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Being a friend through infertility

June 26, 2016 8:10 pm0 comments

My friend Julia recently wrote a post about her experiences with trying to conceive and miscarriage. It was raw and real, and it made me realize how I had only seen the tip of her pain when she’d told me the story. Over the past handful of years, I’ve come to realize that if you haven’t been through infertility, you can not possibly understand the layers of anguish, anxiety, and depression it can cause.

I’ve made a lot of mistakes.

One of my best friends tried unsuccessfully to conceive for a year before embarking on her fertility treatments, a regimen of hormone shots, IUI, and eventually IVF. When she would describe the emotional and physical torture that this was for her, I said the only thing that I could think: that I was there for her and I had not a doubt in my mind that she would end up pregnant. (She did, by the way, and has two adorable and wonderful children!)  But she told me later that it used to make her want to scream when people would tell her it would all work out. Because, frankly, how the eff did they know? They didn’t! She found solace in talking with friends and even acquaintances who had actually been through it, because they understood the roller coaster of emotions with devastating crashes after brief moments of hope and excitement.

Then there was another friend. When I was pregnant with my first son, she generously asked a few questions – had I picked out my nursery bedding? Did I have name ideas? I wanted to return her interest in my life, and asked if she and her husband were planning to have kids. She responded that it wasn’t the right time. But years later, after we’d become much closer, I found out that she was having fertility treatments at the time. Flashing back on my question, I asked if she remembered. She instantaneously replied that she did, and the look on her face told me that my insensitive question had stung.

And more recently, there was Julia. She said she didn’t want to talk about it, and I took that to mean I should give her space. In doing so, I didn’t reach out the way she needed, simply and kindly, just to let her know I was there. Why? Because I didn’t understand how deep the loss of miscarriage can be. I still don’t, but I think I have more of an idea.

From what I have now gathered, the pain can range from a lasting melancholy to full-on bereavement. Because it’s like that. It actually kind of is that. Having been pregnant three times, I can attest to the fact that its possible to bond with and love the unknown being living in your womb. So what that you haven’t met? Your souls and bodies and biology are intertwined. It’s primal and cellular. And –from what I have heard — oftentimes, the mourning is accompanied by a gripping fear of never being able to have children, a sense of body betrayal, and sometimes  guilt. The emotions can be so complex and deep and gnarly, it’s no wonder that people are plowed over by them. And that well-meaning friends, like myself, just don’t understand completely.

I feel some guilt even writing this post. I mean, who am I to talk about this stuff? I don’t get it. I know that. But through my mistakes, I have learned a few things about how to be a better friend to someone who does:

  • Don’t ask. If someone wants to tell you their plans for having children, they will. I repeat: don’t ask.
  • Don’t pretend to know. Don’t liken infertility or miscarriage to anything else. Accept that you don’t get it. That’s ok.
  • Don’t offer suggestions. There’s not an easy answer. If there were, I can guarantee that your friend would be doing it. Really. Don’t tell anyone to relax, or about the virtues of OPKs, or how your cousin got pregnant. Your friend is on her own journey, and unless she asks, let her find her own way.
  • Let limbo be ok. Your friend doesn’t know if it’s going to work out in the end, and frankly neither do you. Even if you feel completely certain that she will end up bearing a child, she is living in uncertainty, and your proclamations aren’t helpful. Don’t try to talk her into optimism if she’s not feeling it.
  • Be there, gently. Don’t disappear when your friend needs you most. But don’t demand regular updates.  Just quietly make the space for her to talk, if she wants. Send signals that you’re there for her. A little text, phone call, card, trip to the ice cream parlor…it can mean a lot.

So, what did I miss? If I know anything, it’s that I don’t know it all…