Can your friendship survive infertility?
I often hear from women they fear - or have experienced - their friendships change or end as a result of infertility. It becomes just one more unwelcome life upheaval on this long road to a family.
These ladies we've been closest to for ages - or maybe met recently but instantly clicked - are our lifelines in situations ranging from serious to silly. We tell them all sorts of things that might otherwise seem too intimate but we trust and open ourselves up, knowing we'll be met with understanding, support, and probably a reason to smile.
There's a secrecy around fertility that most of us feel, though, an intense need to keep the journey private, to share only when necessary, and to avoid widespread awareness of our struggle. Maybe we don't believe our friends will understand what we're going through or know what to say - and we don't want to risk putting them in an awkward place or hearing them say something insensitive. Or, maybe they don't know how to act around you if they are pregnant...and so they seemingly disappear.
And there's, let's be honest, a lot of jealousy that can come about when someone else seems to get what you're so desperately wanting yourself. You may feel overwhelmed and exhausted from a months-long (or more) struggle - and your friend tells you she went on vacation, had a few cocktails, and "surprise!" - she's pregnant.
I get it. I really do.
It is hard to be in any of these positions. Remember:
- This journey is only a part of your life. It is a season, a chapter, and it will end.
- You can set boundaries, they can shift, and a good friend will understand and respect them.
- Communication is the key. You'll likely have to speak up first.
I'll illustrate with a story.
I found out my best friend was pregnant the day before I learned our second round of IVF failed. Not only did I not want to see or talk to anyone - because she was half of our best couples friends, I felt like I had no social outlet to even try to fake my way through. They were at every event, included in every invitation, and the center of our social circle.
My husband shared our bad news and we had a long trip away planned anyway. We went away and reset, revived our hope, and remembered why we were pursuing this path. I ate and drank everything I wanted, took only a prenatal vitamin (one little pill!), ran when and as long as I wanted and remembered who I was, what I loved to do, and the reasons - and the ways I was willing - to pursue this path to a family.
When we returned, I reached out to her for the first time. It was awkward. She knew I was sad, disappointed, and I think she was a little scared of what I would say or do. I had to take the deep breath and make the first move. And here's the gist of what I said:
"I am happy for you, I really am. But I'm also sad for me. I've been trying to have a baby for a long time now and its the hardest thing I've ever gone through. Thank you for giving me space these last few weeks. I don't want our friendship to end or to change significantly, but I need you to know how difficult it is for me right now. This is a season and it will end and I sincerely hope we are able to be friends in the way we were once it does. In the meantime, please know that I love you, support you, and I'm genuinely happy and excited for you. Don't pull away from me because I need you...but please don't ask me to talk pregnancy or baby."
And, thankfully, she understood. She was gracious and loving and we were able to move around the elephant in the room throughout her pregnancy. I was invited to co-host her baby shower and I politely declined. I did attend, celebrated with her and her family, and sobbed in the car on the way home. (Side note: this was also when I discovered this song that became my theme song.)
We visited her, her husband, and their new baby girl in the hospital later that year. It was my first day off of bedrest after our third IVF cycle and transfer. I felt genuine joy and hopefulness on that warm August day.
And, as it turns out, my turn was next.
So, yes, I believe friendships can survive infertility. Just like any relationship worth having, it may require work, attention, love, and acceptance on both of your parts. You may need to take some time away. You may learn the relationship isn't actually worth preserving.
But for those that are - hold on, speak up, and try to weather the storm.