Don’t ignore the pain of infertility in your friends and family members

We’re participating in RESOLVE’s, the National Infertility Association,  Don’t Ignore Infertility week. We join RESOLVE in their efforts to “help raise awareness of infertility as a medical condition with social and emotional implications and to tear the wall of ignorance and silence that surrounds this devastating disease.” 

Some people are very open about their struggles to conceive. Others don’t let anyone know where they are in the process of building a family. Respect others’ decisions about what they are comfortable sharing. Don’t, for example, ask a couple if they plan to have a baby. For all you know, they might have been trying for years. If a friend tells you that she has been trying to conceive and it’s not been working, don’t tell her “stop worrying about it, and then you’ll get pregnant.” And never, ever complain about being a “fertile Myrtle” to anyone. Really.

It’s not easy to be friends to someone struggling with fertility, perhaps unless you have had your own tough row to hoe. Here is a great reference for providing support to loved ones experiencing infertility.

I had a very hard time conceiving and maintaining a pregnancy. Most of the time I wanted to hide in a cave, or at least live in a world free of pregnant people. I was scared of Announcements (“guess what? I’m PREGNANT!”) and scared of, well, lots of things.

But there were a few great friends who really “got it.” An office mate of mine, a man in his mid-30s, married, with a daughter, was a new member of our unit, and he started his job on the heels of my last, most complicated miscarriage. I told him what was going on since I was always in and out of the office for lab work and doctors’ appointments, and also because I was really into telling people about my miscarriages at that point. I was tired of ignoring my own pain, or of hiding it. He told me that he and his wife had a very hard time conceiving as well and shared with me their experience with assisted reproductive technology. I was relieved to hear of another person with fertility issues, and it made me feel much more comfortable.

A few months later, we were all at a meeting and a colleague made an Announcement. Luckily, I knew about it beforehand, but no one else did. I was seated next to my compassionate office mate, and he immediately turned to me and whispered, “Are you OK?” I wanted to hug him. I wanted to cry. I felt so much less alone than I would have, and it was such a lovely, thoughtful thing to do. I think this also shows that going through infertility or miscarriage firsthand is a sure route to genuine sympathy and ability to empathize.

Another example: The weekend of my good friend R’s wedding there was a rehearsal dinner/Halloween party at her house. She was always very sensitive to my situation and good about warning me about the presence of babies and pregnant people. She told me that there would be babies on Saturday night, but probably not many on Sunday, at the wedding. Saturday night was going alright, only one baby. Then a couple arrived with a cute little mermaid doll that turned out to be a cute little mermaid real live baby. It was unsettlingly adorable, and tiny, and I walked past them ‑ and smack into another baby. Then another. It was truly like a horror movie, the gauntlet of cute little babies dressed in costumes. I could hear the music from Psycho as I switched directions, taking an alternate path toward the front of the house, where I ran into another cute baby. I was trapped.

My husband took my hand and said “Let’s go for a walk.” Good husband. I sobbed and sobbed as we walked around the block, and realized I couldn’t go back in the house. I couldn’t hold it together. I knew I had to hold it together around any babies at the wedding the next day, and would be able to do so, but I felt so limited in my ability to cope just then. My husband said he’d go back in the house and let my friend R know we were leaving. Before he even explained, she mentioned The Babies. She understood.

She spent the night at our house that night to get some pre-wedding rest. By the time she came over I was asleep, but early in the morning we were up and raring to go with nuptial preparation energy. Before I even could apologize for leaving early, R said “Oh my god, there was one baby after the other! It must have been terrible for you!”

So, thank you, R and my husband, for supporting me and being so understanding, and thank you dear office mate for providing support where and when I least expected (and most needed) it.

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