Infertility: What You Should Know to Support a Friend
Infertility affects millions of women and their partners. These are women who WANT to get pregnant, who TRY to get pregnant, but for whatever reason – for at least 12 consecutive months – DON’T get pregnant.
Although I now am the mother to three amazing children, the journey that started it all involved a diagnosis of unexplained infertility. It took me places I never imagined going – emotionally and physically. I had spent most of my sexually active life thinking about how to avoid pregnancy – so the fact that it was suddenly avoiding me was shocking. I thought that one missed pill or broken condom meant a baby on the way; instead I learned that even dedicated charting and timing and testing didn’t guarantee anything at all.
On the bumpy road that led to my daughter I learned a lot. It’s not an experience I’d ever wish on anyone – it was painful and frustrating and left me feeling confused and angry for a long time. But I wished then – and wish now – that those who haven’t walked that path knew a little more – enough to know a few things about how to understand a friend facing infertility and how to support a friend facing infertility.
First, the understanding. When my husband and I started trying for a baby, we were in that age bracket that meant a lot of those around us were also trying. And while each announcement of a baby on the way is a reason to celebrate, each announcement was also a knife in my heart. I’d pep talk myself. Remind myself that I could still be happy for others. I’d get upset with myself for being bitter and angry. Try to hide the pain and disappointment that I felt that the person announcing their pregnancy still wasn’t me. Baby showers, baby announcements, even the baby aisle at the store were intensely painful reminders that I still had no baby. No possibility of a baby. Nothing.
So when your friend isn’t calling you to celebrate your impending arrival, or volunteering to host your shower, please try not to take it personally. Understand that there is nothing in the world she’d love to do more than celebrate with you. But the pain of knowing that it’s still not your turn can sometimes just be too much to bear. You can think of it as selfish, but it’s also a form of self-preservation. (Believe me – hysterically sobbing to your husband that if some random celebrity has one.more.kid before you do you’re going to lose your mind is not a high point for anyone.)
So, how can you support your friend?
- Be there to listen, but don’t offer platitudes or clichés to “fix” her feelings.
- Know that she may pull away from you – especially if you have children or are expecting. If you want to connect with her, try suggesting ways to spend time together that will work for her needs. Instead of asking her to the park with your kids, invite her to see a girls-night-out comedy movie. Go out to dinner. Call her just to say hello.
- Be patient with her. I know it can seem like she’s being overly dramatic or needy, but until you’ve been there, it’s hard to understand just how all-consuming infertility can feel.
It’s a monthly rollercoaster of emotions – with hopeful highs and grief-stricken lows. And it’s a ride that infertility makes you take over and over and over again, often at great emotional and financial cost. Knowing that there is a friend always standing at the other end can be a great comfort while you’re waiting to hop on that rollercoaster again.
For those of you who have dealt with – or are dealing with – infertility: How have your friends or family helped you? Is there anything you wish they knew? Please share in the comments below.