(Me with two of my sweet sisters last summer. Image by Kate Skogen)
I know I said a couple weeks ago that it would be my last post on secondary infertility, but afterwards I had this nagging sense that I hadn’t said enough about how to support family and friends dealing with secondary and primary infertility. There were plenty of comments about things that weren’t helpful, but I wanted to focus on what you/we/all of us can do to be the best kind of friend and support for people we are close to who are dealing with infertility. It seems like everyone has someone close to them who is going through it, if not themselves. It’s a tricky situation because we often don’t know how comfortable they are talking about it, what emotional needs they have in that very moment, and of course having children of your own might make you feel uncomfortable to even bring it up.
In my second post I talked about a friend of mine who always seems to remember exactly when we should be finding out about the success of treatments and would text or call to see how I was doing. She echoed my anger when I was angry, sadness when I was sad, frustration when I was fed up, and of course happiness when we finally had success. For me that was exactly what I needed. To be remembered and to have my feelings validated by another who cared about me and wanted exactly what I wanted.
Of course, that was just what I needed and I certainly didn’t want to speak for all those dealing with infertility so I thought I would ask a handful of people who shared bits of their infertility story in the comments of a previous post to provide a brief description of their ‘most supportive friend‘, to give us some clues as to how we can better support others we love who deal with infertility.
Here’s what they said…
“My friends back home sent a care pack from Australia with all of my favorite things and checked in every day for weeks, sharing their own stories of loss and reminding me that there was always someone thinking about me. The hardest part of confiding my loss to people was the fear that they will suddenly abandon you because they don’t know what to say, but my friends just checking in regularly made all the difference. ” —Christie Russell of Scout and Rice
“I did not handle our infertility diagnosis gracefully. I was bitter and depressed. I’m so grateful I had strong friends who stood by me at that time even though I was a complete downer to be around. One friend in particular was my rock. She had experienced infertility with her first child and could empathize greatly. At one point I told her I gave up and she responded, “You are not allowed to give up hope. Know that if you do lose hope, I will pick up all the pieces you have tossed aside and hold onto them until you are ready to have them back.” I still cry reading that. The best thing you can do for a friend going through infertility is hold onto hope that might be fading for them.” —Melanie of You Are My Fav
“I think it is also important for those of us going through infertility to tell our friends what we need or don’t if we are able, as most people don’t know what to say. I found that I could barely talk to or see one of my dear friends, pregnant with her second, because I was in such pain. I told her that it was just too hard for me and she understood. She let me take the lead and while I think our friendship was hurt a bit it is slowly getting back on track.” —Katie
“My most supportive friend was going through a similar secondary infertility situation at the same time. Rather than giving out endless platitudes about how ‘it will happen’, ‘at least you’ve got your daughter’ etc etc we allowed each other to vent. Completely. (Using very blue words at times). It really helped to be able to bring the situation down to its basics – that it just plain sucked. It wasn’t fair. Regardless of why and how it was happening, it WAS happening, and it was happening to us.” —Amy
“One friend, V, says to me as frequently as I see her, “Your family is not complete, and you will find a way to make it complete. You were put on this earth to be a mother. You inspire me. And you will be an even better and more loving mother because of the hurdles you are facing in getting there.” That positive energy and belief in me fills me up. It keeps me going. My other best friend, Jessi, literally checks in with me every other day, if not every day. It’s a quick e-mail. A text. She tells me she loves me. She asks me how I’m doing. How I’m feeling. She asks me if I want to talk. And, she genuinely seems interested – if not fascinated – when I recount endless fertility reports/details/updates, just to get it off my chest. Just knowing that she is always there to listen makes me feel as if I have a team cheering me towards this goal. I don’t need empty, weightless reassurances and to hear cliched advice. I just need to know that there’s a shoulder to cry on if I need it, and a BIG glass of wine waiting for me at their house if I stop by.” —Emily Walz
“My best friend has 3 children and is pregnant with her fourth. She doesn’t wait until she’s told everyone else before she tells me. She knows I’m happy for her. Her fertility has nothing to do with my own. When I want to talk about it my best friend listens. She lets me say what is on my mind and she gives me comfort. Hugs and shoulder’s to cry on are the best. Often times words are not needed. Just the knowledge that I have a support system is enough.” —Mary De Bastos of My Life in Scotland
“It was actually a friend’s mother who has stood out from a support point of view. Firstly, she asked permission to talk about it. She actually asked whether I wanted to talk about it, whereas most others wade straight in. Also, it’s human nature to want to reassure: “Maybe next time”, “It’ll happen when it’s the right time”, “It’ll be ok”. It’s ok to say it’s not ok. In Maggie’s case it was ok for her to say “This is bleeping awful” (she’s actually got a shocking pottymouth so I won’t type what she actually said as it was actually a blushingly extensive list of expletives!). Nor did she indicate that she understood what I must be going through. She simply said “I truly hope that it happens for you both. And please know, you are always able to pick up the phone & call me if you ever want to let off steam.” No solutions, just a willingness to listen & an acknowledgement that sometimes things suck.” —Helen
“In general I would say my most supportive friends were the ones who did not tiptoe around the issue. I really did not want to go around announcing the problems we were having, but it was so isolating to feel like I couldn’t talk about it…My most supportive friend texted and emailed often to see how I was doing– just quick questions, no pressure. Even though she has three kids and didn’t experience any fertility problems, she showed genuine concern for what I was going through. I texted her every month when the tests came back negative, and she always responded with an angry face emoji or something similar. Then she would follow up a few days later to ask how I was feeling. By asking questions, she showed that she really was a safe person to come to anytime I wanted to talk about it. Of course she was one of the first people I told once we were pregnant, and she was so happy she cried!” —Courtney
“One of my closest friends recently had an unplanned pregnancy of not one, but two baby boys. Despite how awkward we both feel about this situation, and despite how insanely jealous I am of her super powered fertility, we’ve managed to remain close friends through it all. She frequently sends me short texts to check in on how things are going and has even offered to come with my to my doctor appointments. When I had surgery to remove one of the pregnancies, she didn’t pull away (despite being beautifully and heavily pregnant with her boys). She called to check up on me and listened to me cry and simply let me know that she was there to support me. For me, that is the most helpful thing a friend can do.”–Bethie of A Link in a Chain
“I was touched most by one particular incident many months after one of our heartbreaks. We became pregnant on our 3rd IVF attempt and then miscarried twins about 11 weeks in. I had some great friends and family who initially stopped by, left cards on my doorstep or sent flowers. But the note left on my desk, from my brother and his wife, about 9 months later, truly touched me when I needed it. At that point I was the only one remembering a due date that could have been and the only one imagining what life may have been like…if only. Their note validated the heavy feelings I was burdened with. Their simple act of remembering and expressing their love and concern through a letter helped carry me through a very sad time.” —Mariah on instagram
Any other advice for being the best kind of supportive friend for someone you love dealing with infertility? Feel free to share them here in the comments.
Thanks again for allowing me a place to talk about this difficult and sensitive issue. I’ve been overwhelmed by the love and support from all of you wonderful readers. My heart goes out to any of you waiting for a little miracle. You’re certainly not alone in that journey.
(19 weeks and counting!)