It's very hard to have an infertile friend. It's even harder to be a friend to an infertile person. (It is the hardest to BE that infertile person.) You are required to have an emotional quotient much higher than is needed for regular friendships. Here are some thoughts that have been playing in my mind for a few days:
Party / Picnic / Some other sort of family gathering. People are there with their families. You meet someone for the first time and if you don’t see her fussing around her kids within some time of meeting her, do NOT ask:
“Do you have children?” or worse “How long have you been married? Do you have children?”
“When are you planning to have children?”
If the person has a significant other in his / her life, the person may be childless by choice, or may not have started TTC yet, or may be suffering from infertility. Whatever be the person’s reality, it is his or her reality, and none of your business to ask and know. If the person wants to talk about it, he or she will.
You run into an old friend / acquaintance after a long time. You have not been in active touch over the years. You are now catching up with your friend. Try to avoid questions that may make for uncomfortable situations. Again – whatever be the person’s reality, if he / she wants to talk about it, he/she will.
A friend / colleague has been married a while. He / she is childless, and you notice he/ she does not easily talk about children, or avoids get-togethers or baby showers. You also notice that he/ she seems to have many “doctor appointments.” This MAY be a person who is dealing with infertility (or maybe even some other disease) and is not comfortable talking about it. As long as the person wants to remain in the closet – let him/her be. You may be curious as hell and you and your other friends / colleagues may have come to some assumptions, but it is not polite to pry, even if your assumptions are correct. However, it would be a welcome gesture to just let the person know you’re there, and if the person wants to talk, you’ll be there to listen.
You know your friend / colleague is TTC. You know she has been seeking treatment. You know she’s frustrated, depressed, sad, angry, confused – all at the same time. DO NOT SAY/ ASK:
“Just relax – you’re stressing way too hard. Relax and it will happen”
You have no idea how much extra stress you just created in your friend’s life. She would not be seeking infertility treatment if she could cure it by “just relaxing”. Her doctor would not be trying to treat her, if she could “just relax” and get pregnant.
Infertility is a disease, and you’re lucky you don’t have it.
“Look at the positives in your life. You have a great marriage. Count your blessings – you’ve got so much to be thankful for.” OR “You’re lucky you don’t have children. You can travel when you want, you can sleep in when you want etc”
This just minimizes your friend’s pain. This just makes her feel like she’s exaggerating her angst. You wouldn’t tell someone who lost a leg in an accident that he does not need to buy shoes any more, and therefore how lucky he is!
“God means it to be this way” OR “This must be God’s plan”
DO NOT bring God or religion into the picture. You have no idea what the person’s religious thoughts on the topic are, nor do you know what the person’s current relationship with God is. In any case, God could not have come and told you that He means for your friend to be unhappy.
“It could be worse” or “Maybe it’s a sign that things will be worse on the other side”
You did not pause before having your child for fear of what could go wrong. Why ask others to? It’s her dream as much as it was yours to have children.
Don’t try to make light of the matter by changing the subject or joking about it.
You wouldn’t joke with someone who’d just lost a spouse, would you? You wouldn’t change the topic and joke with someone who’d just had an accident. Why treat your infertile friend as though her pain is “lesser” or “smaller” than anyone else’s?
Don’t offer any advice unless you’re asked for it. Don’t judge. Don’t decide for your friend. She is suffering from a great deal of mental trauma. She is obviously researching all her options and making informed decisions. She and her partner will decide what’s best for them. What may work for you may not work for your friend.
Don’t offer stories of “hope” for your friend “I know this girl – she tried for 8 years, and then adopted – within months of the adoption she got pregnant naturally!”
Yes – we all know those kinds of people who got pregnant after all the world’s doctors could not get them pregnant. But that was them. That may not happen to your friend. It just reminds her how much worse off she is at present.
Your friend has just got news of a BFN or has just lost a pregnancy / baby.
DO NOT try to take her mind off of this by joking. After my first IVF failed, someone actually said this to me “Never mind, now you can party! Finally you’re no longer “not drinking” and “not feeling well”!” (Not in those exact words – but you get the picture)
“At least this means you CAN get pregnant” or “The baby must not have been normal” or “Never mind, you’ll get pregnant again”.
At this time, NOTHING you say is going to make the person feel better. The best thing to do is to say you’re sorry. That’s it. You don’t have to say anything else. But don't disappear and not say anything either.
Don’t try and change the topic and talk about “other” things. Someone asked me “How is your knee?” while I was talking about my 3rd pregnancy loss, the one that ended up being ectopic.
If your friend is talking to you and revealing the feelings in her heart, it's because she thinks you'd understand. Please understand how difficult this time is for her. Please understand how very hard it must be for her to tell you what's going on. If she has decided to open up to you, do NOT be insensitive to her. She is very raw right now, and she cannot deal with jokes or innuendoes or trivial talk.
"Why don't you just adopt?"
Adoption may be the answer for some people, but not necessarily the panacea for every infertile. Rest assured that she has probably researched every topic around building her family. Nobody asks a fertile couple to adopt. Why is it the "responsibility" of the infertile to give a home to those babies? Different people have different view points to having their families. For some the experience of pregnancy is a must. For some it is the desire to experience child-birth. For others it is a desire to have a child in the house. Everyone makes their decisions based on their own preferences.
You are pregnant. Or you are having / hosting a baby shower. Or you've just delivered a baby. You are aware of your friend's infertility struggles.
Do NOT exclude her. Inform her and leave it up to her.
Tell her you understand if she cannot come, and in reality, please try and understand that she cannot attend. It's not because she is not happy for you. It's because she needs to protect her already bruised heart. She will deal with the information and come around as best as she can. When she feels like she can deal with visiting you and seeing your baby without breaking down, she will come on her own.
The best thing that a friend can do, is be patient. Maybe read up a little about what your friend is going through, so you understand the pain and the procedures and the chances. Be there if she wants to cry, but don't judge her for crying. Don't offer suggestions that are not thought through. She is dealing the best way she can. Don't make her feel like she needs to deal with things better. Don't offer introductions to people who have gone through similar experiences, in the hope that your friend will "learn how to deal" the way they did.
Infertility sucks big time. It is painful, and heart breaking. It is draining emotionally, financially and physically. If you have a friend that is infertile, please be sensitive to her. Just try and be there for her.
I am fortunate that I have some friends who are standing by me. I have also had the unfortunate experience of shutting out people from my life because I felt they did not respect my pain, and trivialized my trauma. At this point, when one has lost so much, one is really beyond caring. It becomes very very easy to isolate and shut people out. If you care for your friend, don't let her shut you out.