“A woman is like a teabag, you can’t tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water” said Eleanor Roosevelt and I can’t help but agree.
I’m sure there are times in all our lives when we’ve had to muster up all the inner strength we can possibly find. If you follow my blog, you’ll know mine was definitely experiencing infertility and so, from me, this quote goes out to all of you unsung heroes, and not just those infertility warriors, but to those stalwart, courageous folk who remain our friends in spite of how we might act or behave during our “dark days”.
Being friends with someone in this place is no easy feat. It’s sometimes a downright thankless task. The parameters change daily depending on cycles, what’s happening around us or simply just what mood we wake up in, we’re pumping our bodies full of hormones and really don’t have control over our emotional state. It’s tough for you and tough for us.
Since I’ve been removed from the IVF process I’ve often been asked, by friends, how best they can be supportive to others embarking upon the infertility rollercoaster and so thought I’d pen a piece. I’ve thought a lot about the person I was during that time in my life and what would have worked for me. I’m by no means an expert, these really are just my thoughts and how I felt, they’re not meant as a quick fix solution or the infinitive guide for everyone.
But here goes…
There will be days when I desperately need you. I’ll want to chat, I’ll need a hug, I’ll feel the urge to go out drinking, to get raging drunk and numb the pain I’m feeling. Drinking might make me happy – hey I can still enjoy myself and have a great night out with no ties, ain’t that just dandy? or, it might leave me maudlin, crying in to my cocktail, telling you things you’d never want a friend to have to go through. There might also be times when I can’t face the world. When I need to lock myself away from everyone and everything and this also means you. I’ll give you no warning, I’ll merely stop replying to your texts and answering your calls, because during these times it will be a challenge for me to simply get out of bed in the morning, have a shower and go to work. When life is at it’s lowest ebb these simple tasks are insurmountable and it truly feels as though there is no point in getting up and facing the day.
Even when I’m like this, please don’t give up on me but be the friend you’ve always been. No doubt we’re friends because you’re thoughtful, kind, make me laugh or we have tons in common and despite what you might think, that hasn’t gone away. I want to hear your news, sometimes, I want to talk to you about random things, sometimes, and I want you to make me smile, sometimes. At other times I’m going to need you to simply listen and agree 100% with me how completely and utterly unfair this is, how we’d make wonderful parents and that life has dealt me a pretty rough hand.
Please understand that I can’t always be involved with your life and your children. I’ll try my best, because I care for you, but I can’t always find the inner strength to do so. It’s not that I’m jealous, because I am genuinely pleased for you and wish you joy, but, at the same time I am utterly and completely consumed by a green eyed monster, constantly asking myself how it’s fair that you’ve been able to get, oh so easily, what I so desperately want and would sell my soul for.
I know it might be hard for you to tell me you’re pregnant, but please don’t keep me out of the loop and treat me like a social pariah. I want to know, I need to know, I will find out. And I’ll be happy for you. It’s a real mixed bag being told a friend is expecting, I love you and care for you, am thrilled for you and relieved you don’t have to go through what I’m going through, but at the same time it’s like a punch in the stomach, a reminder that I might never get the chance to feel a baby move inside me, to experience motherhood and all that it encompasses and of course raises that age old question I’ve by now asked myself a thousand times: Why me?
So we’ve established I do want to hear but please don’t tell me face to face. Infertility has made me a pretty good actress but none of us are that good! Please phone me or text, I’d like to celebrate in your joy but appreciate having the option of crying the pain I’m feeling away. I don’t want you to see me do this. I’m ashamed. Likewise with your scan photos, it’s wonderful that you’ve been able to conceive, that you’re growing an actual person and are going to be a mother, how super for you. You not me. I know this sounds selfish but I’m completely in self preservation mode right now and it’s actually okay for me to put myself first. I need to.
Please understand that I’m not always going to be on good form and am likely to make, sometimes pretty bad, excuses to avoid social situations because they are simply just too overwhelming. Infertility may not have given me the gift of a child but it has given me the joy of suffering panic attacks and extreme paranoia: I now believe I’ll walk in to a room and be judged and pitied. And I really don’t want your pity.
Or your judgement. You can try to walk in my shoes but, unless you’ve experienced infertility, you’ll never really know what it’s like. In your eyes having yet another round of IVF might not be what you think is right for me and I know eating pineapple core after the transfer might be the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever heard but, until I come to those decisions myself, I just need your support. I’m aware this doesn’t make for a two-way friendship and I’m sorry for that, but right now I just need you to be my friend.
With each round of IVF I’m finding platitudes harder to stomach. Maybe I used to be able to nod politely and fake agreement that, yes, it might have been God’s will, or indeed a life lesson I need to get through and that of course it will happen for me, perhaps even naturally, I mean we’ve all heard the one about the couple waiting for IVF who conceive naturally right? Wrong. When a consultant says there’s a 0% chance of natural conception then I’m not going to conceive without medical intervention. Fact.
And whatever you do, please, please, please don’t tell me to “just relax”. Ever! I need IVF, relaxing just ain’t going to cut the mustard. Although if someone suggested covering my ovaries in mustard I’d probably do that.
Be aware that I’m likely to change too. In the beginning I’ll be fresh to it, full of positivity and hope, you see I’ll never imagine that IVF could fail, how could it? Problem identified and now science is here to fix it, what’s not going to work? However, the naïve and optimistic infertile will be whittled away eventually after round after round after round of invasive heart-breaking, failed “treatment” and replaced by the bitter, cynical and grieving version. I’m going to end up broken beyond repair. It might get to the stage when I can dine out on my humorous tales of indignity, did I tell you the one where I jacked up in a pub car park with an old man looking through the window? but I’m not sure when I’m going to get to that place. There’s no set timeline you see.
IVF is an extremely complicated process and you can bet your bottom dollar on it that I have read pretty much every article, every forum post and every book pertaining to my form of infertility and treatment. It’s incredibly heart-warming, and touching, when you ask me to send you links, or to recommend blogs I follow so that you can gain more of an insight in to what’s going on and how I might be feeling. When you try to learn the terminology and abbreviations, which become second language to us infertiles, this shows me, so, so much, that you care, that you want to understand and are desperately trying to find a way in which you can help. And I thank you for this. You’re working tirelessly, behind the scenes, to support me and, believe me, I do acknowledge it even if I can’t show or tell you right now.
Do tell me you think I’m strong. Tell me you can’t imagine how tough life is for me right now but that you’re proud of me and thinking of me. That you believe in me, not in the outcome of our next fertility treatment, but simply in me and the person I am. Be thoughtful and sensitive. Tell me you understand when I can’t be a good friend back to you, I will be again, I promise. And please don’t give up on me. I’m trying, I’m hurting, I don’t want to feel like this and even if I am pushing you away, I need you more than ever.
And if in doubt, ask me. You might not get a response but, some day, when the future seems a little less bleak, I might just be able to be honest with you, to let you know what it is I need and say thank you for being my friend.
There’s a reason infertility is often described as a journey, that truly is what it is, and unfortunately one we take you, wonderful family and friends, along on the ride for and I truly wish I could have found the strength to write this as I was going through our rounds of IVF. Thank you for being my friend.