The fact that not everyone gets pregnant super easily isn't something that people talk about much. The fact is, a lot of people who want to have children and are in their twenties and early thirties start "trying" and after a little time, it happens. The issue is that there is this OTHER fact which is also true, and that is that 1 in 8 couples trying to conceive either struggle for a period of longer than 1 year or are unable to get pregnant naturally at all. Another fact is that 1 in 4 women have a miscarriage or other pregnancy loss. Those facts, the ones that we don't talk about, make it hard to be the friend of someone struggling with fertility, because we aren't sure what to say, how to say it, or if we should say anything at all.
I must say that I have been blessed with some amazing friends throughout my life. That being said, not all of those amazing friends have been amazing friends through my struggle with fertility. I think this is true for a variety of reasons and I want to share those reasons so that anyone struggling with fertility and wondering why the f%$# their friend just doesn't know how to be there for them can perhaps gain some insight. Some of the reasons listed below are conjectures I have arrived at on my own, and some are reasons my friends have actually told me themselves at some point during my struggle.
Reasons Why Your Rockstar Bestie May Not be Rocking Supporting You During Infertility:
1. Your friend may want to be there for you but doesn't know how or what you need (CUE THIS BLOG POST, YAY!!!)
2. Your friend may be uncomfortable with the topic of fertility (or infertility) in general.
3. Your friend may feel that they are unknowledgeable about fertility and fear saying something "dumb" or "wrong".
4. Your friend may want to say something but fear it may be upsetting or come off the 'wrong way'.
5. Your friend may be pregnant/thinking about kids/already a mom and may feel that it's best that they don't interact, share stories, offer advice, or chime in because they don't want to upset you.
I'm writing this post in an attempt to summarize what took me anywhere from 6 months to 2.5 years to share with my girl gang, depending on the specific relationship we had. What was I doing with those friends with whom I didn't share this information, or the ones I waited months or even years to share with? Great question! Well, some of my friends 'just got it,' and were naturally empathetic and remained tight to my side throughout the process. But you know what? For a long time, before I was brave enough to tell my friends how much I was struggling, and before I was brave enough to tell them what I needed from them if they wanted to support me, I did what you aren't supposed to do.
I expected my friends to be mind readers. I expected them to know that because we had an ectopic pregnancy and then multiple miscarriages, that I was a different person. That I was always worried something would go wrong (even unrelated to pregnancy). That I was depressed sometimes. That my anxiety had sky rocketed and not come back down and that I was struggling. A lot. Even months later. Years later. And you know what? Though some of my friends, as I said, were naturally intuitive, and some of them have even gone through this and that made them more understanding, most of my tribe had NO clue what I was going through. I expected them to read my mind and give me extra attention and ask me how I was doing and tell me they were rooting for me and give me extra comfort around baby-involved situations, and when they didn't, I would get down on myself. I would get angry at them, but say nothing to help them fix it. I would say to my husband, "why does she think I can go to a baby shower?!" or "why would she tell me that 'I'm a champ' about how I'm handling this?! I'm a MESS! Why doesn't she give me space to talk about it?!" And my husband, always the logical one, would say, "well, you could tell her that, right?" And then I would get mad at HIM because of course I couldn't 'tell my friends what to do' or how to act, who did I think I was if I thought I could do that?!
But as time went on, and my wounds went through their cycles of healing and re-opening, sometimes at the hands of comments made by my dearest friends who didn't know any better, because I hadn't taught them any better, I realized that my husband had been right all along-- please let's hope he's not reading this! Hah! -- but truly. My friends couldn't be what I needed them to be for me during this crisis in my life unless I told them what I needed. Anytime a person is going through something difficult this sentiment becomes true, but with a topic like infertility that we are taught not to talk about or to be especially hush-hush about, this idea becomes even more crucial. If you want your friends to be supportive, you need to tell them what you need from them. And trust me, a good friend will be so glad that you did.
So, based on my 2.5 years and counting journey with fertility, here is my compilation of tips that I have shared with my friends on how to support me during this time. Not all of them are appropriate for all friends, but I've found myself saying at least one or two, if not all of these to my closest friends over the past couple of years.
How to be a Good Friend to Someone Dealing with Infertility
1. Check in. Have you ever heard the quote 'check on your strong friend?' That could not be more true for your friend dealing with fertility issues. It is SO MUCH WORK to hold it all together day in and day out while having such a huge stressor on the brain, wreaking havoc on your body, mind, and soul. If you don't have time for a phone call, an open-ended 'How are you doing?' text or e-mail goes a long way.
