It has been about 6 years since we first learned we were unable to have biological children. In that time we have watched countless friends and family give birth to baby after baby. If there was one thing I can say for certain about the experience it would be that it is awkward and uncomfortable for everyone. When you are dealing with infertility one of the most painful things to hear from a friend is their news of pregnancy and then to congratulate them on their newborn baby when he/she arrives. But as much as I know first hand of this pain, I have learned and watched the pain from friends and family who have been on the other end; the ones announcing their pregnancy to a loved one experiencing infertility. It saddens them because they do not want to add to the pain and sorrow of their friend or family member and they are at a loss over what to say. This scenario happens everyday; one friend is pregnant and the other friend is dealing with the grief of infertility and another month of not being pregnant. One is experiencing joy and the other, pain. How do you share the news of your pregnancy with your friend who is experiencing infertility?
The last thing I want to write is a “do’s and don’ts” list or a “how to” talk to your friend with infertility because I don’t think there is a ‘one size fits all’ approach. Infertility is so intimately personal and each couples’ experience is unique. The experience of infertility can include primary infertility (inability to conceive), secondary infertility (inability to conceive after giving birth), multiple miscarriages and the inability to carry a pregnancy to full term, and each situation is distinctive. Some couples learn right from the start that they are infertile and others endure years of expensive testing and failed attempts to conceive. Maybe there is an illness that has robbed the couple of their ability to conceive or perhaps the cause of infertility is unknown by doctors. The experience and pain associated with infertility is so very different to each couple. And so with this in mind, I share my thoughts about infertility strictly out of my own experiences over the years of the comforting, supporting, and the sometimes painful responses I have received from others regarding our infertility. I write this as a guide, not as an end-all “how to.” I hope these thoughts will give you some peace and hope if you find yourself in the situation of sharing your pregnancy with a friend experiencing infertility or if you find yourself on the lonely island of everyone giving birth except for you. I’d love to hear from you about your experiences. What has been helpful to you? What has been hurtful to you? Let’s learn together.
You’ve told your friend who is experiencing infertility that you are pregnant. Both now and in the months that follow, remember:
1)Don’t ignore the obvious. You are pregnant. They are not. You are thrilled and filled with joy to welcome a new baby. They have lost hope of ever welcoming a birthchild into their arms. It may feel counterintuitive but don’t ignore the “elephant in the room.” Share with your friend that you are fully aware of the reality of the situation and share how you feel. Tell them you feel sad to share your pregnancy because you know they are unable to experience pregnancy. Tell them you were scared to even share your news with them because you feared they would be mad at you. Tell them you wish you could ease the pain of this news for them. Tell them you are unsure of how to share your joy when you know they are hurting. Whatever you are feeling; tell them.
2)Don’t assume they are unable to feel joy for you and/or want to share in your excitement of a new baby. I have shared with family and friends that my heart is able to feel sincere joy for their baby and at the same time, pain for my reality that I will never give birth to a baby. My heart is complex enough to experience both at the same time. So don’t fear that you will be causing them more pain by sharing with them your pregnancy because believe me, they haven’t forgotten their pain! You won’t be necessarily adding to their pain because it is so strongly enveloping their heart already. And they can and may feel true joy and happiness for your baby.
3)Ask your friend how they would like to be involved in your journey of pregnancy and give them permission to express whatever emotions they may be feeling. Let them know that you would like to share with them throughout your pregnancy updates about what is happening but ask her if the details are too painful for her to hear. She will probably tell you that some days she would love to hear all about your pregnancy and other days she may be unable to share those details with you or give you support in your experiences with pregnancy. Give her the freedom to let you know how she would like to support you and where it is too painful. For me, I went through a period of time when I couldn’t hold much less look at a newborn baby without crying. Whenever a friend gave birth I would visit them at the hospital for a quick visit, hold the baby, smile, congratulate them and then run like the wind of the hospital before I lost it. For the woman dealing with infertility, hospital maternity wards can be the most painful place to be. Let your friend skip your baby shower, skip the hospital visit, whatever it is that is too painful and let her know it’s okay.
4)Whatever you do, don’t minimize your experience of pregnancy and childbirth by saying something like, “Don’t worry, you aren’t really missing anything. Pregnancy is miserable and childbirth is terrible. You are saving yourself a lot of pain! You’re lucky to escape pregnancy and childbirth.” (Yes, I have had this and similar said to me!) This is probably the number one worst thing you can say to your friend with infertility. Would you tell a single person looking for a spouse to be happy because they are saving themselves from a lot of frustration and agony from marriage conflicts that inevitably arise? I sure hope not! Be honest with your friend. Even though pregnancy and childbirth is both wonderful and miserable, it is an experience many women cherish. And this fact is what your friend is grieving.
To the friend experiencing infertility:
Give your friends and family lots of grace. They may not show it but they probably feel extremely uncomfortable and are not sure what they should say. Out of wanting to protect your heart and not cause you further pain, they may opt to not say anything to you. To you it may feel like the elephant in the room that they are ignoring or that they are forgetting about your reality. But the opposite is probably true, they don’t want to cause you more discomfort. The ball may be in your hands to speak first and let them know how you feel. Let them know if you are feeling happy for them but your own sadness is just too much on this particular day to talk about babies. On another day ask them questions about their pregnancy or newborn baby. Friends can take turns; laugh and share the joy of the precious new baby that is just conceived or born, and then cry together for the baby your empty womb and empty arms miss. As I said before, I went through a stage where I couldn’t look at a newborn baby without crying. Let your friend know this. Say, I would like to hold and snuggle your little one but I may cry.
Infertility is a lonely experience and no matter how much support, prayers, and love you may receive from those around you, you may still feel very much alone. Give your friends grace because for just as alone as you feel, they may be feeling an equal amount of aloneness in their pregnancy or recent birth.