How Not To Be a Dick to Your Infertile Friend

Fostering is completely different than adoption, which is completely different than pregnancy. All are wonderful, but different. Remember that.
Publish date:
April 4, 2013
pregnancy, how not to be a dick, family drama, infertility

When I began this journey almost three years ago, I pretended like I was ready to deal with not getting pregnant right away. I imagined myself being calm and composed, taking what life brought me in stride, and never turning into one of those frantic infertile women on Internet message boards.

Well, I was full of shit. After dealing with infertility and subsequent pregnancy loss, the anger, sadness, resentment and self-loathing are palpable -- a couple of times I’ve even found myself wanting to glare at babies. I have not been a gracious loser.

I’m on a rollercoaster of hormones and emotions (hormotions?), fine one day, hideous the next. I showed this clip from "Arrested Development" to my friends because it was the only way I could adequately illustrate my emotions.

So how can you know what to expect and how in the hell to deal with me? What do you do with a friend who is struggling with infertility? We don’t want you to walk on eggshells, but we don’t want you to ignore our struggles, either.

First, the don’ts:

“Just relax!”

Surely you know not to say this, right? There is no medical proof that relaxing makes people more fertile, and acting like a glass of wine and a few deep breaths will magically result in pregnancy makes light of a serious medical problem. Don’t do that.

For some of us, close monitoring and medication is probably the best way we can avoid losing a pregnancy -- if we can even get pregnant. Letting nature take its course can have devastating results sometimes. For me, the cycles that I’ve been medicated, closely monitored, and done IUI have been the most relaxing cycles I’ve ever had, because I have a sense of control.

Nothing makes sense in this journey, and kicking our feet back won’t change that.

“Maybe you should just lose some weight./You should work out more” or “Maybe you’re too skinny./You should work out less.”

When struggling to get pregnant, it’s really hard to not see your body as the enemy, as something that’s continuously disappointing you. Nothing is working how it’s supposed to, and it is failing, month after month. Please don’t remind us that something else is wrong with our bodies, OK? Many fertility drugs cause weight gain and bloating, so I promise, we know that we may not be in the perfect condition. But we can only hate our bodies so much.

“Everything happens for a reason.”/”It’s God’s will.”

Even for those who have strong faith and truly believe that everything happens for a reason, this is not what anyone needs to hear. We want you to be angry with us, and think that this is unfair, and acknowledge that it doesn’t make sense. We don’t want you to try and convince us that this is all part of some grand plan (even if we believe it might be).

Hopefully you know your friends well enough to temper the God-talk, but do recognize that dealing with any life crisis can drastically change the role of faith in one’s life. The most devout may lose all interest, and vice versa. It’s still a good idea to avoid saying anything that could be translated as, “You have no power in this.”

“Why don’t you just adopt?”

Adoption might very well be part of our plan, but please don’t equate adoption with pregnancy. For many, the drive to be pregnant and have a biological child is intense. When that doesn’t come easily, though, there is not only the weight of dealing with the crisis of infertility, but there is also the added magnifying glass on all of our choices and actions. Some push for more interventions, some think those interventions are selfish.

And while we know the result of adoption and having a biological child is the same -- getting to parent a child -- the process is much different. For some of us who have dealt with pregnancy loss, the thought of starting the adoption process and losing a placement is more than we know we can handle right now. Trust us. We know about adoption.

If we do start talking about adoption? Don’t suggest that we foster, instead, because it’s free and there are so many unwanted children. Fostering is completely different than adoption, which is completely different than pregnancy. All are wonderful, but different. Remember that.

“Have you tried fill-in-the-blank-with-herbal-fad?“

Yeah, I’ve probably tried it. And it didn’t work.

“Why not just do IVF?”

Because we’re broke? Because we haven’t exhausted cheaper, less-invasive methods? Again, we realize these options exist, but they’re not one-size-fits-all and interchangeable.

“At least you know you can get pregnant!” (after an infertile friend has a miscarriage)

I understand this reaction. I had this reaction the first time I had an early miscarriage. I can get pregnant, I thought. I’ll focus on that.

But after awhile, those pregnancies, instead of being glimmers of hope, become cruel jokes.

Being a friend to someone who has suffered pregnancy loss is in a category of its own, but the same rules apply -- be gentle, follow our communication cues and know that we mourn differently every day. Some of us feel more comfortable talking about losing a “pregnancy,” and some may want to use the language of losing a “baby.”

They’re not interchangeable, and please don’t judge if we don’t want to use the term “baby.” (“You’d feel different if you had had children,” one person snapped at me).

So what to do? What to say?

Use Google.

Do some basic research about what we’re going through -- whether it’s medications we’re taking, IUI, IVF, sperm morphology/motility, miscarriage, ectopic pregnancies or even simply the fundamentals of the reproductive system, so you know what we’re talking about (and maybe you’ll learn something about your body, too). It’s fascinating how many of us have no concept of how our reproductive systems work until they don’t.

Act interested.

Some women don’t want to talk about infertility. But some of us? Some of us really want to talk about it. I’m going through some shit, and want you to be genuinely interested in the follicles on my ovaries, how it feels to give myself shots, or how hilarious it is when I wake up from Clomid night sweats to two giant round boob-pools of sweat on the sheets.

You might not know what an HSG is, what progesterone is, what IUI entails or how medications work. You wanting to know helps normalize this experience and makes me feel less alone.

Ask me how I am. Mean it.

When appropriate, encourage therapy.

I had no qualms seeking therapy as a teenager when I was battling garden-variety depression and anxiety. I felt miserable for no reason, and wanted to fix it. But something changed when I felt that soul-crushing heaviness and knew exactly why. I felt like since I had a tangible reason for feeling miserable, I should be able to fix it. A couple of friends saw this and encouraged therapy, and it was just what I needed to give myself “permission” to seek help. After my first session it felt as if a big baby-shaped sandbag had been lifted from my shoulders.

You’re pregnant. Now what?

Please know that I can separate my happiness for you from my sadness for myself. Almost always. But also know that I’m terrified of being a bad friend, and don’t want to burst into tears when you announce your pregnancy.

Please call and announce your happy news; I’ll be excited and then we’ll hang up so I can be alone. Please don’t not tell me, or avoid me or act uncomfortable around me. Don’t feel guilty or like you have to overcompensate for my sad sack of a uterus -- I’m excited for you, I am! Sometimes, though, I have to wallow in my sadness for me.

One of the hardest parts of infertility is the not knowing. Not knowing if, how or when pregnancy will occur, and then what will happen next when it happens or doesn’t.

While this is a time that we may retreat, be self-involved, sad and frustrated, we still need you, and hope that you need us. Be gentle. Be involved. Be there.

Meanwhile, I have a progesterone supplement that needs to be inserted. Afterward we can read the Second Voice in Sylvia Plath’s “Three Women.” It’ll be fun.