I Don't Know What to Say: A Guide for Friends of Infertiles
The major thread, besides the good wishes, that runs through every one of these statements is the notion that they don't know what to say. They all want to let me know they are supporting us, but they aren't sure what words work in that moment.
I've spent a lot of space considering the things that are inappropriate to say to infertiles, so let me share with you the things you should say to your friend or family member facing infertility.
6. Anything. Seriously, anything. Except stupid, insensitive, thoughtless platitudes. So, anything that you REALLY mean.
I have some friends and family members who told me they read my blog. They said some nice things about it, but in truth, I was elated that they were reading my musings at all. They didn't have to say flattering things. Knowing I am being heard out there, when I feel like I am just shouting into the vast expanses of the universe, reminds me I am still human, even if I can't make one.
They didn't try to solve my problems or fix my wounds. They didn't try to tell me everything happens for a reason or that it is darkest just before the dawn. Those things aren't helpful. Seriously. They are tired and cliched. Though many folks say these things because they believe they are comforting, I can tell you from experience they are not.
Heartfelt, sincere statements are much better. They let me know they are listening and being a friend, even when I don't know it. They don't have to be profound, poetic or perfect. Simple admissions of being there for us are enough. It makes the dark times a little brighter to know they are out there, sharing our journey.
5. Remember that thing we love to do together? We should do that sometime very soon.
Too many times, infertility becomes all consuming. You and your spouse are caught in a world that very few other people understand. As a result, you become a two man team, us against the world. Sometimes I have to stop myself from asking Jeremy about the next step in our treatment plans when we're in the midst of a date night. Infertility knows no bounds.
As a survival mechanism, sometimes we infertiles close ourselves off to some experiences. Soon, having lunch on Saturday with your best friend goes away because it's just too hard for her to find a sitter. Calls with your friends are interrupted by bath time and homework. Your shopping buddy requires a stroller and your heart just can't take the tiny, perfect baby that your friend has and you are yearning for. Shoe shopping isn't so much fun when your heart is breaking.
If you truly mean it, find some time to take your friend away from their infertility-- even if it's only long enough to have a meal, get a pedicure or see a movie. Here's the catch: don't bring up your kids. Don't bring them along. Don't ask to go shop in the Children's Place. Don't take ten phone calls from them or about them during the outing. If you want, ask her to do the same with her infertility. Both of you can take a break from your responsibilities for the length of your outing.
Be present with your friend and make the day about the bond you share. If you want to help your friend get to a better place in dealing with infertility, open up some "safe space" so she can begin to talk with you about the things that made you friends in the first place.
4. Have you read the latest book or seen the latest movie?
Most infertiles know way too much about our bodies. We can tell you what CD it is, how many DPO and when our next round of treatments is slated to begin. We can rattle off protocols we have researched and alternatives we have even thought about. We know about specialist co-pays, the tier three drug co-pays and whether or not our insurance will allow ART. But, at the end of the day, all of that is incredibly stressful. Sometimes, we need a break from all of the guinea pig stuff to remember to be a human.
Recommend a book that has NOTHING to do with infertility. I'm not talking about self help books to get them to take a path you want them to take. I'm talking about thrillers, sappy romances, period dramas, whatever you love to read. The same goes for movies. Comedies are fantastic, but a chick flick is wonderful, too. Thrillers and action movies are great for the times when we are looking for the escape from it all. Share your experiences with this to help us remember the connections we have that have nothing to do with family building.
3. Remember that time we did ________________? Can you believe it? Wasn't that insane?
Memories are fantastic. They take us back to times before we knew what heartache this package could entail. Help us remember the fantastic trip we took and did something crazy. Remind us of the crazy party we went to where we knew no one, but had the best time. Help us think back to a time in high school when we thought we we going to DIE over someone who was our crush. Take us out of our here and now and help us be somewhere else, if just for a little while. Let us revel in times when no one was Mommy, except for perhaps OUR mothers. Let us remember what it was like when the playing field was even.
Reminiscing also helps rebuild those bonds that sometimes become strained with life circumstances put us on differing paths. Finding the common ground in our past can help us to find one another again in a modern friendship.
2. What's been the hardest part of this experience for you?
Too many times, I have felt like a freak show dealing with infertility. People assume they know exactly what I am going through. They think they know what infertility is because someone they vaguely knew once got pregnant after going to a fertility clinic, or because they didn't conceive on the first cycle they tried. even better, folks think they understand because of the Octamom or John and Kate + 8. Yeah, no.
People make so many assumptions about this process, but the truth is, it is difficult for everyone and as different as the people who face it. In my experience, the longer it wears on, the worse it gets. You get numb to certain things, but other things never stop hurting. It's such a terrible double edged sword that leaves gaping wounds no one can see.
When you ask me about my experience, you tell me it's ok to talk with you about it... to REALLY talk with you about it. Some people mistakenly believe it will be an awkward talk about my sex life. The fact of the matter is infertility is so far disconnected from that in my world. It's all clinical. I have teams of doctors who evaluate my eggs and Jeremy's "samples." I take medicines to induce ovulation and have procedures to try to create a pregnancy. No, the stork doesn't bring babies. The "old fashioned baby making" doesn't yield babies here, either I firmly believe that a doctor in a white lab coat just might. That's what keeps me moving forward on this path.
Knowing that a friend wants to hear about my reality tells me they want to truly understand. I'll start slow, I promise. But, if you really want to know about my walk through infertility, I will share. It might do my heart some good to unburden some of the weight I have been holding inside.
1. I love you and want to listen whenever you want to talk. Could we have coffee sometime just to catch up?
It's not about the coffee. Let me just make that clear. It can be wine, or dinner, or just a girls day. The sentiment here is about spending time in a way that is defined.
If you say we should get together sometime, I will agree. If you tell me you wish me the best, I will thank you. If you say we should talk, I'll tell you to let me know when you want to get together. In other words, I won't initiate time together because of my infertility.
:Let me explain. I know you have a million familial and work responsibilities. I know you are like every other woman in America- stretched too thin. I know you have so many people who need you and your skills and talents. I assume I should be on the bottom of that list because... well... just because.
If you are serious about getting together to spend time with me, propose a time and activity. I will likely say yes. If I say no, I might propose an alternative time if I have a work commitment or the like. But, it will be a highlight I put on my calendar and look forward to. It will make my heart lighter and will make me smile. What do we have to do? Hardly anything. Take a walk. Go window shopping. Sit on the couch and gossip. It really doesn't matter. It's all about spending time with someone who I love and who loves me, too.
Here's a nasty truth. On some days, infertility makes me feel pretty unlovable. I feel broken from the inside out. Spending an afternoon on silly nonsense can make me realize I am still a good friend and a whole woman. It can put me back on the path to being the Becky I know I am. Your time and your friendship just might make it a little easier to face yet another month without a baby in my arms.
The bottom line is this: if you say nothing, it makes me feel more distance between us. Opening up a dialogue and communicating with me makes me feel like you value me, despite my inadequacies. I'm still the person I was before infertility... the shoe loving, dog owning, chocolate eating, tea drinking, cookie baking, bad joke loving, book reading, cool aunt that loves people. I just have some other "experience" that I didn't want. I'm still your friend. I'm still here, waiting to hear from you.
If you mean it, just say something-- anything, as long as it's from your heart.