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How Infertility Tests Friendships

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a blog by Pamela Tsigdinos, Dec. 31, 2009

It’s an understatement to say that battling infertility is not for the faint of heart. Outside of those directly affected, some are better equipped to handle it than others. Infertility puts relationships to the test and, very often, the first to fall by the wayside are acquaintances and fragile friendships.

Take “Anna” who recently experienced a Facebook disaster. Now, when you’re unable to get pregnant, the last thing you want to see is someone gloating, bragging, -- okay, sharing -- their pregnancy chapter and verse in real time online. Anna knew in her heart that she should probably have stepped away from the computer when the pregnancy talk by a daddy-to-be reached the danger zone, but she didn’t. She engaged her Facebook friend in an encounter that escalated and left them not speaking with each other. In the end she blogged about her experience this way (and then suspended her Facebook account):

    “Although my responses were definitely emotional, they were not written in an instant. I gave my friend two opportunities to back pedal. I thought very carefully about the things I wrote. I understand that my infertility is my problem and I can't take it out on others. However, as a member of a friendship, I have a right to expect some level of consideration and empathy. After all, that's what friendship IS!”

A few days later I heard from someone else who had the opposite problem: a friend whose empathy went a bit too far and made her uncomfortable as it dwelled TOO much on her infertility. She described a woman “who dramatically talks about our ‘empty arms’ and repeatedly says how her heart aches so deeply for us.” As a result, she says, said frend, “makes her stomach turn inside out.”

Granted, we’re all different in our needs and expectations. While there’s no one-size-fits-all recommendation guide for how to best offer support or help to those confronting infertility, there are a few things we can do.
It’s within our control to:

    1) Decide how much we want to disclose -- when and to whom;

    2) Speak up about what we need -- with the caveat that what works early on may need to be adjusted over time; and

    3) Let a friendship go . . .

What remains are friends who’ve proven themselves willing to go the distance. It takes a particular combination of toughness and sensitivity to see someone you care about in pain, to know how to help and to be there with the right word or gesture.

Here’s to those who know how to navigate those rocky shoals!

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