by Cassie Destino, Fertility Doula and Founder of IVF Support UAE
I was reminded this week of the time when I was first starting my infertility journey and I found out that my best friend was pregnant. My husband and I had only been trying for a few months, but I had already had an appointment with a fertility clinic and was about to start my first round of Clomid. I had a feeling in my bones that it wasn’t going to work and that my journey would be more complicated than I had hoped it would be, but it was still early on and I prayed that I was wrong. I hadn’t told anybody about our struggle to get pregnant because it was early days and I was hoping that I would be pregnant soon.
At the time I was in Los Angeles filming and was in the middle of a meeting when I got a text message from my friend. She texted that she was pregnant and she was too excited to wait until I got back to San Francisco a few days later. I will always remember that sinking feeling in my stomach as I read her words. She is a few years older than me and she was married to the loveliest man and I knew that she was planning on trying to get pregnant around that time. I shouldn’t have been surprised but somehow I was totally shocked. Of course, I was happy for her. She was going to be an amazing mother. But I couldn’t help feeling deeply sad for myself and how much I was suffering to achieve this thing she seemed to have accomplished with seemingly so little effort.
When you are trying to get pregnant the world can seem so unfair. Everywhere you look you see pregnant bellies and people pushing strollers. I heard more than a few stories of people I knew accidentally getting pregnant and it made me crazy. Here I was trying so hard to achieve something that it seemed people all around me were accomplishing with no effort. And it was costing me a fortune!
Navigating your friend’s pregnancy can be a difficult thing. You want to be supportive but you are nursing your own hurt and fear. When I was looking up articles to read to help me write this post I found lots of advice about how to deal with your pregnancy when your friend is infertile, but not as much about how to handle a pregnancy of someone close to you when you are the infertile one.
Here are some of the things that I did and one thing I wish I did when I had this experience.
Maybe you are telling your friends and family that you are struggling to get pregnant. Maybe you’re keeping it to yourself. There is no right or wrong choice here. If you are not telling many people and one of your friends, family members, co-workers, or someone else in your life tells you that they are pregnant you will have to make a decision. Do you tell them about your struggle or do you choose not to say anything? In order to make that decision you should ask yourself what you want from your friend. Do you want them not to share details of their pregnancy with you because it would make you feel sad? Do you wish for them to act “normal” around you and tell you what they would tell anybody else about their pregnancy? Do you hope that they will tell you that their pregnancy is also the happy ending to their own struggle with infertility? If you don’t want to hear about it then you may consider telling them that you are trying to get pregnant and having a hard time with it. In my experience people who have not struggled to get pregnant can sometimes have a hard time understanding what it feels like to live with infertility. They may react with compassion and sympathy, or they may feel like they are being denied their ability to share their joy. It can really put a strain on a friendship. The important thing to remember is that you need to protect yourself and your feelings. You may find that you need a little space from your friend as you adjust to the news but then you are more able to share in her joy as her pregnancy progresses. Being honest with your friend, and yourself, about what your needs are is very important.
It’s important to give yourself permission to feel your feelings. People may try to tell you how you should or should not respond to news of your friend’s pregnancy. Nobody else is inside your head with you and only you know what it really feels like. If you feel sad, it’s okay. You’ve been trying really hard to do something that’s really hard. It is natural to feel sad about not having achieved that yet. If you feel angry, that’s your right too. Infertility is unfair and anger is a very normal part of that. Nobody else can dictate to you the “right” way to feel.
If you think that you’re feeling uncomfortably angry or sad, or if you are noticing those emotions negatively affecting other areas of your life like your relationship with your husband, your job performance, or your ability to be a good friend, parent, or daughter, then you may want to consider speaking to a therapist about it. Navigating infertility can be one of life’s most stressful experiences and seeking help through it is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. The opportunity to talk through your journey with someone trained to support your mental health can be one of the most helpful and rewarding things you can do for yourself.
Skip the baby shower of a friend if you think it would be too hard to go. You can “hide” Facebook friends if they are pregnant and using social media to share all about it. Look after yourself.
Share…if you want to
After I got pregnant with my twins I opened up about my infertility journey for the first time. Most of my friends and family did not know that I had to undergo fertility treatment to get pregnant. I had chosen not to share my infertility while I was going through it. But, once I started to tell people I was amazed by how many people I knew had also gone through it. Infertility and miscarriage is not something that tends to be openly discussed in our society so a great deal of stigma and shame has arisen around these issues. Once you start to connect with other people who have had these experiences the less alone you feel. It is an amazing thing to discover that someone you know well has struggled with something that you felt was your burden alone. I can remember thinking that I would have been so comforted by knowing that I was in good company when I was going though fertility treatment.
Sometimes you need to force yourself to think of something else during your months of fertility treatment. Let’s not kid ourselves; you’re not going to “forget” you are trying to get pregnant, but if you’re anything like I was, you may find that you never think about anything else either. There is likely a better balance somewhere there.
I started making a feature length documentary during my years of infertility. I picked a topic that had nothing to do with kids, babies, making babies, medicine, hospitals, or anything that would make me think about trying to get pregnant. I was able to lose myself for hours, days, and sometimes weeks, in research, planning, and filming. It was such an effective tool for me to channel my focus into something else. Of course, my infertility was never too far from my thoughts but at least I could think about something else for long stretches of time.
I could have found other things to do with my time, of course, but as a filmmaker that was my natural go-to. Writing, reading, knitting, exercising, scrapbooking, journaling, or reorganizing my kitchen would have helped too. Finding something other than obsessing over getting pregnant can be an enormous help. I know that is easier said than done, but I would often get so sick of thinking about nothing other than my next scan or my latest test results and having something else to do was such a help to me.
Write it down!
I wish that I had kept some kind of journal when I was trying to get pregnant. I can see from my Google calendar when I had appointments but there was so much going on with me emotionally that I would really like to go back and reflect on that now.
Writing down what is going on with you physically, emotionally, and even financially can be so helpful. Writing can help you process how you are feeling about something. It gives you an opportunity to vent when you’re not feeling great and it is a great way to keep track of the waves of hope that keep you going. And when it’s all said and done it is a very unique snapshot of a very unique time in your life.
As you surely know by now, this can be a hard road to be on. You may find that something that is works for you one day is completely useless to you the next. When you can’t get pregnant but your friends can it can be so gut wrenching. Your friends who conceived their babies without fertility treatments may have no idea what you are going through. You may choose to share it with them, you may choose to keep it to yourself. There is no right way. Be kind to yourself always. You deserve it.