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With Infertility, You Find Out Who Your Friends Are

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Telling friends about infertility

a blog by Traci Shahan, RN, WHNP-BC, Doctor of Nursing, Albrecht Women’s Care Denver IVF, March 5, 2012

The friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel.

-Hamlet: Act I, Scene iii

When I was going through fertility treatment, I learned deeply about the salve of true relationship. Although in the above quote, it is Pop advising his son, Laertes, about the prudence of friendship before Laertes goes to the raucous Paris of yore, it is timeless advice. My friend, an English department chair and Shakespearean professor, describes Pop’s advice: "You have these people you call friends. Focus on the ones that have been tested in some way. (Not those fair-weather, superficial friends.) Make a strong effort to embrace those friendships. Pay attention, in other words. Make an effort. Don't let anything separate you from your real friends." (Thanks, David.) I think that it is especially important advice for those times that are really, really arduous — death, infertility, or losing a loved one.

Let me regale you with very different experiences that I had with friends during infertility. The first that comes to mind was a philosopher, a sailor by heart, a professor by day. She sat me down several times to encourage me when I felt like continuing treatment was for naught. This woman was present during my darkest times and still, to this day, we touch base with each other, meaningfully, I might add. She intentionally stayed with me as I imagine she has with many others in her life.

Another friend had an unspoken way of tending to my soul by hand-delivering pretty, feminine nightwear for another hospital stay or leaving me with what seemed like bushel baskets of Dove chocolates and handwritten notes.

Juxtapose this against a friend who decided that my eating habits were preventing pregnancy and called my doctor without my knowledge to impart her suspicion to him. Although eating disorders can certainly be harmful, can cause fertility problems and even be lethal, I have never been diagnosed by a professional with an eating disorder. I was shattered. My doctor called me, told me about the phone call, had me assessed, and the verdict was that I had no evidence of an eating disorder though my habitus has often been on the scrawny side during life.

It goes without saying which friend built me up and which I wanted to flee, though I think the latter person simply was tilting at windmills because she watched as I became more and more diminished as fertility treatment dragged on.

I have witnessed this dynamic between fertility patients and their friends. I think that oftentimes these friends want badly to help us but can come off as adversarial instead of supportive. Patients are all unique of course. Some wish to share their journey with friends and family, even employers, and some will have none of it, opting to cope alone. Though I suppose psychiatric professionals would undoubtedly advocate for the former scenario, I have seen lots of patients do well with confiding in her partner, and maybe scribbling down thoughts and trials on paper.

If you are one of the people who is comfortable letting trusted people know about your fertility challenges, you may want to keep a list handy with their names and phone numbers. I did this and that list provided solace during many inky nights when I refused to wake my husband to talk. (I actually still have the list in the top drawer of my bedside table!) Trust your gut; your true friends will prove themselves, and they may not be the ones that were with you when your fertility journey commenced. True friends will answer your call at 2 a.m., ones to whom you can tell anything, ones who will love you even if you don’t feel particularly lovable at that moment.

Remember, there is no right or single way to cope and traverse grief. Your own way is just that — your unique print in life. Be well.

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