2. Think about your timing. Do you have a pregnancy announcement? Did you find out news about someone else? Are you thinking about trying for kids and are dying to talk about it with your bestie who is struggling? Are you an AMAZING friend and you've been doing some digging into conception related things for your friend who is having a hard time? Think about the time of day before you send that text or make that call. Being blindsided in the middle of a work day with information regarding fertility or pregnancy is NOT fun for someone struggling. Save those well-meaning texts, e-mails, or calls for the evening, when your friend is more likely to be home from work, or not out and about, and is in a 'safe space' if she needs to react with emotion.
3. A Private Showing. Similar to #2 above, if you have something to share and want to do it publicly, like on Facebook or at a party, do your friend who is battling with fertility a HUGE favor and give them a private showing beforehand. As I stated above, being blindsided with news or information when you aren't expecting it is about the biggest punch to the gut, suck the air out of the room feeling a women in this situation can experience. Don't be the girl who sucker punches your bestie at a massive party!
4. Avoid "At Least" Statements. This can be VERY difficult to do because the natural inclination of a friend comforting a friend is to find the silver lining for them. But for example, saying "at least you know you can get pregnant, right?!" to someone who has had multiple miscarriages feels more like a twisted joke than a statement of comfort. Instead, affirm what your friend is going through. An easy way to do this is to repeat back information you know to be true because your friend has said it. For example, you could say "I can't even imagine how it felt to not see a heart beat. I'm so devastated for you. What can I do?"
5. Do some research. Don't get me wrong here, I'm not saying you need to become a Reproductive Endocrinologist-- although if you don't know what that is, look it up ;) What I am saying is that if you know some basic details specific to your friend's situation, your friend will be blown away and will feel your investment in her, BIG TIME. It will also save you hours of hashing out new details every time something new happens.
6. Don't offer solutions. This one is huge for partners, but is also true for friend supports. Try to avoid offering advice to get pregnant, or solutions to 'the problem', whatever that may be. Trust me, if your friend is truly in the trenches of infertility, they have tried 'leaving their legs up' and 'laying down for 30 minutes after sex.' They've probably already added any and all insane supplements to their diets that you may be dying to suggest, and even though your Aunt Sally ate yams and had sex the third week of January and got pregnant with twins, this doesn't mean your friend will, too. Offering this kind of wives tale advice may not do any damage, but it can undermine the very real issues that your friend might be dealing with (e.g., 'having sex missionary style' won't fix the fact that your friend doesn't ovulate on her own; 'having sex every single day' won't help if her husband has no sperm). If you do have something you're dying to share, preface it by validating your friend's situation first. For example, say something like "I know you're dealing with significant ovulation issues right now, but I read this article about acupuncture and how it helps with fertility! Have you ever thought about that or would it not be appropriate for you guys?"
7. Offer support for the choices and decisions that your friend is making. If your friend is embarking on a treatment approach, or is suddenly taking a break from trying, or is now deciding to adopt, or *insert any other possible outcome here*, and she is confiding in you, congratulations! Clearly your friend trusts you and is opening up in a major way to share plans or next steps with you. Now is your chance to offer SUPPORT! Now is NOT the time to question her decision, or plant seeds of doubt, even if you may not agree with the plan. You may think adoption would help a child in need, but if your friend wants to try IVF, be supportive. You may 'know in your gut' that if your friend keeps trying, 'it'll happen,' but if your friend is deciding to take a break, you better be telling that woman that she is doing exactly what she needs to be doing! Validate your friend's decision by saying congratulations, telling her how strong she is, and using encouraging words of hope.
8. Ask Questions. Now that your friend has opened up, this is a great time to ask questions you might have. Asking questions does two very important things for someone going through infertility. Firstly, it shows them that you truly do care and want to understand, and that you are listening to the details of the information that they are giving you. Secondly, and probably most importantly, it signals many important things to your friend, such as "We aren't done talking." "Keep going." "I'm not changing the subject until you're ready." "This is a space being held for you to share." "Your story matters."
9. Ask your friend these questions, in these exact words, on multiple occasions. "What do you need?" "What can I do to help?" I had a few friends who did this on their own and I can tell you, it brought me to tears every time. This felt like the ultimate gesture of support, and how easy is this one to do?
At the end of the day, you can't make your friend's fertility problems go away. But by checking in, asking how you can help, validating their experiences, and knowing a little bit about their situation, you can give your friend a supportive foundation on which to keep stable during this truly life-changing time in her life. If you've read this post in its entirety, I can tell you right now that you are a friend I'd love to have in my corner! Keep rockin' it, bestie!