Maintaining relationships when you’re struggling to conceive can be fraught with those awful "I'm-so-happy-for-you" through tears of frustration moments. Especially when you find yourself with a newly pregnant friend.
It can be tempting to just throw your social life out the window when your focus is on adding to your family. But you are going to need a close network of people in your life to help you get through it all.
So thankfully, there are some practical things you can do to maintain your relationships, – even with your pregnant friend – when you’re in #struggletown.
Even though it will be tough, I urge you to be that friend that shows up to other friends' baby showers. At times it will hurt like hell and you'll have to reapply your make up after an ugly cry in the car two streets away from the party. #beenthere
I know it's hard to push all that aside and have things not be about you for a couple of hours. It hurts to hear how happy your friend is, or how they weren't even really trying, or gee I just want this to be over… but that is a strength you have to find when things aren't happening to schedule. I've felt it.
Sometimes though, people are just plain thoughtless. Other times, they just don’t get what you’re going through.
Timing can be rough too.
It took IVF help for us to have kids, after years with no 'accidents', and a couple of failed inseminations (IUIs).
We lost our first IVF baby at 7 weeks, after being incredibly ill for much of the pregnancy. Then some of our dearest friends announced they were pregnant.
I was in bits.
We had been friends forever, and I knew she had struggled to conceive too, but I was devastated. And I knew my attitude sucked. Who was I to be upset at this beautiful news?
Happy but hurting
So I wrote her an email that was never meant to be sent. In it, I told her that I was proud of her, and truly glad for her. But I also needed to express that I was at the same time heartbroken that I couldn’t say that I was pregnant too.
It was a way of getting all of the hurt and the 'poor me' thoughts out of my head, things that I never would have wanted to say to her in person. That way, I could focus on the next step and keep going and no longer feel the need to clap my hand over my mouth to prevent mis-speaking in front of them.
I was never going to send the email, but I found the process of getting it out of my head truly healing, like lifting a weight off my shoulders.
We have spoken about this letter since, our friends and I, so reading it here shouldn't be a surprise to them.
The email I drafted to my pregnant friend:
I just wanted to address the elephant in the room and discuss something with you so I don't give you the wrong impression or act weird and make you wonder whether you did something to upset me.
I love you both so very much and I can't possibly express how very happy I am for you to be pregnant – thrilled, relieved and proud for you don't begin to cover it.
But I am also ever so slightly envious… If things had gone differently we would have had a "Me too!" moment at Christmas as the timing of your good news could so easily have meant that we were pregnant at the same time.
So your announcement was a reminder of what could have been and in my head I will be doing stupid 'What if?' scenarios and calculations. It's something I'm working through and it's totally not your problem;)
I just need you to know that from time to time I may get a bit teary and appear to be upset, but it's not at you.
So, now that that is said, I can prepare to be the world's greatest Aunty;)
So this is how it felt for me, to have a pregnant friend and wish nothing but happiness for them – smiling for them on the outside but be crying for myself on the inside. I wasn't a green-eyed monster, just a broken woman struggling with feeling left behind, and like I was failing to meet a basic expectation of me as a woman and partner.
If you haven't experienced this situation yourself, I hope my sharing of this letter gives you some insight into why some people might not seem as happy about your baby news as you'd hoped. There are complicated emotions at play. Please be understanding of the people in your life struggling with having to be patient about when, or if, they'll have kids.
If you've felt this situation yourself, I'm sorry that happened to you. It sucks. I'm hugging you through the screen. I want you to know that however you choose to deal with your grief is up to you, and everyone will find a personal way of healing in their own time. Perhaps writing letters you'll never send is something you might like to try out to order your thoughts and process conflicted feelings. If someone hurts you with a question or an announcement, write it out. Tell them everything you wish you could say out loud and save it for later. It will lift some of the weight off your chest.
And here are four of my other favourite strategies I would recommend to help you handle life in limbo with a general sense of grace and poise:
Have your responses ready
There will be questions, especially around Christmas time, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Even if no-one knows what is going on for you, it’s a common thing to discuss family plans once you’re at ‘that age’ or ‘that stage’. So have your answers ready.
If someone asks you when you’re going to have kids – you can say you’re not ready yet. You can say that it’s on the cards for the future, but right now you have other things to focus on. And you can say you’re not sure and leave it at that.
Be assertive with your answers, and flip it back to ask them if you need to. Ask them about how their holiday to Thailand went, or if they got the promotion they went for. A little misdirection never hurts!
Remember that social media presents a myth of a perfect life
Everyone seemingly lives the dream life on social media. But it is only a projection of everyone’s best life. It doesn’t show the murky underbelly that makes up a real life.
We feel like we have to be perfect, and put pressure on ourselves. When you add on someone’s Instagram engagement or Facebook pregnancy announcement, you can feel like a failure. It’s like everyone else has their shit together except you.
Social media is not accurate. People still have bad days, fights, failures. They just don’t announce it. So if your feed is getting you down, hide people from your feed. Uninstall the app if you have to. It will always be there later when you’re feeling stable.
Don’t burn your bridges
It might seem like your whole life is focused around starting a family. But it cannot be about that forever. Whether you’re successful or not, one day you will need a social life. And it’s much easier to have one of those if you still have friends left.
If you need space, pull back and take a breather. But don’t burn your bridges. One day, you will regret lashing out at your friend because she didn’t know how you were feeling or what you were going through.
Maintaining relationships when you’re struggling can be a real mind game. People will ask questions, share about their successes, and generally do things that can make you feel shitty. But if you take some steps to keep perspective, you can keep your friendships ticking over.
And then if you get to announce your news you'll be the friend you needed when others announced theirs.
Preparing for the worst while hoping for the best is my biggest recommendation above all else.
It can be tricky to guard your heart without building up walls that are too tall to let in the good stuff too, but if it were me doing this IVF thing from scratch I would want to know what could be waiting around the corner to throw me off balance.
So there you have it, my five favourite strategies for getting through this thing called 'infertility treatment'.
I'd love it if you would think of me as your friend in fertility, cluing you in on all the stuff (good, meh and downright terrible) about the process and how it will turn your life upside down and inside out along the way.
Let me be the steady hand to help you keep your balance, the safe harbour for when the storms approach and a kind ear to listen when you need to be heard. Book in a chat with me at a time that suits you here: https://sandifriedlos.as.me/coffeechat.
Lots of love,