Seven years ago, I wrote about Friendship
. It has been a topic that affects all of us as we go through infertility or loss or childlessness. It often has lasting effects, and can be very painful. It's worth revisiting, I think, and I have to say that for me at least, it has stood the test of time.
"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
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
me entertained. But she brought her
toddlers to the hospital, and the books were full of miscarriages or
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
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
contacted her. I felt that I was the
childless one with the unlimited time, and that my wish to spend time
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
consciously or unconsciously fought against articulating because that
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
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
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."
And I have to end that I am so extremely thankful for my internet friendships, the friends I zoom with, have met in real life after first meeting in messageboards or blogs, or hope to meet one day when we can all travel again. Thanks to you all!