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Being a friend to the "fertility-challenged"

I have debated writing about this topic, because I’m certainly not the expert. And I didn’t want this to come across as “I have issues in my life, so you should work on yourself so that you can help me.” But honestly, whether your fertility-challenged friend admits it or not, they need you. I’ve heard so many times along this journey, “I just don’t know what to say” or “how can I help you? Tell me what I can do.” Whether you have been one of those people or not, I’m going to give you my advice. These are the things that have helped ME throughout this process. We are all individuals, with different personalities, so this is not a one-size-fits-all, but hopefully some of this advice will help you help someone else who is struggling.
  • Listen. You can learn so much about how to help just by listening. If you are a good enough friend to be reading this, you probably know your friend well enough to pick up on those cues. Are they quiet? Maybe they don’t want to talk about it. Distract them. Or let them be alone. Ask them which they’d rather. Are they talking to you about their struggles? Then let them. You don’t even have to say anything half the time, just listen. If they are talking about it, that means they want you (or someone, anyone) to hear. Don’t feel like you’re intruding by listening. Sometimes we just need to get it out so it’s not stirring around up there. I know you don’t know the perfect thing to say, and no one expects you to. Hell, I’ve been through it and can’t say that I know what to say to someone else. Even just saying “I don’t know what to say” is okay with me. That shows you care and you want to say something, but you just don’t have the words. That shows that you’d like to do what you can to make it better for us, but you’re human and don’t know how. And honestly, there isn’t anything you can do to make it all better.
  • Don’t ignore the situation. What they are going through is very real. Just because you don’t address it or pretend like it’s not there, doesn’t make it go away. I’ve heard, “I’m afraid to bring it up if you are not thinking about it already.” Pshh… not thinking about it already? Let me tell you something, when you’re in the throws of infertility and/or pregnancy loss, we’re thinking about it. That doesn’t mean you should bring it up right before we walk into a big meeting, but I promise you it’s always in the back of our minds. And just a simple “I’ve been thinking about you” or “I’m so sorry for your loss” will do the trick. If your friend wants to talk about it, they will take that opportunity to. If not, they’ll say “thank you” and move on. Don’t assume just because they don’t spill all of their emotions right then that you’ve done or said something wrong. It’s not about you. It just may not be the best time to talk, but you’ve opened the door so they know you’re there when they’re ready to talk.
  • If they’ve had a loss, don’t pretend like it didn’t happen. I think that was the most hurtful thing that happened with each of our losses. Some friends or family members would “go dark.” It’s tough for you to talk about or think about? You don’t know what to say to us? How do you think we feel?? Same thing applies here, as to the “I don’t want to make you think about it if you’re not already.” While losing a pregnancy can be similar to mourning a loved one, it’s also very different. When you learn you are pregnant, you start planning and hoping for the future, even if your brain tells you not to. There are milestones that you set out in your head, and as you pass each of those milestones, you’re reminded of the loss. Just reach out and say “I’m sorry for your loss.” It’s that simple. Acknowledge that you know we’re going through a tough time and that you’re thinking about us. I don’t like to hold grudges, and I’d like to think I’m not petty, but I remember those that “went dark” after our losses. And it hurt.
  • Be sensitive. There are many triggers along the journey of infertility and/or pregnancy loss. In between our 1st and 2nd loss, I went to a movie with a pregnant friend. She understood, to some extent, that sometimes it was hard for me to even be around her as her belly grew. In the movie, there was a single woman who was going through IVF and found out it hadn’t worked. My friend leaned over to me and said “Are you okay?” I nodded my head. She said “we can leave, if you’d like.” I told her “thank you, but I’m okay.” Later in the movie, the same woman found out she was pregnant, and it was a big celebration. My friend leaned back over and said “let’s go” I shook my head that I was fine. Yes, it stung to watch that part of the movie, but just her understanding that meant the world to me. And made that moment much easier for me to bear. There are plenty of tough situations that will come up – finding out a friend is pregnant, attending baby showers, rude (but often unintentionally so) comments, pregnancy announcements, the dreaded “do you have kids?” question, group conversations focused on babies and pregnancy. If you’re there during one of those moments, help us out. Change the subject, ask us to run to the bathroom with you, tell us it’s okay if we duck out early or miss an event. I promise we want to be there for others, but sometimes it’s unbearably hard.
