for you and your partner may be an option you consider.

Read more about counselling for partners at Relate > 

Dealing with the breakup of a relationship

For some people not having a child or more children, or having them in a different way, will not affect how they feel about a relationship. But for others, not being able to have biological children may put a strain on their relationship that eventually leads to it breaking down. 

If you or your partner feel your relationship can’t continue without having a child or more children biologically, you may decide to separate. Coping with this major change, as well as the changes to your fertility and a cervical cancer diagnosis, can be incredibly difficult or overwhelming. This is the time to lean on others for support, whether that is your personal support network of family and friends, or expert organisations.

Get support >

If you are starting a new relationship

Dating with or after cervical cancer can be hard, especially if you have changes to your fertility. You may wonder when to talk about it, what their reaction will be, and how you will feel about their reaction. 

If you find someone you do want to share your story with, here are some ideas for having that conversation.

Make sure you have a private space to talk

Whatever you plan to say and whatever their reaction, it is important you feel comfortable. For many people, this means not feeling they are being watched or could be overheard. It also allows your date to focus completely on you, and react in an open and honest way.

You don’t have to share everything at once

You might feel nervous or overwhelmed at the idea of sharing your whole experience in one go. Remember, you can take as much time as you need. For example, you may start by sharing you have or had cervical cancer, then wait until another time to continue with that subject.   

The most important thing is that you feel ready, safe and comfortable with talking about your fertility. It is a personal thing and no one has a right to know – you get to decide who you want to tell. 

Family and friends

You do not need to tell everyone about changes to your fertility, but some people find it helpful to let family and friends know. If you have a partner, you may want to decide together who and when to tell. 

Telling family and friends about fertility changes

You may feel nervous about telling different people for lots of reasons. Your future may now look different to the one you planned, so you may worry that your parents or siblings may also feel their futures as grandparents or aunts and uncles have changed too. Try to remember that their main concern will be you and how best to support you.

If you feel ready to have a conversation about your fertility with family and friends, it can help to think about the following things. 

Find a private time and space to talk

Whether it’s on the phone or in person, make sure whoever is part of the conversation is able to focus on what you want to talk about. This means you have the chance to say exactly what you want and should help avoid any confusion or misunderstanding later.

Set clear boundaries for the conversation

Think about what you are happy to discuss and what you are not. People may have a lot of questions, so knowing ahead of time how much you want to say can help. Be prepared to say ‘I’m not ready to talk about that at the moment’ if people overstep these boundaries. Remember, the initial conversation may not be the only time you speak about this and you can revisit the subject when you feel able.

If you need support, ask for it

Most of the time, family and friends will offer you support without needing to be asked. But some people feel awkward about accepting help or would find it most helpful to be supported in a specific way. If this sounds like you, don’t be afraid to tell your family and friends exactly what you need. 

Read Fertility Network UK’s guidance on talking to family and friends >

Managing reactions and questions 

While most people will just want to make sure you are okay, we can never know exactly how people will react to news about your fertility. They may go into support mode, checking in regularly and offering to help with everything, or they may unknowingly say or do some insensitive things.

Practicing the following phrases might help:

  • ‘I’m grateful you want to support me, but I need some time to process this. I’ll let you know when I’m ready to talk and see people more.’
  • ‘When you say that, it hurts me. Please try to remember what I’m currently coping with and think about your words.’  
  • ‘I’m not ready to talk about that, but I will let you know if and when I am.’
  • ‘Things that would help at the moment are X, Y and Z. When there is something else, I’ll let you know.’ 

Managing day-to-day life

In our society, there can be an unspoken entitlement to know what is going on in someone’s life, particularly when it comes to children. This can make day-to-day life difficult, as you may get questions about children from any number of people at any time. 

Depending on your feelings about changes to your fertility, this can lead to different challenges. For example, being questioned may trigger an extremely emotional reaction and cause you to shy away from certain situations. Or, if people know about your situation, you may feel like they are deciding how you feel for you, by excluding you from certain conversations or events. 

Finding the right balance for you may take some time, but it is important you feel in control of what you want and get from your relationships. 

