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Odds are you know someone who is going through or has gone through in vitro fertilization (IVF). It’s an incredibly invasive and all-encompassing procedure that’s part of an already long journey to conceive a child.

Each IVF cycle generally takes about 2 weeks. It requires daily injections, frequent ultrasounds, blood work visits with a fertility specialist, and, for many people, sitting in the same waiting room as people who are currently pregnant … yeah, it’s tough.

“The process of IVF, while significantly improving efficiency to pregnancy, can be fraught with physical and mental stress, anxiety, and uncertainty,” says Anate Brauer, MD, a reproductive endocrinologist and IVF director at Shady Grove Fertility in New York City.

“Physically, many women experience bloating and discomfort as a result of the ovaries growing larger,” she adds. “They are often asked to stop exercising, which can have a significant impact both physically and emotionally.”

Managing these side effects alone, along with the almost daily appointments, can be hugely taxing.

Then there’s the egg retrieval process, which is a short surgery performed under anesthesia to retrieve the eggs.

“On this day the patient must take the day off [work], which can also be extremely stressful as questions mount about work and social event absences,” Brauer says.

Needless to say, the experience of undergoing IVF is anything but easy — and can affect nearly every aspect of a person’s life.

If you have a friend or loved one going through IVF, one of the best things you can do is offer yourself to them as an outlet of support.

“It is a beautiful thing when an IVF patient has a strong support system consisting of a partner, family members, and/or friends that they can lean on during the trials and tribulations of the process,” says Dr. Mark Trolice, director of The IVF Center and a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Central Florida College of Medicine.

And while you can’t take away the stress, anxiety, and frustration that often comes along with the IVF experience, you can send a care package that can be helpful during this difficult time in your friend’s life. We’ve got ideas to get you started.

Pricing guide

  • $ = under $10
  • $$ = $10–$20
  • $$$ = over $20

A calming candle

Project 62 Lavender + Eucalyptus Candle

Price: $$

After a long day of medical treatments, it’s nice to come home to a peaceful environment made more relaxing by candlelight. Not only does this lidded, three-wick candle smell ah-may-zing, but it’s also scented with lavender, which has been linked to a reduction in anxiety and depression, among other things.

The flickering light of the candle will help ease the stress of the day, and the stylish jar will make a nice addition to your friend’s living room or bedroom decor.

An acupressure mat

ProsourceFit Acupressure Mat and Pillow Set

Price: $$$

These cushioned mats, which work similarly to an acupressure massage, can help relieve the aches and pains associated with IVF treatments, Trolice notes.

The mat’s surface is covered in spiky pressure points which, yes, look terrifying. Still, reviewers sing its praises. One describes it as “clearly evil, but extremely effective,” while another says that this “bizarre fire torture mat provides great relief!”

To use, you simply lay back on the pressure points to help release tight muscles. It’s a great gift, but it couldn’t hurt to get your friend something else more obviously comforting, too.

A humorous mug

‘I Like My Eggs Fertilized’ Mug

Price: $$

The experience of undergoing IVF is not for the faint of heart — emotions are high, days are long, and the whole process can feel very serious, to say the least.

That’s why it’s a great idea to give your friend something that will make them smile and lift their spirits, like this sassy mug.

A meal subscription service

Freshly

Price: $$$

Getting a fuss-free dinner on the table is no easy feat, especially after a long day of work, treatments, and social commitments. That’s where a subscription service like Freshly can come in handy.

Each week, your friend will get fresh, chef-cooked meals that can be heated and served in 3 minutes, delivered right to their doorstep. Unlike meal kits, all they have to do is microwave and enjoy — no cooking required!

Bath salts

Dr Teal’s Pure Epsom Salt Therapeutic Soak

Price: $

A soothing bath at the end of a long day can help take the edge off and relieve some of the aches and pains your friend may be feeling from injections. Adding salts to a bath, like these from Dr Teal’s, can be a real stress reliever.

There’s no evidence that the body can actually absorb enough magnesium from Epsom salts to make an impact, but the smell is nice, and the silky sensation of the water will have them feeling more relaxed in no time.

Comfy socks

TeeHee Socks

Price: $$

Invite your pal to slip their tired feet into these super soft and undoubtedly comfortable socks.

The pack comes with two lightweight and breathable pairs that don’t cinch tightly around the ankle and slip on and off easily. They’re a great add-in for a gift basket or as a cozy gift on their own.

