For those of you who are just discovering your own infertility issues, buckle up for the amount of advice you’re going to receive … wanted or unwanted. For those of you who have been battling infertility for a while, you know what I’m talking about. Everyone who is aware of your “condition” all of a sudden wants to be your doctor, therapist or “Dear Abby” figure. If I had a dollar for every piece of advice I was given, I could have enough money for, well, an IVF cycle.
Before my husband and I even decided that we were ready to have children, I didn’t appreciate all the hints and sometimes overt questions as to when we were going to have children. You can only imagine that once we confirmed there was indeed a legitimate problem and medical assistance was required, all of the buzz around us became even harder to digest. It reached a point where I just didn’t always want my family or friends’ advice on what I should or could be doing during our struggle. They weren’t medical experts. I didn’t need to hear how this person went to that doctor and was “cured.” I didn’t need to hear about a friend of a friend of a friend who, while battling her own infertility, pursued adoption and, poof, she miraculously got pregnant. Yes, all of this “advice” came from a good and virtuous place, and I know they all meant well, but sometimes it just wasn’t what I needed.
Being fortunate to now be able to look back, I can try to offer you what I think infertility patients really need and will appreciate. When a family member or friend is suffering infertility, the best way to help them is to just be there and listen. You don’t have to offer empathy or even exaggerated sympathy. Empathy is the ability to mutually experience the thoughts, emotions, and direct experience of others. It goes beyond sympathy. The truth is, until you walk in her shoes (and I hope you don’t have to), you’ll never really be able to empathize. This short film really explains the difference (Thank you to Fertility Within Reach for sharing). All this woman may want is to be able to express what she is feeling and have those feelings validated. Believe me, sympathy is needed, and it is the better choice compared to offering indifference, but it’s still not always the magic bullet. Infertility is a disease and should be recognized that way (albeit most insurance companies don’t agree, but that’s a topic for another conversation). Yes, it’s not a life-threatening disease but infertility does threaten the life that you thought you were planning. It won’t kill you but the grim reality that you are supposedly not destined to have children just might have you feeling like you’re going to die.
I believe there is truth to the notion that having a mutual support system results in a healthier mind. Some days, you may just need to vent to someone else who just gets it; without a need to explain anything, they just understand. Personally, I was lucky that a good friend of mine was going through IVF at the same time. (Well, not lucky, per se, because I wouldn’t wish infertility on anyone, let alone a good friend). For us, talking about our mutual struggles was our best medicine.
But even though there was so much to talk about, our time was limited by our jobs, our personal lives and other obligations. On a funny note, that was the time when we realized that having a BlackBerry was the next best thing to being there. Let’s take a trip in the way-back-when-machine to the golden years before the advent of the iPhone and free, unlimited texting, when we all had BlackBerries and were hooked on BBM (BlackBerry Messenger). It was by far the easiest and fastest way to communicate. I could BBM in the middle of a meeting, on the bus or in the middle of the night. We’d BBM each other all day long or just once a day. We talked about whatever we needed to get off our chests: questions about various medical treatments; shots in the tush; complaining about other pregnant friends; comparing hormonal levels; or maybe just watching “Knocked Up” together on TV and cursing today’s irresponsible youth.
For both of us, having this outlet was the perfect stress reliever and all around savior for our own IVF journeys. I am grateful and appreciative for this relationship as I leaned on my friend when I felt sad, depressed or even alone. To this day, the several friendships that were born out of IVF are close and unique on a level unlike other relationships in my life. All these years later, we can still commiserate about that time like it was yesterday, but be happy that we are past it all.
So here are my final thoughts (and it’s not advice because aren’t you just sick of all the advice?): appreciate the support around you, find the good in the advice, solicited or unsolicited, and simply be there to listen to loved ones during their times of struggle. Because we all have them.
I hope you keep these thoughts in mind over the next few weeks of holiday family time.