by Iris Waichler, LCSW
People who are struggling with infertility face a mine field of emotions that can erupt and retreat countless times a day. These emotional eruptions are filled with a mixture of feelings including hope, frustration, sadness, anger, depression, loneliness, and helplessness. The eruption often is triggered by a sense of loss and lack of control of your body, your world, and the people around you.
We often turn to our close friends to help us navigate the emotional turmoil that occurs in life during the course of a close friendship. Close friends are there beside us to help us with marriage, family disputes, deaths, relocation, school, work, lost loves and new found love. We rely on these steadfast friendships and take comfort in these people being a part of our lives and knowing we can turn to them for support when needed.
The occurrence of infertility can change the balance of these relationships. When one friend builds a family and the other cannot the emotional and relationship boundaries that were years in the making can be altered in surprising ways.
People who have never experienced infertility have difficulty understanding the life crisis infertility creates. They are unable to recognize the sacrifices and pain associated with each unsuccessful attempt to create a child. Comments that feel insensitive or thoughtless may be made by friends who are unaware of the hurtful feelings they can produce for those who can’t have a child. People who are able to have children are hurt by a close friend’s unwillingness to attend a baby shower or their inability to share the happiness when they learn about a friend’s new pregnancy.
So how do you bridge this gap that suddenly appears when you are facing the loss of a close friend in addition to the other losses associated with your infertility? Communicate to your friend the challenges infertility has created for you and the resulting emotional turmoil. Create a sort of roadmap for your friend explaining things they can say or do, (or perhaps not do), that will signal their encouragement and support.
If it is appropriate tell your friend that you are happy about their new pregnancy or the birth of their baby. Couple that with explaining that you are trying to balance that happiness for them with the pain you are feeling over your inability to have a child and that at times it is a tough balancing act.
If your friend asks you to come to a baby shower or a christening and you want to go prepare a back up plan. Tell your friend you will attend but if being there gets too overwhelming you may need to leave early. Explain it has nothing to do with supporting your friend but more to do with the painful feelings associated with celebrating the milestones of having a child that you are unable to experience at this time. Express that this is the best way you know of taking care of yourself during your life crisis and you don’t mean it to reflect a lack of love or support for your friend. Tell them that you hope they will understand. Express the hope that you will continue to talk and your desire that your friendship remains important.
The course of your friendship from this point will be determined by many factors. It is contingent on both of you working hard to understand the other’s viewpoint. It will take patience, understanding, candor, and flexibility from everyone concerned. Infertility can cause people to emotionally shut down or isolate. Friends need to understand these reactions are not a personal rejection or lack of support but rather a self defense mechanism frequently associated with infertility. It is separate from your relationship. If your friend cannot respect or understand the requests laid out in your roadmap you must make a choice about whether to maintain the friendship or not. Identify someone else you know can understand your feelings and offer comfort. If you can maintain a close relationship with your friend throughout this period your friendship can emerge stronger than before.
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 the award winning Riding the Infertility Roller Coaster: A Guide to Educate and Inspire. She currently writes freelance infertility and health related articles.