Infertility - the land of painful poking, prodding and puking - in every way you can imagine. I like to call it “The Silent I” because it’s such a deeply personal experience and one that oftentimes, others can’t see. There are no fundraisers for it. No 5K walk/runs for research and awareness. No colored ribbon to wear on your lapel. Yet, 1 in 8 couples are “infertile” - have trouble getting pregnant or sustaining a pregnancy. (Source: CDC, National Survey of Family Growth, 2006-2010.)
Within the first year of trying to conceive, my OBGYN diagnosed me with endometriosis and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), labeled me as infertile and sent me on my way to a reproductive specialist. The next few years were a blur of tests, new medications, invasive procedures, surgeries and loss. In the midst of that, I suffered two miscarriages and grew increasingly more depressed.
Month after month, I felt as if a piece of me had died. My body was broken and unable to do the one thing I thought all women were created to do - conceive. During that time, I was fortunate enough to find a local support group for women with infertility and child loss. One evening a month, we would meet at a local church and cry, laugh, ask questions, offer support, read articles, pray and just be with one another. We each had different types of infertility, but being around others with “The Silent I” made it easier.
From my difficult journey, I’ve learned what it means to be a friend to someone with infertility. Honestly, I’ve realized these principles apply to being a friend to anyone in a dark place. So, if you have a friend who has infertility, here are three helpful ways to walk with her/him through itl.
Don’t ignore it. I know it’s difficult to talk to us when we’re going through a tough time. You don’t know what to say! I know you’re afraid if you bring it up or ask how are you doing? you’ll make it worse for us. But, you won’t! What makes it worse is when you never ask about it. This leads us to wonder, do you even know how hard it is today? and we often retreats into ourselves. If we don’t want to talk, we’ll let you know. Chances are, though, we will want to talk, and we’re so thankful you asked!
Don’t offer advice. We have a slew of doctors, medical articles, blogs, podcasts and statistics at our fingertips. Trust me, we’ve googled things like optimal ovulation, pregnancy symptoms, infertility and depression. If we had a nickle for everytime someone told us, “Just relax! You’ll get pregnant when you stop thinking about it,” we’d be rich!
Don’t exclude. Some of the most hurtful situations in the midst of my infertility, are when friends leave us out of important and fun life events. Most specifically birthday parties, baby showers and holiday gatherings. I imagine many of them left us off the invitation list because they thought being around kids would be too hard. There may be times when it’s too hard to attend, but at least give us the option of declining the invitation. The best friends are the ones who kindly keep inviting us along for anything - a trip to the zoo with their kids, a Saturday afternoon walk, coffee - just being included make us feel loved!
Infertility doesn’t have to be “The Silent I.” When the pain is lived in silence, depression, darkness and despair have an easier time of claiming another victim. Talk. Listen. Invite. Be a friend. Some of the most meaningful and memorable gestures are when friends smile, ask how we’re doing and give us the “I-don’t-know-what-to-say-but-a-hug-helps” hugs.