The Challenges of Living with Fertile Friends and Family

I did a radio show last week discussing the transition from infertility to adoption. I was talking about the challenges of experiencing infertility and having to attend events like baby showers. It got me thinking about the 7-8 million people who are infertile and how they cope when they learn their friends and family are not.

It becomes an emotional minefield when you remain unsuccessful at building your family and you learn a friend or family member is pregnant. When you learn about the pregnancy makes a difference. If you are just beginning infertility treatment the emotional impact may be different than if you have experienced multiple unsuccessful attempts at pregnancy.

How you receive the news affects you in different ways. Finding out on Facebook offers you anonymity and safety. You can even pretend you never saw it. It gives you time to consider how you want to respond. Receiving a phone call can still help you mute or mask any negative emotions. The most difficult scenario is hearing the news face to face. There is no filter and sometimes no warning when a friend or family member excitedly shares their pregnancy news with you.

You will experience a multitude of emotions. You can be happy that they are pregnant. This is coupled with a mixture of jealousy, sadness, and anger that you are unable to experience your own pregnancy. You may begin to wonder what they will expect of you in terms of participating and celebrating the pregnancy and birth? Finally, you must ask yourself how you will be able to emotionally and physically participate in the ongoing celebration of this milestone event. Relationships can end, be damaged, or grow stronger by the decisions all parties make at this time.

The direction your relationship takes is influenced by the relationship you had prior to the pregnancy. How long and solid is it? Is it a family member or friend you see often? Can you talk in a candid yet supportive way? Can you exchange ideas and feelings without becoming defensive? Can you see that you are more than your infertility? Does their day to day focus include more than their pregnancy? Do you all look forward to your relationship after the baby is born and beyond?

These are uncharted waters for everyone involved. If a solid foundation has been laid prior to the pregnancy news there are things everyone can do to help maintain and secure your relationships. The pregnant family member or friend needs to be sensitive to the fact that in spite of your happiness for them it may be difficult for you to participate in celebrations and hear ongoing stories relating to the pregnancy and birth of the child. Knowing they are aware of your feelings can help create an atmosphere of mutual understanding and compassion. You need to determine what you are emotionally prepared to say and do throughout the pregnancy and birth. For example, you can say it would be really hard for you to attend the baby shower but you would like the two of you to get together at another time. Perhaps you can attend the baby shower with the mutual understanding that if it becomes overwhelming you will quietly leave. All parties need to recognize it is a fluid time and emotions can change depending on where you are in terms of your infertility treatment an perhaps what stage of their pregnancy they are at. It requires compassion and flexibility among all parties. If those elements are present the odds are greater that your relationship will endure and perhaps grow stronger.

Iris Waichler, MSW, LCSW, has a Master's Degree in Social Work and has been a licensed clinical social worker for over 30 years. She has done workshops, individual, and group counseling with people experiencing infertility. Ms. Waichler is the author of Riding the Infertility Roller Coaster: A Guide to Educate and Inspire. She currently writes freelance infertility and health related articles.

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