The Power of Connecting With Others

, , 29 Comments

stress freeImagine if you always wanted to have children but couldn’t all the while working in a flower shop fulfilling orders for new mothers upon the birth of their babies. Each May, you volunteered to work Mother’s Day knowing that it would never be your day and that those who had children would want to be home…

Or you found yourself working in an ob-gyn’s office constantly surrounded by pregnant women. Despite your best efforts you never manage to reach that state…

Consider being a man in Africa who is excluded from naming ceremonies because you and your wife can’t seem to have children…

What if you gave a baby up for adoption in your teen years only to learn later when you wanted to fill the void left from having had to give up a child that you weren’t able to deliver again. Instead, after multiple miscarriages, you have to have a hysterectomy…

These are just some of the stories that have come my way in the past week. These personal encounters with infertility and longing for children arrived in emails thanking me for sharing my story. My heart grows bigger as I learn about the experiences of others.  I appreciate all the more the importance of kindness. I recognize with new clarity how far a little gentle understanding and empathy can go in making someone else feel less isolated.

The ability to connect with others, to know that we can be there for each other, that we’re not alone in facing the confusing and unpredictable emotions that come as a result of not being able to conceive and deliver a child is a powerful tonic.

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I’ve also heard from those who have moved through the worst of their experiences and arrived at a more peaceful state of mind. I’d like to share the work of one writer who provided a link to her story: A Baby Dream.

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Also writing are those who want very much to help lessen the heartache. One woman writes:

how can people who are pregnant acknowledge their own condition or news, being mindful of colleagues or even strangers with IF? … There are many, many women and men who just want to know what to say, what to do. We know we do the wrong thing, in the interim. Help us. We want to DO something even though we know there probably isn’t much we can do.”

Enough from me, what advice would you provide?

 

29 Responses

  1. Kami

    June 17, 2008 3:52 am

    I am in tears over the stories and the request from the person who wants to be more gentle to the infertile community.

    I am sure you will have lots of responses on how people can be more sensitive, so I will just throw out one.

    It would be nice if people limited birth announcements – especially those with pictures to actual friends not just everyone in the email list or everyone in the company. If it seems appropriate to make a company-wide announcement (to let everyone know why someone is out of the office, for example), keep it simple. People who want more information can always ask.

  2. Brandygirl

    June 17, 2008 4:30 am

    I agree with Kami.

    I think the best way is to really listen and feel the everyday struggles that we go through. Sometimes, I find it hard to talk to another infertile cuz our pain may be similar but our experience in dealing with it is different.

    Through NCLM, I’ve learned to listen and feel her story. And if I didn’t know what to say, I am honest about it and I’ll say I’m sorry, I don’t know what to say but just wanna give you a pain-free hug. And that’s the best that I can do.

    Through my blog, my friends have become more sensitive and I don’t really hear much insensitive remarks anymore. And yes, the word RELAX, has stopped! THANK GOD FOR THAT! 🙂

  3. Rachel Inbar

    June 17, 2008 6:24 am

    Listen. I made up magnets last year that say “Good friends listen even when they don’t understand” and I send them out to people. (Anyone who’s interested can contact me.)

  4. luna

    June 17, 2008 6:43 am

    how amazing the outpouring of support and people connecting over your NYT piece, PJ. just incredible. the stories are so real and to think that any of these people might feel the slightest bit less alone is just wonderful.

    as for the sympathetic pregnant woman, kudos for being aware of and sensitive to the plight of infertiles around you. most people don’t think twice about sending birth announcements or photos, or dominating every conversation with all things baby. OR it can go other other way, where the person feels awkward and hides everything and the poor infertile is the last to know…

    know that there is no “winning” and no one “right” way to handle this, since we may have different reactions. just being aware and sensitive is a huge step towards understanding. with friends. let them choose how much space may need to be there, until they’re ready to share more with you. listen, don’t offer advice, and be understanding. a little empathy and compassion goes a long way.

    • Handjive76

      July 2, 2008 1:55 am

      Being the last to know… my DH and I got a birth announcement from some friends who know about our IF… but who never told us they were expecting. Talk about a shock.

  5. MLO

    June 17, 2008 7:57 am

    The most important thing is to be sensitive to the fact that someone faced with infertility probably does not want to hear in-depth details of how you “surprised” your husband with the news. Or, anyone else. Or, how you just knew this time would be the time.

    Just tell the person the news simply and follow that person’s lead. If they change the subject, honor that. If they ask for details, honor that. Listen to the other person.

  6. Katie

    June 17, 2008 9:12 am

    Part of NaComLeavMo has been really hard. I’m 22, single and not even thinking about kids, I have no idea what to say when I read the stories on most IF blogs. When it’s a happy outcome it’s very easy to say congratulations, when it’s not I’m often lost for words. I have no idea what it must be like so feel like offering sympathy is a slap in the face for the blogger. Face to face is easier, but in a virtual world I often just leave quietly rather than add more hurt by leaving a comment which is unintentionally hurtful.

