When you’re in the midst of infertility, you are searching for ways to get through it. Years later, you look back on the experience and understand it in a whole new way. It’s one of the biggest challenges a person can face in life, and you have no idea what it’s really like until it happens to you. Infertility can be a drawn out process, and it takes a toll on you and your partner. It’s devastating, and to be frank, it really sucks.
When you’ve faced other difficult times in life, you’ve probably reached out to friends and family for support and help. Most people are able to help after the loss of a loved one or during a cancer scare because most of us have direct experience with those issues. Infertility is quite different than many other situations because 1) it’s viewed as uncommon and not often talked about, especially in social situations; 2) people don’t know what to say; 3) you probably feel a sense of shame, guilt, or embarrassment; and 4) the grief is ongoing and resurfaces in various ways.
Although there are uncomfortable and even insensitive conversations that take place when you’re going through infertility, you likely do have people in your life who are trying their best to find ways to support you. I encourage you to be honest with yourself. Are you allowing that support in? Are you letting your own feelings of failure or shame cloud your views of the support you’re receiving? Are you pushing people out because it’s just too hard to talk about?
When I was going through infertility myself, I really only talked to a few close friends about it, and it took a while to share all my feelings with them. It was difficult to open up and be vulnerable.
When I look back on that time, infertility seemed to take over my life. It’s all I thought about, and at times it felt like all I talked about. I didn’t want to be that burden on my friends and I didn’t want something so sucky to monopolize every conversation. But that’s kind of how infertility works. It’s prolonged and goes in cycles. I learned from one of my good friends later that he felt helpless in the situation. He wanted me to know that he was there for me no matter what, that he wasn’t sick of hearing about what was going on in my life, and that he didn’t always know what to say, but he was trying his best. I regret that I was not able to accept all the support that I was being offered.
Learn from my mistakes. Take down those walls, even if it’s just a little bit, and allow those who love you to show you meaningful support. Here are my tips for how to do that:
- Trust that you’re friends are telling you the truth.
When you start apologizing for talking about your struggles, or things are getting a little TMI and your friend tells you it’s okay, believe that it’s okay. Part of being a good friend is being there during the hardest times of your life. Your friend is genuinely interested in the latest updates and your feelings about the process. Ask yourself, would you be there for them if they were going through something really tough? Of course, you would. So why doubt that they’re committed to supporting you? Put your trust in them and they’ll come through for you.
- Be really honest about your feelings.
I’ve heard time and again people say that no one understands, so there’s no point in talking about it. After I ask more about how they communicate with friends, I learn that it is talked about in vague terms and people often cover up the pain they’re really feeling because of embarrassment or fear of judgment. If you aren’t honest about what’s happening with you or you want to appear strong, how can your friend really help you?
Allow yourself some vulnerability and share with your friend. It’s a risk to be really honest with someone, but the payoff is worth it because it helps build your connection with that person. Give your friend a chance to hear you out, understand you, and provide you with the support that is so, so needed.
- Forgive your friend for saying insensitive or awkward things.
Let’s face it, no one knows what to say about infertility. It’s kind of taboo because people don’t know that much about it. It also revolves around your sex life and medical details, both of which are topics people shy away from.
Your friend may struggle with knowing the right thing to say, and at times they’ll mess up. They will say something like, “it’s just not the right time,” “if you just relax it will happen,” “at least you have a good marriage/life/house/job,” etc. They may jump into trying to fix things or offer advice. They may ask uneducated questions. If this happens, take a breath and slow down. Remember they are trying their best to support you, let them know that what they said hurt your feelings, attempt to explain why, and express appreciation that they are trying.
- Take it easy on yourself.
You’re going through something devastating. Infertility is accompanied by unpredictable emotions and behaviors, as well as the desire to isolate from others (especially if they are pregnant or have children) and retreat inward. You feel like you should be able to handle this on your own, that you don’t need help, and that you don’t want to burden others with your problems. Be gentle with yourself and recognize that you do need support. Just as your friend may make a mistake when talking to you, you might mess up, too. It’s easy to become overwhelmed and lash out at someone with the best intentions. It’s okay, it happens. Apologize for what happened, and use it as an opportunity to have be real and have an honest conversation with your supportive friend.
We aren’t meant to go through life all on our own; we are wired for human connection. I know you want to keep things private and you have a desire to appear strong. Exploring your feelings isn’t weak. It actually takes a lot more guts to be vulnerable than to pretend everything is okay when it’s not. There are plenty of people who love you. Give them a chance to support you. It helps more than you realize.
Comforting a friend photo available from Shutterstock