As I’ve become older, I’ve watched my circle of friends grow and change. Marriage, children, and jobs: all these play a huge role in our friendships. One aspect I did not see changing some of my relationships was infertility. In nursing school, I was taught how to help others cope with miscarriage, death, and disabilities, but we never learned how to support someone struggling with infertility. Looking back, I find it would have been extremely useful to have that guidance, not only for my interactions with potential patients I’d care for, but also with people in my circle of friends.
I wanted to gain better insight into how infertility impacts a person’s life, so I took some time to speak to someone who experienced infertility firsthand. Out of respect for her privacy, her name has been changed to Daisy. I learned an incredible amount of information from Daisy; opening my eyes to the fact that infertility not only impacts the relationships between spouses, but also has a lasting effect on financial stability and leaves a significant impression on their friendships. I’ve chosen to write about Daisy’s story in a 3-part blog series, each one focusing on a different aspect of her infertility journey. Here, I will focus on how her close friendships were forever changed by her struggle with infertility.
In my interview with her, Daisy told me in great detail, how her friends treated her, and how she felt around her friends during this dark time. Daisy explained that in the beginning, there was no animosity. She and her husband started trying to conceive one year after they married. Many people she knew told her that getting pregnant could take a few months, so she wasn’t worried at first when they didn’t conceive. But as the months passed, one after another, her friends began sharing pregnancy announcements. With each new pregnancy Daisy learned about, she found herself becoming more resentful and bitter towards her friends. She, along with a handful of other friends, found themselves taking longer to become pregnant.
After about six months of failed conception, Daisy’s close girlfriends suggested she seek medical advice, hoping it would give her answers as to why she wasn’t conceiving. Daisy and her husband went to numerous doctors’ appointments, both being subjected to tests, trying to find answers. Both of them were told they were perfectly healthy and Daisy was prescribed Clomid, an oral fertility medication, to assist them in becoming pregnant. Unfortunately, the months that followed only brought negative pregnancy tests and a broken heart. In-Vitro Fertilization (IVF) was their next step in the fertility process. As she began the hormone treatments, her other friends who previously struggled much like her, were successful with their fertility treatments and excitedly made their own pregnancy announcements. All the while, Daisy continued to spiral downward into debt, depression, and no baby to show for it.
Daisy explained how much her personality started to change during the process. She began to push away from her friends, her heart breaking with each new baby shower invitation she received. She reached an all-time low when reality started to hit that this may not happen for her and her husband. She found it difficult to be around her friends who were expecting, even describing herself as irritated towards these friends who got to experience pregnancy.
At that point in the interview, I asked her what support she wished she had received from her friends. Daisy said that her friends never brought up the topic or tried to ask her about how this was affecting her or her marriage. Instead, she felt they went about their days without showing much empathy during this time. She understands how hard this may have been for them to relate to, but she wishes they could have been more straightforward with her rather than completely ignoring what she was experiencing. By trying to look past this difficult time in her life, it felt as if her friends weren’t there for her in the way she needed. She wanted dialogue, guidance, and someone to simply sit and listen to her frustrations. She didn’t expect everyone to understand how these struggles felt firsthand, but having someone listen, she said, could have made all the difference. Had her friends taken this time to do so, they would have heard how dark this time really was for her and her husband. Her friends would then hear how Daisy couldn’t bear to attend another baby shower and how it would have been easier to be excluded from these events. Instead, her friends never addressed the elephant in the room and simply went about their normal interactions with her, glazing over the fact Daisy was suffering deeply due to her inability to conceive. Daisy looks back now, after nearly 20 years have passed, and realizes these actions from her friends came from feeling uncomfortable with what to say to her, and not from a hurtful place. But at the time, with each passing day, Daisy became angrier at her network of friends and more isolated.
As I spoke to her, I couldn’t help but reflect on how I have treated those around me who suffered in similar ways. As an individual in the medical field, whenever I heard a friend was struggling to conceive, I reached out and tried to give them contact information for doctors and specialists in the area. Even with my efforts to help, sometimes those friendships suffered. Much like Daisy, I can see now that my friends who experienced infertility withdrew, probably feeling the same resentment and bitterness towards me as my family grew. Although Daisy said many things that have crossed my mind when brainstorming about this topic, hearing her story and how she still felt the pain from years ago, had a powerful impact on me. While she has since moved forward in her life, the way her friends treated her lingers in her memory. My time with her made me realize that although I, as a friend, may not have answers to give someone going through such struggles, it is important to remember I can simply show compassion.
People shy away from the topic of infertility, thinking it will make the person experiencing it feel worse, but as I’ve learned from Daisy, sometimes it’s about diving into the uncomfortable to truly provide what people need. She wanted to be acknowledged and heard, something we all long for when we are going through a dark time. Listening can be more powerful than you realize. I encourage all of us who may have a friend struggling with infertility to take a moment, even if we can’t fully relate, and be a shoulder for them to lean on. It will make a world of difference.