I have quite a few ‘normal’ friends (i.e. not infertile) who read this blog. (I am so far out the closet it is frightening, even my brother and ex flirts read this blog). Imagine how confusing most of the lingo must be for them. Anyhow. Back to the point of this post. One of those friends said to me “I wish you would write about how to be a good friend to an infertile person”. Which is really sweet of her and shows she has already passed one of the requirements. So I started thinking about writing a post on this and realized what a hard task this is. How do you become a Good Friend to an Infertile?
Firstly, I have to say that this being a Good Friend to an Infertile is not an easy job at all. It is a job with fluid parameters, a thankless job sometimes and one where it might appear that no matter how hard you try, you never seem to get it right. There are times when you will be extremely busy and the job is very demanding. There are other times where you will benched, forced to sit on the outside looking in. There is not often any logic in this change of demand. Be aware of the volatility of work pressure when applying for this job. It is not a decision to be taken lightly.
Secondly, there is not a universal job description, and worst of all, your job duties will change over time. There is not a universal job description because Infertiles come in different flavors. True, one can categorize these flavors to some extent, but variations will always exist. Your eternal optimist / newbie / completely uninvolved infertile doesn’t need too much in the way of special friendship; they believe the problem is temporary and will get resolved soon. They don’t feel broken, different or an outcast. Your longer term / highly involved infertile is a very tricky beast, and is one to be handled with great caution and protective gloves (for you, not her). This person feels alienated from society and carries great pain and angst in their souls. They might not show it all the time, but there is a very sensitive, raw spot in their souls that is easily bruised. Then you get the older timers, who’ve been doing this so long it just becomes part of who they are. These infertiles have gone through the great angst and intense pain of the ‘dark years’ and have come out realizing that while infertility is shit, it is not all consuming. And instead of crying, they laugh. Because infertility is actually a comedy of errors, sometimes.
Infertiles tend to move through these stages at different pace. Which makes it very hard being a Good Friend to an Infertile, because the type of friendship involved is so different at each stage. It is very very hard being a Good Friend to someone stuck in the dark stage of infertility. It is a very painful place for an infertile to be. There is no hope, just a great deep dark sense of despair. You feel totally alienated from the rest of the world and you are consumed by your situation. Every thing hurts, and every thing has the power to hurt you. Your world shrinks to the world of infertility and you fight tooth and nail to protect the fragile hold you have on sanity. The best advice I can give to a Good Friend at this stage is to offer friendship and support, from a distance. Say things like “I am here for you if you want to talk, or not talk, or drink, or swear, or shop. But if you don’t want to that’s perfectly ok. I’ll be here waiting for you when YOU are ready to come out the cave”. If you can bare it, hang in there, your friendship should return to some semblance of its previous form once your Infertile has worked her way through her dark despair. It has nothing to do with you or you ability to friend, it has every thing to do with her coping with the horrible reality of her situation.
Being a Good Friend to the eternal optimist or the good-humored veteran is a lot easier, with these few survival tips.
1. Good Friends never judge. Remember that unless you’ve walked in the person’s shoes, you can’t say “well I would never….do IVF/terminate a pg/spend so much money on ART etc” To be honest, who likes judgmental people any way.
2. Good Friends will educate themselves about what their Infertile is going through. HUGE proviso: see point 3 before putting any thing into action. Read up about infertility so that you get a high-level understanding of the intricacies involved. Know little things like eggs are retrieved, then fertilized and they become embryos. Then the embryos are put back. Just small things so that when your infertile does share some of her world with you, you will understand. I think this shows commitment to the friendship.
3. However. Do not willy nilly offer advice, or hot off the press latest research about a fantastic new procedure that is sure to work. Remember the stuff they write about in your local woman’s magazine is stuff that your Infertile did in Infertility 101. Been there, failed that. ICSI is not a new procedure, I promise. And yes, we have heard of taking cough syrup to increase cervical mucous. Oh, and for my Aunt, yes I have heard of lying with my legs in the air after having sex. Unfortunately, I have PCO and don’t ovulate so I could be lying with my legs in the air doing bicycle movements till the cows come home and all the sperm are going to do is mill around confused asking where the fuck the egg is, bemoaning the fact that this has been a useless trip out and they might as well have had a wank. Which goes back to Point 2. Educate yourself about your friend’s diagnosis so that you can avoid offering pointless advice. And please, what ever you do, never, ever be so stupid as to say “just relax”. Would you say to a cancer patient “just relax”? Would you say to someone who can’t see “just relax”? Of course you wouldn’t. Plus you have to know that “just relaxing” will not change the medical diagnosis that is causing your friends infertility. Because of course you’ve done enough reading to carry on an intelligent conversation, if your Infertile decides to engage you in one.
4. Platitudes. Never ever offer platitudes. This is a totally selfish act any way because all platitudes do is make you feel better and the Infertile feel worse. Saying “maybe you are not meant to have children” is an incredibly stupid thing to say. You wouldn’t say to a diabetic “maybe you weren’t meant to have insulin etc”. Infertility is a medical condition. Not some factor in the universe’s bigger plan for the Infertile. Similar to “its God will”. How the fuck do you know? You have a direct connection or what? How about “are you sure you want kids?” lovingly looking at your own screaming kids. No dear, I am spending thousands and enduring physical, emotional and mental anguish just because I am obscenely stupid. Or “you can have mine”. Now that’s an incredibly stupid thing to say. What kind of mother are you to give her kids away? Oh you were only joking? What was the funny part? That I don’t have my own kids? Sorry, but I am not getting the joke? Call me stupid. In addition, please don’t tell me about your friend/cousin/co-worker who got pg naturally after 8 years of trying. It doesn’t make me feel better, it depresses me. Good for her. It’s got nothing to do with my situation.
5. The tricky one. Announcing pregnancies / baby showers / births and other kid things. The best advice I can give here is trust the Infertile to know what she can or can’t handle. Don’t hide things from her, but respect it when she says to you “I don’t think I am going to be able to handle that”. Your Infertile knows when her good days and bad days are, and what she can or can’t handle. But do invite her, give her the choice of saying no. And then respect her to know that sometimes she needs to protect her own fragile soul more than she needs to fulfill social obligations.
6. The level of involvement. Infertiles differ in the level of involvement they engage their Good Friends in. Some, like me, are pretty open about the whole thing. Every Friend and their Mother knows when I am going in for ER, ET or whatever. Other people prefer to keep their infertility private. Find out what your Infertile prefers and operate at the level she feels comfortable with.
7. Which brings to me to my final point. If you don’t know how to act, ask. I love that my friends ask me how I want them to act around me. They also know that if they ask the question “how is it going with your treatment” I will either tell them or I will say “irritating, I don’t want to talk about it now”. They totally respect that and don’t push. I have great friends.
There have been many articles written on the web about what to say and not to say to an Infertile, how the family should act etc. I wont go into those. If you are a Good Friend you will have done a little surfing and read those things anyway. Besides, this post is already way too long.
To end off, if you decide to accept the job of Good Friend to an Infertile, I applaud you. Because it is not an easy job. It really isn’t. As I have said, it’s a pretty thankless job and one in which your job description is so fluid that what is required today is wrong tomorrow. I thank those of my Good Friends who have stuck around so long with me. I know it hasn’t been easy. I appreciate your friendship, I really do.