Tuesday, November 5, 2013

How to help a friend through infertility

It has surprised me on both sides of the coin: in receiving advice/counsel during my struggle with infertility, and in giving it, either to friends going through it, or friends who have friends going through it. It's another situation in life where there is never quite the right thing to say. But let me try to help you get started...
  • Patience is key. This is not going to go away overnight. If you've been clued in that this is what's going on in your friend's life, she may have already been struggling with it for a little while, and she may be headed towards years of ups and downs to come. Don't come running in with a game-plan and offensive strategy; grab a seat on the couch and get ready to be there for awhile.
  • Nothing will be right in her world, until this is resolved. You can try and lighten the mood; take her out for pedis, dinner; try to tell her all of the reasons she should appreciate not having children right now [don't do that actually, like, ever]...but nothing, no NOTHING, will be okay right now. Even if the IVF is scheduled for next week, she can't go out and have 'one last hurrah' with you; she can't go on a scuba diving trip to celebrate a diagnosis with a plan of attack. She can't even complete 50% of her workload right now. She can't believe this is going to be ok. Even if and when she is blessed with a child in her life, she might not believe it. She is mired in a matrix of sorts. Her brain is in another realm, fighting unknown forces, and her body is still living the day to day that is required.
  • In keeping with the metaphor of The Matrix, be the Trinity, not the Neo. Try to enter the matrix with her. Try to see what she sees. Try to listen when she explains the many different "if this, then that" scenarios. Maybe you actually have some knowledge on one of those if's, and you can offer a strategy or two, or doctor or two, for combating this evil that has befallen her. You can't control it for her; you can't make it right; you can't tell her which pill to take. You can't be all-knowing. You can fight along side her, and try to understand the world she has just entered.
  • Connect her with other friends you may know who have gone through it, and have come out on the other side. Most of us are happy to speak to someone else struggling with infertility. We almost always discuss the possible diagnoses first, and compare and contrast battle scars. But even if we don't have the same issue, we will still sympathize, and mention coping mechanisms. Strategies for remaining strong as a couple. Doomsday scenarios. Preparation for the worst, and best that may come. Honesty. The simple words: "It. sucks."
  • Do not let her wallow in darkness, but give her space. She may be keeping her distance because you have a pregnancy or new baby, and you don't understand why she is not around as much. You need to let her know that you are still willing to be an ear, but understand that she might not be one for you. It may be a one-sided relationship for awhile, if one at all. The friendship may have to take a step back. And as open as you are willing to be, she may not feel the same. She may require a different level of privacy with you than you used to have. I know, you just want your friend back. She wants to be a mama. You have to let her wallow at the edge of that desire, but do not let her go over the edge. You know your friend; you don't know what she's going through, but you do recognize when there is more than struggle going on. If you see signs of complete despair and retreat from the world of the living, you have to help. You have to knock on her door and drive her to the therapist. You have to make sure she has not completely given into the darkness with which she has been faced. Partner with her partner if that happens; he/she may not recognize it as they are dealing with their own side of this story. There is a difference between depression and giving up. Make sure it is not the latter.

  • After the journey is concluded, your relationship will be different. Understand that your friend may never be the same. You've gone through the ups and downs with her; the doctors and the hCG levels and the "fifth time's a charm", but let's face it: it didn't affect you as much as it affected her. It is a trauma; a loss of innocence. Her life may take a new turn and children are not in the picture. Or, if she is blessed with a child (or two!) in her arms, meeting you for play-dates and hitting the carpool scene, she may still harbor feelings of fear and jealousy for a long time. She will remember your kind words and your open heart, and want to go back to the way things used to be between you. But at best, there will be an adjustment period. And, at worst, she may find she needs to start fresh. Just with any life event, relationships will change.  They will deepen; they may separate. But you will have forever shared the friendship before infertility, and you will hopefully make it to a new level of friendship afterwards. Stay with it; stay with her. The new friend will remember all the good times you shared and be able to continue to build on it with your help. But it will be different. And it will take time.
Our Story

My husband and I put on a brave face for many months. We told a few close friends what we were going through [one by one, month by month, as suspicions arose and our faces were looking less brave.] We tried to 'live it up' and made a checklist of all of the things we couldn't do once we were pregnant/had kids, and tried to do one every weekend. We played video games [it was the era of the Wii] and bought boxes of candy; we went to amusement parks and rode roller coasters; I dyed my hair; we became tourists in our town; we got stinking drunk at our favorite restaurant and left our car there to take a cab home. We laughed like teenagers at ourselves the next morning when we had to go get our car.  This is my way of coping: finding the good; celebrating irresponsibility. I retreated from many friendships at that time; especially those who were pregnant or had newborns. Always underneath our daily lives was a sadness. I don't think we really had time to address the full story - our story of infertility -  until the kids were at least 2 and we went on our first trip together sans kids. It was a nice signifier of the journey we had gone through, and that that part of our journey was over.

Boxed and put away.

[Next to the NICU box; which is a whole other chapter!]

You can only hope this for your friend; you cannot make it happen. You are wonderful to wait patiently and keep your heart and door open. She will be forever grateful. You are already a wonderful friend for searching through advice columns like this one. Sometimes the best thing you can do is text "thinking of you." Because you are. And likely, she is thinking of you, too.

And now I sprinkle for you, some *baby dust* to those who need it.

And *hugs*.

Thinking of you. 

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