  • Find out you're pregnant? Good for you! Break the news to your friend gently and privately. This was one that I actually had to research when I found out we were pregnant with the 2nd baby. I had a friend who was struggling to get pregnant, and we had been talking regularly about our struggles. I was so afraid to break the news to her, as I knew it would crush her. I knew that pain first-hand, all too well. I decided that doing it in a very private way where she did not have to pretend to be happy face-to-face, or over the phone, was the best route. So I sent her a text. That may seem a little impersonal, but here’s why I chose this route, and why I’d like others to do the same for me:
    • It allowed her to deal with it in private (I first asked what she was doing to make sure it was a good time).
    • She was able to have her breakdown right then if she wanted, and not try to save face for me.
    • She could pretend she didn’t see the text for a little while if she didn’t know how to respond (or she was too busy crying her eyes out).
    • She did not have to hold back tears in front of a large group of people.
One of the things I have anxiety about is being at a “pregnancy reveal”… even if it’s just 4-5 of our closest friends. I know it’s exciting for you, and you want to share your news in a big way, and you totally deserve that, but please please tell me in private first. I promise not to spoil your news, but it will allow me to be prepared, and actually be happy (or at least pretend better) for you when you do reveal, instead of holding back tears or running to the bathroom and taking away from your big moment – because I certainly don’t want to do that.
  • Do NOT complain about any pregnancy pains. I understand that pregnancy is hard for some. I’ve been pregnant 3 times. It hasn’t been for long enough to have the back pains and feeling like you’re huge, but I at least know the first trimester woes. And you know what? I would take those any day of the week over our current situation. I have actually tried to bargain with God and ask for all of the terrible pregnancy pains there are, just as long as I was pregnant with a healthy baby. And the after-pregnancy breast feedings, lack of sleep, and loss of hair? Yeah, don’t care to hear about those either. I have a friend, the same good friend that I went to a movie with, who was visiting me just after our 2nd loss, and she started complaining about her hair loss since she’s had the baby. I said “I’ll trade you! I am losing my hair too, and I don’t have a baby to show for it.” I’m sure you have plenty of other friends that you can talk about this with – don’t make it your fertility-challenged friend, no matter how close you think y’all are.
  • Trust their decisions. There are a lot of decisions to be made along the road of infertility. Unless they ask for your opinion or advice, don’t give it. I know you mean well, but if someone is in the middle of this struggle, they have enough information coming their way. In our case, I have an amazing fertility doctor and nurses and an acupuncturist, who all give us plenty of information and help make sure that we are doing the right things to be healthy. I know you may have a friend who ate certain things and got pregnant, or you know someone who was diagnosed with x, y, or z and now they have a healthy baby. That doesn’t mean I could do the same. Each situation is unique, and honestly there is no “special recipe” for getting pregnant. And you may think you got pregnant by doing certain things, but there’s really no way to tell whether that is the reason.

I’m sure there are plenty more points that could be added to this (please feel free to comment and add to this list!), but these are the top ones that came to mind. If you’re reading this, you’re a good friend. And I thank you for that. Just the fact that you want to learn how to help me or a friend in need is amazing. Give yourself some slack if you miss one of these, and be honest with your friend who is struggling. None of us are perfect, and we certainly don’t expect you to be. 

Comments

  1. This is so beautifully put. It covers all the things that go through each of our minds as we travel this road. Thank you for putting it onto "paper" in such a way that it can help both those suffering and the friends of those suffering!

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