A few months ago, I was asked by a close friend if I’d be willing to be her support buddy while she goes through IVF. Her fertility doctor recommended that she put together a close group of family and/or friends whom she could reach out to if she ever needed comfort, emotional support, or just someone to vent to. After several years of trying to get pregnant and a miscarriage to boot, she and her husband made the decision to embark on IVF. My friend is an emotionally strong woman who thinks practically and doesn’t let her emotions get the best of her (quite the opposite of myself). On the outside, she appears calm and in control, but I know this process is weighing heavily on her. There’s something about wanting to be a mother but having your own body hinder you that cannot be described unless you’ve been through it yourself.
The first time I got pregnant, it was with twins. I received confirmation of my pregnancy from my OBGYN the day before Mother’s Day. I felt like I had just been inducted into the highly coveted motherhood club, and I could now relate to all the Mother’s Day commercials and ads that were on constant rotation. I was a mom! My husband even bought me flowers and a Mother’s Day card to celebrate.
I was riding high for weeks, making plans for being the perfect mother with the perfect nursery and the perfect life, when all of a sudden, I found myself being whisked to the ER in the back of an ambulance. I had miscarried one baby, and hours later, I was released into the Chicago streets with only my nightgown and bare feet (the only clothing I had on me). I felt brutally kicked-out of the motherhood club and profoundly ashamed. My husband and I hailed a cab home so I could go on bedrest to wait for the second baby to pass, as his/her heart was no longer beating.
I felt so stupid.
I felt like I had done this to myself – who was I to think my life was so great? I felt embarrassed and sad and lonely and lost. My husband didn’t understand these feelings, nor did any of my family and friends. I cried for three months straight. No one knew how to talk to me, so they didn’t. I wanted people to reach out to me to see how I was doing, but at the same time, I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I was obsessed with mom blogs, scrutinizing their lives only to ask, “Why them and not me?”
Knowing that my friend is going through something similar, I am committed to being there for her the way I would have wanted others to be there for me. At the end of the day, there is no perfect way to be there for someone who is going through infertility. Everyone is different and processes tough situations differently. That being said, here are some ways I plan to help.
Let her talk on her own time, and just listen
Sometimes, when I want to vent or just complain, I really don’t want the other person to chime in with opinions. I don’t need to hear about the friend-of-a-friend who went through the same thing and then ended up having ten babies and now lives a perfect, happy life. I don’t want to hear, “Everything will work out!” or “It will happen when you least expect it.” If your friend screams out “life sucks,” respond with “yes, it does” because, at that moment, that is how she genuinely feels. Give her space to let out her emotions – the good and the bad – without judgment.
Don’t give advice
Unless you are asked for it, please do not give advice. Don’t advise your friend on the foods she’s eating, her workout regimen (or lack of), her lifestyle choices, the way she handles stress, her work schedule, the cleaning products in her house, or anything else. Even if you have been through infertility before, keep your advice to yourself. As tempting as it may be to advise, you are not there to problem solve. You are not there to make her happy. You are not there to inform her that “others have it worse.”
Just be there, and that’s it – if she wants more, she will let you know.
Check in, but not obsessively
No one wants to feel like a charity case. Check in often, but not so much that it’s obvious you’re worried or concerned about her. And when you do check-in, unless she wants to talk about something in particular, talk about celebrity gossip, the latest shows that you binge-watched, the great novel that you just read, or anything else besides babies and infertility. There is still more to her life, and when you’re so defeated by one thing, it’s nice to be able to disconnect in another way – discussing all the other things that are happening around the world or in life can be a nice mental and emotional break.
Several of my friends were pregnant when I miscarried. They didn’t know how to include me in baby showers or other get-togethers, so they didn’t. My non-pregnant friends were too scared to ask me out to cocktail hours or a girls night out, so they didn’t.
But, I wasn’t mourning my friends’ babies, I was mourning my own. I wasn’t upset that they were pregnant — quite the contrary, I was upset with myself. I still wanted to be included, to be invited out, to feel part of the gang again. I just wanted them to understand that I may not show up. But, I wanted them to keep including me until I was ready.
Leaving someone out because you’re not sure how to proceed can feel very isolating to the person on the other side – especially if they are already struggling through something extremely painful.
If you’re really not sure how to support your friend, just ask. Try to be specific instead of just, “Well, let me know how I can help.” That can feel like an additional cumbersome weight to carry.
Instead, ask when you can drop by with takeout. Ask if she’d like to go to a movie or join you for yet another showing of “Mean Girls.” Ask what she’d like to talk about. Ask if she’d like to go for a walk or out for a drink or make dinner together.
Let her know that you can be there for her in the way she needs, and if she doesn’t explicitly tell you what that is, just keep showing up – she will when she is ready.