01 May, 2014

Friendship 101

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


  1. " tectonic pressures of infertility and grief."
    Slow , but always there... beautiful metafor

    I'm with you on Friendship 101, looking forward to 102/201
    Hope you will cover the situation when friendship is assymetric: HB is my best friend, but he has a different best friend.

  2. LOVE LOVE LOVE this post! So beautiful and I LOVE the ending! <3

    I sometimes think of our infertility grief as someone who's lost a beloved family member in a tragic, sudden way. During such a tough time, most people know better than to expect the bereaved to focus on other things because consciously speaking, they know that the bereaved need(s) to deal with all the other stuff in the package loss: the suddenness of it all, the tragedy of it all, how to continue living without that family member, etc. etc. etc. But because infertility is still not familiarly recognized as such a loss, it's still so much misunderstood.

    I think I've said time and time again how I over-shared the beginning of my IF journey with my closest friends and at that time one of them said that even after I shared so much (many times I even quoted/shared what I read about what other women were feeling/going through so that they knew I wasn't alone in my struggle because at that time it seemed that I was overreacting/being too intense/obsessed), she could only get a glimpse of what it was like, but she knew she wouldn't be able to understand it fully.

    That felt like a slap on my face at that time (talk about my high expectation!), but I also realized how helpful it was. What she said helped me lower my expectation that my IF pain/loss would be understood by others and that has also helped me in my healing journey, because in the beginning I was frantically trying to make anyone understand my pain and my grief.

    Friendship dynamics is one of the things that is complex, because we're dealing with two people with two different personalities, backgrounds, emotional baggage and unique life (including life challenges, etc.). I have a post on a friendship matter coming up later. :-) But anyway, these days I have a group of women that I can talk to about IF matters (as well as my IF blog) and both have helped so that I no longer over-share about IF matters with my closest friends. Sure, every now and then I still share some things related to IF with them, but not as much as before.

    P.S. Sorry for my long comment, your posts tend to make me talk so much here he he he...

    P.P.S. In the beginning of my IF journey, I had so much longing to join the mother club that I felt so left out and "helpless" whenever my mommy friends shared their parenting stories because I couldn't share anything and I couldn't even share any tips and tricks. I think this was also one reason why it hurt so much back then whenever someone else joined the club. These days only certain cases are too close to home that I still feel the pangs, but even so in general I feel OK being outside the club.

  3. It's funny for me to read this today. I saw my first-year university roommate yesterday, for the first time in a very long time. And I walked right past her, and kept walking.

    We used to socialize with her & her (second) husband frequently when all of us were first married and living in the city... and even after they split, she & I both work downtown, very close to each other, and we used to have lunch together every few weeks & exchange birthday & Christmas gifts.

    I'm not sure whether she was uncomfortable with my infertility at all, or whether she was just consumed by her marital problems & high-powered career (along with -- yes -- bringing up a now-teenaged son), but over the years we began to drift apart... to the point that I was always the one doing the calling, & rarely getting a response. I finally decided that the ball was in her court & I wasn't going to contact her any more. I stuck to that, until I saw her father's obituary in the newspaper about 3-4 years ago. So I e-mailed her my condolences (I didn't even have her address any more) & she called me up & we had lunch. She promised to be a better friend, and that she'd see me again soon. We exchanged a few e-mails after that -- she responded when I sent out a generic change of email address notice to everyone in my address book about two years ago, & I emailed her to wish her a happy birthday shortly after that, and she thanked me -- but I haven't heard a thing from her in two years.

    She was standing off to the side in the concourse of a nearby office tower, pecking away at her cellphone. I don't think she saw me. I felt enormous sadness -- and if I see her another time, I may act differently -- but I just didn't have it in me to be the bigger person at that point. I don't think ill of her, & I know she has had some enormous challenges herself over the past 15 years, as I mentioned. I just feel very, very sad that we drifted so far apart -- I never would have expected that. There are very few people in this city who "know" me from my previous/pre-dh life, and she was one of them. We've known each other for (gulp!!) 35 years!!

    But yes, as you said, I am grateful for the fun we had together and what I learned from her.

  4. I expanded on my comment in a blog post:


  5. Another great post. Thank you.
    I don't have many friends. They know about our infertility and the IVF treatment, but neither of us spoke about it when we went through it the first time. Then there was a second time. People don't really know what to say. One of my closest friends never wanted kids. Others have kids or are young enough to want and believe kids will happen. There is no body to grieve. There is no physical space that has been emptied of a being. The space is in me and will always be empty. The grief has no body. No one can see it so it isn't really there. My mother will occasionally say 'I'm so sorry' and start crying, saying she doesn't know what to do for me.
    I started a very intense training just before the fertility treatment. My husband encouraged me saying that it is something that I could work towards and have, if children don't come along. But it is no consolation and now that I am struggling to see it to the end, it feels like it's been a total waste of time. I would, beyond words, rather hold my own child in my arms than another bit of paper with a grade on it.

    1. (((HUGE HUGS))) Just because no one can see it doesn't mean that it's not really there. Just like (perhaps) the air we breathe. I've never been pregnant, but there is plenty of reason to grieve this kind of loss. I wish you more peace of mind and comfort during this tough journey...

  6. I'm sorry. At a low point right now. Don't want to distract from what is a beautifully observed and worded post. Thank you.

  7. Another post that couldn't have come at a better time. Your words have resonated with me, yet again. So, thank you for putting your words and thoughts out there.

  8. First and foremost, I'd like to acknowledge how much our friendship means to me...and yet we've yet to speak or lay eyes on each other. That tells me that what we have is pretty special and worthy of still more friendship-ology. Based on your wise and intelligently articulated post you may have given your class (we readers) a new assignment the power of virtual friendships. Discuss!

    1. Thanks, Pamela. I feel the same. I've written I think about the power of virtual friendships - but will add another post too.

  9. Dear Mali, just read about your surgery scheduled for Sunday. Hope it goes well and the recovery is smooth. I've been trying to find your email addy but for some reason haven't been able to so I'll just write it here. Anyway, you'll be in my thoughts that day! (((HUGS)))

    1. Thanks Amel. Surgery is actually tomorrow, but I'll still be in hospital on Sunday.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. Just realized the time difference! All the best...maybe you're in the surgery room at the moment! *crossing my fingers*

    4. Hi again, Mali!

      Just wanna say hi. Hope you're back home now. (((HUGS)))

  10. Adding to Amel's good wishes and sending my best. Hope your surgery went well. Eager to see you up and about and writing soon. xo

  11. I'll admit I've pruned a few friends from my life as a result of infertility. I just can relate to people who are ALL about their kids and nothing else. I actually think some were happy to see me go because I made them uncomfortable with my sad, empty (according to them) childless state. The one girlfriend I have that does have kids is very balanced about her kids and she is capable of having conversations about other things then her kids. Maybe one day I will reconnect with my old kids with friends but I dont know...