Since I’ve been removed from the IVF process I’ve often been asked, by family and friends, how they can support others embarking upon the infertility rollercoaster. I’ve thought a lot about the person I was during that time in my life and what might have worked for me, on some days. You see, it’s tough to know what to do. The parameters can change daily depending on cycles, what’s happening around us, or simply what mood we wake up in. At times we’re pumping our bodies so full of hormones that we don’t even have control over our emotional state. At others we’re exhausted by infertility and how it’s utterly consumed us. And sometimes we’re just incessantly angered by the unfairness of it all. 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 I do hope they help you to understand a little more about us and the life we have been forced to lead.
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 into 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 ache with laugher 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 just need you listen and agree 100% with me how unfair this all is, how we’d make wonderful parents and that life has dealt us 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. I tell myself I’m not 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, launching bitterness and resentment my way. It’s not right, but I’ll constantly be asking the universe 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, it’s also like a punch in the womb; 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 it always raises that age old question, I’ve by now asked myself a thousand times: Why us?
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 too overwhelming. Infertility may not have given me the gift of a child but it has given me the joy of suffering panic attacks, anxiety 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, please support me. 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 and love me in all my pain and vulnerability.
With each round of IVF I’m finding platitudes harder to stomach. Maybe I used to believe them, or at least 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 it’s incredibly unlikely I’ll ever conceive without medical intervention. Fact. So please don’t try to fix this for me because you can’t; there are no guarantees that even science can.
Whatever you do, please, please, please don’t tell me to “just relax”, or “just go on holiday”, or “just adopt”. Ever! I need IVF, relaxing or vacaying just ain’t going to cut the mustard. Although if someone suggested covering my ovaries in mustard would help me conceive, then I’d probably do that. And whilst adoption is an incredibly selfless and beautiful act, it’s not easy, it’s not the answer for everyone and, even if it is for us in the future, I might not be ready to put an end to my dreams of carrying a child just yet.
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 and 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 tome 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, or books to read, so that you can gain more of an insight in to what’s going on and how I might be feeling. When you remember us on those well-known “trigger days”, or 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; believe me, I do acknowledge it even if I can’t show you.
Do tell me you think I’m strong. Tell me you can’t imagine how tough life is for me, 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 actually 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. I hope. 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 to say thank you for being my friend.
Love me x
I truly wish I could have found the strength to write this as we were going through our fertility treatments, but for all of you who were there for us; thank you for being our friends.