  7. lynn

    June 17, 2008 2:20 pm

    A few thoughts on how pregnant women (or those with children) can “deal” with their infertile friends. First, when you meet your friends for dinner or drinks while you are pregnant make an effort to not have the conversation be about your pregnancy. Understand that your friend is happy for you it is just painful to hear about your pregnancy. Second, send out the birth announcements but don’t expect a visit in the hospital or at home and don’t be upset if your friends don’t rush over. Give them some time. Third, don’t invite your infertile friends to birthday parties where they will be the only ones without kids. Your friends will want to help celebrate your kid’s first birthday — but its difficult, don’t put them in the position to have to attend. (You can call and say, “listen Jr.’s having a 1st birthday party, we would love to have you there but totally understand if you don’t want to come …”)

    Finally, never, never, never say “when you have a child (or when you are pregnant) you will understand….”

  8. Brownsugar

    June 17, 2008 2:57 pm

    I was moved by Pamela’s article cos it touched a nerve.

    Am an African. Married for years without any child. its been an emotional roller coaster for the both of us due to family, cultural & social pressure. Not been informed about pregnancies and births cos we dont have a child of ours,at first i ignored it but it hurts deeply. i have lost friendships cos of this ”stigma”

    Every month when i see my period my heart tears apart. i pressured my husband for us to seek medical help and thats when we discovered that he has NO SPERM, my gosh it was a terrible day hearing that information, most esp when we tried IVF & it failed. It was the worst day of my Life. But i refuse to believe that we wont have a child, i trust in God.

    In our society its always the woman’s fault so i bear the blame, my husband is my Rock, when i cry most a times i cant even imagine what his going through emotionally, sadly there are not enough material there to guide us, if anyone has any info kindly pass it on.

  9. Allie

    June 17, 2008 6:34 pm

    My advice to a pregnant woman or anyone that has never dealt with infertility is not to give quick advice like ” I know you will be pregnant one day” or “your time will come” comments like that just make me sad because I know that I will probably never get pregnant and that comment just reinforces what I do not have. The quick happy advice hurts because for us that are infertile there is no quick happy solution. The pain is always there.

    BTW I want to thank you PJ for this blog. As a women dealing with infertility for over 4 years and trying to come to terms with my infertility your blog has been so comforting. We are in the beginning process of adoption but still feel such a loss for our biological child that we dreamed about before we were even married…

  10. Wishing4One

    June 17, 2008 10:07 pm

    You are wonderful thank you.

    Living in Cairo, Egypt, surrounded by children everywhere, they are catered to in every segment of the society, so much emphasis put on family and most of all children- its not been an easy ride for me.

    The internet lets us connect with each other and for me blogging has been so therapuetic. I find myself feeling “ok”, after 5 failed IVF cycles, when I read a comment on my blog or a post on a fellow IVF’ers blog, I smile. I think i am not alone and take comfort in reading and responding to others like me.

    So thank you for writing such beautiful inspiring post and I am glad I found you today.

  11. PJ

    June 18, 2008 12:00 am

    Hi! It’s the OTHER PJ!

    Great post. For me, it’s working with young children as an elementary teacher. I see the parenting that goes on around me, the parents who don’t appreciate what they have – simply don’t or sometimes can’t invest themselves in their children or give them what they need. And I just know that if I have a child, I will throw myself in heart and soul. Just seems so unfair.

    Also, I’m so grateful to have the blogosphere to connect with. I know ONE person (husband’s cousin) who has been through infertility treatments, and she lives in another state (plus we are not that close).

  12. Rachel

    June 18, 2008 4:59 am

    Pamela, you are an angel and I think you don’t even know it. Or do you…?

    As for that question, here is my input:
    1/ THINK before you open your mouth. Put your assumptions aside and learn to view motherhood and conception with new eyes. Don’t assume everyone can have children, and don’t assume that if they can’t, there is a set of ‘easy fixes’ that you can kindly suggest they try. Encourage your friends and family to do the same. It’s a question of education.

    2/ Understand that there is no one-size-fits all when it comes to infertility. This is where the thinking part will come in handy. Approach each woman (or couple) dealing with this as a unique situation which may or may not be like the other person you’ve met who is dealing with this. Because there are more of us than a lot of people would like to know or admit.

    3/ Raise your own children with the same viewpoint when it comes to having children. You never know, they may have fertility issues themselves, so it’s better for everyone if no assumptions are made.

    4/ Write your senator, congressman, the President, whoever and tell them that healthcare needs to be changed to cover IF treatments. If they cover Viagra, for God’s sake, why can’t the allow those who can’t afford it to try IVF. The financial ceiling of IF is real and as devastating as the diagnosis itself.

    Finally, I commend the kind heart who cares enough to write Pamela to ask. It’s only one voice, but we’ll take whatever we can get, right ladies? (And gents!)

  13. Cindy

    June 18, 2008 2:40 pm

    The first time I googled infertility blogs was a few years ago. I came across several but I as I went to their sites, I found that each and every one had been converted to a pregnancy or baby blog. Talk about feeling alone!!

