Dear Women Who Have Made It Through the Infertility Struggle,
After years of trying to conceive, you’re finally pregnant. Congratulations!
You’re elated. You’re picking out names. You’re finally in the crib section at Ikea.
But let’s not forget how it feels to be on the other side of the struggle, to be a woman who desperately wants a baby and can’t seem to have one. Remember what it’s like to be in the thick of it.
I know that almost everyone works to be sensitive to those who are hurting, but sometimes, in your joy, you do forget. I swore that I would never be oblivious, but I have been, and I sometimes still am. Occasionally we all need the reminder.
Fight the good fight.
You see, back in 2011, I almost bled to death after an egg retrieval procedure. Six months later, when I tried IVF again, I had massive headaches and blurred vision in my left eye. Fearing a blood clot, the nurses stopped the cycle. Then, on our third IVF attempt, our transferred embryos didn’t implant.
To say I was a mess is an understatement. Everything set me off—women pushing strollers down the street, friends posting their ultrasound pictures on Facebook. I couldn’t go to family members’ baby showers. Other people’s happiness made me miserable, and I directed my anger at those happy people—friends and family included.
Even if you haven’t been through this, you’ve been through some similar struggle, where you feel you are getting slammed with relentless hardship, and on top of it, the happiness of others can be grating. You look up at the universe and say, "Enough already. I’ve paid my dues."
Then, miraculously, you get it—the baby, the partner, the recovery, the job, the break you’ve been hoping for—and you’re so consumed with your bliss that you share it abundantly, without restraint, forgetting to be conscious of your suffering friend who is sitting quietly in the corner.
"But she’s strong," you reason. "She won’t be hurt."
Winners' high can get the best of us.
When your friend acts strong, when she shows no emotion, you think she’s not hurt. You think she is happy for you. And you’re right, she is happy for you. She is just not happy with you.
We’re all guilty of getting a winners’ high and expressing it outwardly, even when we’re doing our best to be conscious. In September 2012, when I found out I was finally pregnant, I decided to announce my pregnancy during my friend Kelly’s bachelorette party weekend. Little did I know, her cousin had been struggling with conceiving a second child. My announcement, which I thought would be fun and uplifting, turned out to be salt in the wound of one of the other attendees.
Had I so quickly forgotten what it was like to be on the other side, listening to women boast about their nurseries and newborns? Couldn’t I remember the burning jealousy and how I wished repeatedly for other women to be a bit more aware?
I had gotten caught up in my own bliss and forgotten what it’s like to be the one without.
To women who have made it through—let’s remember that there is a difference between sharing our good news and boasting. Let’s always bear in mind what actions or object might be a trigger to our friends in the struggle.
Don't underestimate the power of a sincere apology.
Tell your friend that you are sorry. Write them a heartfelt note if talking seems too daunting. Your acknowledgment will go a long way. Many relationships have been ruined by the belief that if we just don’t talk about it, the hurt will be forgotten. We never forget hurt. But we also never forget a sincere apology.
And sometimes, even if you are being incredibly sensitive, your suffering friend might still be offended because she is in a bad place at the moment. When I was suffering through infertility, I was hurt by many things that were not intentionally hurtful.
Intention is different from impact. You might say or do something that is joyful, and it can still make someone else sad. Acknowledging their sadness does not have to take away from your joy. That’s the lesson we sometimes forget. The two can coexist.
So hug your suffering friend. Send her a card that says you’re sorry she’s hurting. Because you’ve been there. You remember what it’s like. And you wish someone had done that for you.