This is a post I have been contemplating for a long time. I’ve covered some bits before. But I always come back to it. And as I begin to write it, I suspect it might turn into two or maybe even three posts. So bear with me.
Friends and family are a perennial issue in the IF community. Friendships and insensitivities and hurt is raised over and over again. Everyone has a story. And that's why I want to talk about this again. Infertility plays havoc with our perceptions of our friendships. We get frustrated when we don’t get the support we need and want. We worry that our situations – dealing with IF, loss, adoption, or the fact we don’t have families – means that we aren’t giving our own friends and family the support* that we would normally expect to give. If things had been different.
When we are hurting most acutely, we feel the lack of support most acutely. We are raw with pain and shame and despair, and so any misstep by friends or family is a stabbing pain. We can’t believe their insensitivity, or we feel unloved and uncared for and forgotten. Or worse, we feel worthless, that our loved ones think we are undeserving of comfort, or that our pain is denied, dismissed, unnecessary. We are often 100% consumed with our infertility, and so our friendships come under extraordinary pressure to adapt to this change. What was good about our friendship can get lost under the shifting tectonic pressures of infertility and grief. It is tough. It is tough for us. It is tough for our friends to know what to say, how to deal with us. Too often, as I am sure I have written before, their inability to know what to say turns into silence, and for us, that is often worse than not saying anything at all.
And as a result, our hurt and our pain, and our friends or family members inability to know what to do to help us (or their inability to understand that we were going through pain at all), leads us to reach out, but sometimes in the wrong way. We’re hurt and angry and upset, and we don’t yet have the perspective that would help us understand. And some friendships crumble, some in complete destruction, others are permanently damaged.
I had a friendship that changed during my infertility. She was there for me at the beginning. She hugged me when I cried with my first ectopic, visited me in hospital during my second, and brought me books to keep me entertained. But she brought her toddlers to the hospital, and the books were full of miscarriages or statements by characters that their lives hadn’t been worth living before they had children. This, at a time when I was in hospital for a lost pregnancy, and was suspected of a cancer that would mean my quests to conceive would be over there and then. She didn’t think, and to be fair was horrified when I pointed this out at a later date, when I was actually able to laugh at her misfires. These lapses I could forgive, because I knew her heart was in the right place.
But over the next years, we drifted apart. I got tired of being the one who always contacted her. I felt that I was the childless one with the unlimited time, and that my wish to spend time with her was seen as a burden. Maybe, maybe not. But anyway, when I didn't do the contacting, we weren't in contact. I felt hurt that I wasn't included in her life with her children. I learned years later she was going through a difficult time too, but one which she couldn't really articulate, and in fact, consciously or unconsciously fought against articulating because that would make it real. And in our joint pain, we were simply unable to help each other. I regret that, but I know that I couldn’t have done anything differently. I don't blame either of us. We are still friends, but no longer besties. I do however find that the hurt and rejection I felt then returns easily when I am feeling down. So the wounds haven’t entirely healed, but I am glad we are still friends.
What did this teach me? Well, it reminded me that friendships change. Throughout our lives, if we are fortunate, we have friends. Sometimes, the friendships are enduring, moving with us through our different life stages and milestones. Sometimes our friends come to us at particular times, bringing to our lives whatever it is we need of them (and vice versa), and then move on, for whatever reason. Sometimes we leave our friends on good terms, simply because geography or life experiences are different and separate us. Sometimes, we leave our friends – or they leave us, in more negative circumstances, leaving us or them or both of us hurt, in pain, confused, angry, let down, disappointed.
But even if separations are less than amicable, with time and distance it is possible for me to step back, and examine my role in the ending of that friendship. Not to blame, but to learn. I want to learn from each friendship.
And one of the things I’ve learned is to appreciate what each friendship gave me at the time. And that’s wonderful. Just because a friend can’t support me through some of my issues (the occasional pangs of no kids, for example) doesn’t mean that the friendship is worthless. It’s not. As I've written before, if we always enjoyed talking about travel, then we can still do that. If we felt solidarity in discussions of food and exercise and weight loss, we can still do that. If we had talked about work, or books, or politics, then we can still do that. My friend and I still have much of what brought us together in the first place. And that’s a good thing. Recognising it is even better.
I’ve realised it simply isn’t realistic of me to expect everyone I know to be experts in fertility and grief and what it means to live without children. It doesn’t mean I won’t try to educate them, to make them more aware and more sensitive, if the opportunity presents itself. Some friendships grow as a result. But if they don’t, I find that I am able to take their lack of understanding or occasional insensitively less personally than I might have otherwise. Recovering from hurt is quicker and easier. Reducing expectations increases satisfaction. That's Marketing 101. Perhaps we should also call it Friendship 101 too?
To appreciate my friendships for what they were, and for what they are now, not for what they lack, is how I want to live my life. It’s not always easy, but it is rewarding when I manage to do it. Reminders – perhaps by reading about struggles others are going through, or simply by writing this blog – are good for me. They teach me gratitude for what I have. And make me feel loved and appreciated.
* to be a topic of a future post