A good book (and a good laugh)

Hilariously Infertile: One Woman’s Inappropriate Quest to Help Women Laugh Through Infertility

Price: $$

As the title of this book suggests, it’s a comedic, self-deprecating take on the struggles that only those who’ve gone through infertility will understand. It dives deep into the harsh and scary realities of the experience, while finding humor in the scenarios many people trying to conceive find themselves in.

If nothing else, this read is sure to remind your friend that they’re far from alone.

A heating pad

Sunbeam Heating Pad

Price: $$$

One of the best at-home remedies for the pain that your friend might be experiencing after egg retrieval surgery is a heating pad — and ideally one large enough to wrap around their entire stomach and backside. This one is extra large and heats in seconds so your friend can experience instant warming relief.

A fertility caddy

MyVitro Fertility Caddy

Price: $$$

So much feels out of your control when you’re undergoing fertility treatments, so it’s nice to at least have control over how you organize all the medications you’ll have to take. That’s exactly what this fertility caddy was designed to do.

It has two fold-out trays and a spacious bottom section so your friend can store all of their meds safely and see them clearly when it’s time to take them. Move over, Marie Kondo.

Decorative bandages

Welly Waterproof Bravery Badges

Price: $

This is a fun and lighthearted way to support your friend undergoing IVF throughout the grueling process of daily shots and medications. Instead of covering the injection sites with any old beige bandage, they’ll have something to smile at knowing you thought of them during such a difficult time.

IVF is usually a very trying time for most couples or individuals.

It’s a wonderful and thoughtful idea to send a gift, but it’s important to be mindful of who you’re shopping for.

For example, a humorous book might bring joy and relief to your sarcastic and funny sister, but it may not be the best gift for your highly sensitive friend. Perhaps they may be more appreciative of a set of pampering and relaxing candles or bath salts.

Chances are you understand the basic elements of IVF and what it is, broadly.

But unless you’ve gone through it yourself, there are probably elements you’re not totally familiar with. To help you better support your friend or family member going through IVF, here are some key facts about the process.

The 5 stages of IVF

For most patients, IVF is split up into five stages: ovarian stimulation, egg retrieval, sperm retrieval, fertilization of the egg, and transfer.

  1. Ovarian stimulation: This preliminary stage of an IVF cycle involves taking prescription medications that a person injects into their lower abdomen on a daily basis. This is to stimulate their ovaries to produce several follicles, or eggs, as opposed to a single egg that’s produced during a typical menstrual cycle.
  2. Egg retrieval: The person will be monitored via vaginal ultrasound to make sure their eggs have grown to the right size. Once they’ve grown enough, an egg retrieval appointment will be scheduled. People are given what’s called a “trigger shot” via subcutaneous injection about 36 hours before the retrieval. During the procedure the person is sedated, and the doctor uses fine needle aspiration to carefully remove the eggs. Retrieval generally takes 20 to 30 minutes.
  3. Sperm retrieval: If the person is using their partner’s sperm, this will be collected via semen sample the morning of the egg retrieval.
  4. Fertilization: During this process, the sperm and eggs are placed in a petri dish in the laboratory and left to incubate overnight. After about 20 hours, the medical team determines whether fertilization occurred. If fertilization was successful, the fertilized egg will be given up to 6 days to develop.
  5. Embryo transfer: If the fertilized egg developed successfully, an embryo transfer will be scheduled. Most people will take special hormones to help thicken their uterine lining beforehand. During this procedure, the doctor places a catheter through the cervix into the uterus via guided vaginal ultrasound, and the embryo(s) are placed through. If there are any additional embryos that were fertilized but not used, they can be frozen for future transfers.

How long does IVF take?

On average, a single cycle of IVF can take about 3 to 4 weeks. However, it can take longer in some cases, depending on how a person reacts to all of the medications and processes.

Hormonal changes during IVF treatment

During an IVF cycle, a person is often given several different hormones to facilitate the process, including gonadotropins, a follicle-stimulating hormone, which help encourage the follicles to grow into mature eggs.

Side effects of these hormones are common and can be physical and/or emotional. It may be hard to discern whether changes in emotions are related to stress, or the hormones themselves.

IVF is a tough journey, and it can be an isolating one at that. Let your friends know you’re there for them, whether it’s by lending an ear or surprising them with a thoughtful gift (or two). It’ll probably mean more than you know.

Ready for a calm and stress-free holiday? Check out Healthline’s Season of Self-Care, your go-to destination for the latest must-have health and wellness gifts for your loved ones — and you.