August 1st is National Girlfriends’ Day. This little-known holiday is a chance to celebrate the ways that friendship enriches our lives. Not only do friends provide companionship through life, according to the Mayo Clinic, these friendships can help you cope with negative life events, give you the encouragement to avoid unhealthy lifestyle habits, increase your happiness, and improve your self-confidence. We tend to be friends with people who are similar to us, or who share similar life events and goals.
But, what happens when our paths diverge for a time and one friend experiences the devastating effects of infertility while the other is diving into pregnancy and new-motherhood?
Unfortunately, what often happens is that those friendships become strained or even end. Some women find that they are withdrawing from their friends, while other women find that their friends are less available to them in this time of need and cannot understand what the other is going through. You may find that some of your friendships power through, while others fade away. Still others may take a back seat for a while and resume when you are out of the emotional roller coaster that is infertility. While there is a normal ebb and flow to relationships, it can be particularly devastating when relationships weaken at the exact time that you need them the most.
When friends’ efforts to cheer you up or give you hope actually come across as naive or hurtful, it’s hard not to withdraw from these relationships. But, this only serves to isolate you. You lose the unintentionally hurtful comments, but you also lose the connection and support. If being around certain friends or certain activities (the dreaded baby shower) cause you pain, you should give yourself permission to avoid some people or places. It’s a delicate balancing act to make sure that you are not isolating yourself while also not putting yourself in situations that are too painful. If you do pull back from some friends and you feel comfortable talking about infertility, you may want to explain to them why you are pulling back. This way the friendship won’t be irreparable when you are able to resume those friendships after your infertility has been resolved.
“The most beautiful discovery true friends make is that they can grow separately without growing apart.”
– Elisabeth Foley
If you are going through infertility and you find that your friendships are changing in detrimental ways, take stock and take action.
Start by making a list of the people in your life, from those closest to you, to those who are more peripherally involved. As you look through the list, think about how each relationship makes you feel. Are there some that bring you joy, while others bring stress? Are there changes that you can make to increase your interactions with those who bring you joy, while minimizing the interactions with those who cause more grief?
As you hone in on different relationships, ask yourself what you need from various friends, keeping in mind that what you need could vary depending on the friend and your specific relationship with her. Do you want your friends to tell you the news of their pregnancies through less personal means such as email? Do you need someone to distract you from your treatments? Or, do you just need your friends to talk less about their pregnancies and young children when you are around? Most of your friends are well meaning (or they wouldn’t be your friends!), and may just need you to tell them how they can help. You may need to explain why you feel the way that you do if they haven’t yet had a close friend go through infertility.
Identify which relationships you would like to strengthen and think through ways that you can reconnect with those friends who bring you joy. Communicate with these friends about what you need from them, and together come up with ideas of how you can each support the other. Make an effort to find things that you can do together that will not focus so much on pregnancy or children. Likewise, if you have some relationships that cause too much pain, consider giving yourself permission to step back from those relationships for a time. However, if it is a relationship that you value, try having a conversation with that friend beforehand to explain why you need more space at the moment.
Form new friendships with other women going through similar struggles. Attend a local support group where you can connect with other women who are uniquely able to relate to what you are going through. There are support groups offered through Resolve.com as well as a monthly drop in support group held at Carolina Conceptions on the second Wednesday of every month. If you do not feel comfortable with in-person support groups, there are also a number of online message boards where you can share your concerns with others, or just read posts from others who have traveled in your shoes.
“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.”
Most importantly, Dr. Alice Domar, in her book Conquering Infertility, encourages women to remind themselves that infertility is a TEMPORARY CRISIS. Whether you give birth to your child, adopt, or choose to remain childless, you will eventually move on from infertility and you will be able to resume those relationships that you may have had to pause.
Dr. Ryan Blazei is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Cary, NC. She is a member of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine and counsels on infertility and family building options. Dr. Blazei can be reached at [email protected], (919) 720-1452, or www.RyanWBlazeiPhD.com. She also facilitates a free drop-in support group on the second Wednesday of every month from 7pm-8pm in the lobby of Carolina Conceptions. All are welcome to attend.