Pregnancies and children

Anyone you associate with, whether that’s family, friends or a one-off acquaintance, may already have children or be pregnant. This can be incredibly difficult to cope with, as you juggle wanting to be supportive with reliving your experience of fertility changes and the perceptions that can come with that. Here are our tips for managing these situations.

Look after yourself

It is not selfish or unsupportive to recognise when you need a break from children-related conversations or activities. If someone is pregnant or has a child but you don’t feel able to see them in person, you could simply send a card with your well-wishes. Focus on your own life and the experiences that make you happy. 

Tell people how you are feeling

If your family member or friend knows about your fertility, being honest about your feelings can take a weight off both of you. They may feel worried about telling you about a pregnancy or inviting you out with children, but a simple check in with them can help them understand where you are with your emotions. It can feel like a hard conversation to have, but you might say something as simple as ‘I’m so happy for you and want to be there for you, but at the moment I need some space. I’ll let you know when I’m ready to chat and see people.’ Alternatively, it might give you a chance to say you feel fine about it and want to be around to celebrate with them, including being involved in relevant conversations.

Work through your feelings

Even if you have managed your feelings around fertility changes, other people’s pregnancies and children may trigger a strong emotional response. You may find it helpful to check in with a counsellor, support network or other trusted person to better understand your reaction and process those feelings. 

Read Fertility Network UK’s information about contact with babies and children >

Work colleagues

Telling colleagues about changes to your fertility is a personal decision and one only you can make. Remember, you do not have to share your experience with anyone.

However, it may help to have a sympathetic colleague – perhaps a manager – who understands your situation. It might make things easier if you need time off for appointments or simply to process your feelings, as well as having someone who can subtly make sure others are sensitive to your situation.  

It may be especially tough to cope with colleagues who are parents, particularly if their children are often a topic of discussion or they get priority when it comes to annual leave or flexible working arrangements. Remember, you are an equal member of staff and it is important your needs are met too. 

How we can help

Fertility changes can be difficult enough to handle yourself, so it can feel even harder when you open up to other people. If you choose to tell others, remember there is lots of support available to you. 

Our services are open if you want to talk through anything or simply have someone listen to your concerns on 0808 802 8000

Check our Helpline opening hours >

If you want a safe, private space to talk with others who have been through something similar, visit our online Forum where we have a space dedicated to fertility. You can ask questions, share your feelings and form a supportive network that is available all day, every day. 

Join our Forum >

We also host Let’s Meet, an information and support day for people affected by cervical cancer, in September every year. As well as meeting others in person, you can attend a session on parenting through alternative means that may be helpful. If you can’t make Let’s Meet, we run regional Mini Meets  throughout the year.

Find out more about Let’s Meet >

British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy

Has a directory of accredited therapists specialising in different areas, including changes to fertility.
www.bacp.co.uk/search/Therapists

The British Infertility Counselling Association (BICA)

Find an accredited counsellor specialising in changes to fertility.
www.bica.net

Fertility Friends

An online forum offering sections on fertility changes, treatment and other ways to have a child.
www.fertilityfriends.co.uk 

Fertility Network UK

Provides information and support to those childless by any circumstance, including phone lines, an online community and meet ups. 
www.fertilitynetworkuk.org
Email: [email protected]
Infoline: 01424 732361
Supportline: 0121 323 5025

Relate

Offers counselling services across the UK for people of all ages, backgrounds, sexual orientations and gender identities to strengthen their relationships.
www.relate.org.uk

Thank you to Fertility Network UK who helped us review this information. Thank you also to the other experts who checked the accuracy of this information, and the volunteers who shared their personal experience to help us develop it. 

References

  • Royal College of Nursing (2020). Fertility Care and Emotional Wellbeing.
  • Royal College of Nursing (2017). Fertility Preservation.
  • National Institute for Healthcare and Excellence (2014). Fertility problems quality standard.
  • Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (2013). Fertility Sparing Treatments in Gynaecological Cancers.

We write our information based on literature searches and expert review. For more information about the references we used, please contact [email protected]

Read more about how we research and write our information >

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Date last updated: 
06 May 2020
Date due for review: 
06 May 2020
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