|I’d give anything to be you…
One of the cruelest things anyone ever said to me is, “Maybe God doesn’t intend for you to be a mother.” How incredibly insensitive to imply that I would be such a bad mother that God felt the need to divinely sterilize me. If God were in the business of divinely sterilizing women, don’t you think he would prevent the pregnancies that end in abortions? Or wouldn’t he sterilize the women who wind up neglecting and abusing their children? Even if you aren’t religious, the “maybe it’s not meant to be” comments are not comforting. Infertility is a medical condition, not a punishment from God or Mother Nature.
The best thing you can do is let your infertile friends know that you care. Send them cards. Let them cry on your shoulder. If they are religious, let them know you are praying for them. Offer the same support you would offer a friend who has lost a loved one. Just knowing they can count on you to be there for them lightens the load and lets them know that they aren’t going through this alone.
So, what can you say to your infertile friends? Unless you say “I am giving you this baby,” there is nothing you can say that will erase their pain. So, take that pressure off of yourself. It isn’t your job to erase their pain, but there is a lot you can do to lesson the load.
When you find out you’re pregnant, don’t hide it from your infertile friend. She loves you, and even though she may grieve for her own childlessness, she really will be happy for your good news. Finding out that you are pregnant from someone else, or far into your pregnancy by stumbling across something about it on facebook, is a really good way to hurt her. Infertility is already a very isolating thing; excluding your infertile friend from baby-related joy is not only unhelpful, but it makes her feel unwanted – less than worthy because she is “broken” and therefore unfit to be around those for whom conception is just a fun romp in the hay. She may not choose to come to your baby shower because she is afraid she might burst into tears over her own grief and ruin your day, but she should be allowed to make that judgement call for herself. And you never know – maybe sharing in the joy and celebration of new life with someone she loves is what she needs, in order to avoid falling into despair. You probably think that by not including her in baby news, you’re helping; please, let her make those choices herself.
If you want to know more about your infertile friend’s health, or about infertility in general, it really is okay to ask. But instead of digging for details right off the bat, a simple “I am so sorry this is happening to you, and I really want to be more informed so I can be a good friend to you in this” goes a really long way. Perhaps she will discuss the matter opening, or maybe she will point you to a post like this one or a medical article, or a forum where you can connect with the loved ones of other infertiles. Honestly, the only reason I ever get upset when someone asks me about my infertility is when they approach it out of morbid curiosity, or say something like “oh, so-and-so and I were talking about you the other day and we’re curious what treatments you’ve tried because so-and-so from work said that her best friend’s boyfriends sister’s dental hygienist said that, really, all you need to do is relax and you’ll get pregnant.” Seriously??
On that note, you need to recognize the fact that infertility is not just two people not getting pregnant right off the bat when they go off the Pill and start having unprotected sex. It is not about “relaxing” or just waiting and “letting it happen naturally”. Infertility is a medical diagnosis of a serious nature. A couple cannot be diagnosed infertile until they have tried unsuccessfully to conceive for a full year without success. Infertility is not about having to wait a few months to get pregnant – it is about a physical or chemical problem in either the male or female body that prevents conception. No amount of relaxation or positive thinking is going to magically fix this problem, and suggesting these things to a couple that has been trying to get pregnant for years is not just insensitive – it’s plain absurd.
Recognize that, even when your infertile friend is celebrating something, she is probably sad on some level that another marker has passed without a child. For example: I celebrated my twenty-fifth birthday two days ago, on February 10th. On the 9th, I had an emotional meltdown because it suddenly hit me that when my mother turned twenty-five, her oldest child (me) had just turned four, and she had two other children as well! This was truly one of the best birthdays I have ever had…but it wasn’t until my Grama told me her first child wasn’t born until she was twenty-seven that I was able to really let that pain go and enjoy my day. My anniversary (number four) will likely bring similar sadness, and Mother’s Day is always a very difficult time for me (and pretty much every other infertile woman I know). I haven’t gone to church on Mother’s Day since 2008, because that Sunday, as I was trying to sneak past the women handing flowers to all of the mothers of the congregation as they left, I was given a flower by the pastor’s wife; when I tried to give it back to her, she said, “But surely you are a mother!” even though I had been attending for almost a year, and had previously told her I am infertile. She wouldn’t allow me to return the flower, and as I tried to duck out of the church, tears streaming down my cheeks against my will, five or six other women patted my arm as I passed, wishing me a happy Mother’s Day. Why did this happen? I have no idea. But I have no wish whatsoever to submit to another sermon on how blessed mothers are among women, or to risk explaining that I am unable to conceive as I run the flower gauntlet out the door. Last year, I received a Mother’s Day card from my
husbandpuppy; it was the first time in three years that I didn’t want to sleep straight through the day. As the friend of an infertile woman, it is important that you accept that even happy occurrences can and probably do bring up the grief of infertility in your friend and her husband. Father’s Day is no picnic at our house, either.