    I am now headed towards a hysterectomy and in the midst of fresh grief decided to try to find comfort through others who understand my situation. This time I found your site. Thanks! It is such a sad comfort to know that there are others who understand the emotions and pain from the inside of the experience. I am encouraged by grieving with others who understand and learning from their coping process!

    • Pamela Jeanne

      June 18, 2008 9:45 pm

      I’m glad you found this site, too. Like you, I found it hard to find a “safe” place when I needed get away from the constant reminders of what wasn’t happening in my life. You are far from alone. You’ll always find a welcoming place here…

      Wishing you peace and strength as you prepare for your surgery.

  14. Jessica

    June 18, 2008 3:13 pm

    To know you’re not alone in these (IF) struggles is a wonderful thing. I honestly don’t know what the “right” thing is to do, in regards to announcements etc. Sometimes I don’t know that something will hurt, until after it’s been done.

  15. Deathstar

    June 18, 2008 4:22 pm

    Here’s a few suggestions:

    Please quit sending baby pics at every holiday event, growth spurt, or every 20 seconds through mass emails. Just send them to people who ask for them. Yes, they’re adorable in their Hallowe’en costumes, but it can be painful for those who wish they could dress up their wished for baby.

    Please quit offering a million and one suggestions about diet, nutrition, environmental toxins, blah di blah.

    And one final one just for me, I’m done with it all, so stop with the cheerful encouragement about 60 yrs olds getting pregnant.

    As for Brown Sugar, get in touch with an infertility association, I’m not sure where you live, they might have more information to guide you.

  16. Zorastra

    June 18, 2008 5:21 pm

    My advice for women with kids that would like to by supportive — which I really appreciate that the questions was asked — is to just be a good friend to your infertile friends. To me that means really asking them how they are, really listening to what they say, and just accepting their feelings and their experiences as their own. Being infertile brings with it so many ups and downs. During those down times, it helps to have folks that can give the space to hear feelings, whatever they are. Then I/we can move on. Its simply a matter of really caring, really listening.

  17. Ellen K

    June 18, 2008 5:39 pm

    My suggestions:

    1. Pay attention to the person’s body language and silences as well as words. Strive to keep the conversation from entirely involving children or pregnancy.

    2. Just because you know your friend would like to have a child, don’t assume that s/he is wild for all children. Don’t forward pictures or birth announcements of your coworker’s or cousin’s kids.

    3. Don’t make vague statements like “You never know” and “You’re still young.” Do not suggest treatments or question your friend’s treatment plan or lack thereof. If you happen to know a good doctor, you might mention it, but don’t press your friend for follow-up.

    4. Finally, don’t remind the person that s/he ever said anything like, “I’d never do IVF; I’d just adopt” or “I can’t imagine being childless.” People change. Marriages change. Options change. What seemed like a great plan B last year or last month may no longer be on the discussion table. Your friend is entitled to change her/his mind without having to be explain it to the world. Infertility is a private subject.

  18. Tricia

    June 18, 2008 7:23 pm

    First, I’d like to commend Pamela for how she’s handled the ugly, ugly comments that came in from the NYT article. I don’t think I could have been as eloquent as you were.

    I’m incredibly touched by the women who wrote asking how to better communicate support and sensitivity, and I’d like to say, “ditto” to EVERYTHING Rachel wrote, plus add…

    If one more person had told me to relax, have a glass of wine and a romantic evening with my husband, I think I would have cracked. If you’re trying to be supportive, please understand that telling us to de-stress, to give it time and to continue in the old fashioned baby-making way, just doesn’t apply and makes us feel even more like isolated, barren failures.

  19. Maria

    June 18, 2008 11:42 pm

    Hello Pamela,
    I am 32 and have experienced infertility these past 2 years. I just found out I am pregnant after Ivf, which I am obviously very happy about. I wanted to write to basically say that what you are doing is wonderful. i still do not feel like there is enough education and information out there for the public regarding infertility. I wish that it was a little more out in the open so that we women didn’t have to feel ashamed or feel like we are “less” of a woman. Because of my experiences, I have been thinking about writing a book. The more that people write/speak about it, the more the public will recognize it and understand the process. I work with physicians and they didn’t even realize how much of a grueling process it really is! Thank you for your blog!

  20. Deb

    June 19, 2008 2:31 am

    In the years of my fertility treatments and quest for a child, I lost touch with many friends who got pregnant … some for a second and third time. I finally opened up one day and shed light on where I was coming from … it really helped put things in perspective for them. I explained it like this: I asked them what their greatest joy was … knowing of course it was their child(ren) and shared that that was my greatest source of pain. They seemed to get it. No matter what, they could never do the right thing … not talking about their children offended me, talking about their kids upset me. Bottom line … I read The Four Agreements and have to admit … it’s not about them … it’s all me!
    Today I am a happy mom … daughter born in China 19 months ago … I couldn’t be happier!!! BUT I do have friends who are now wearing the shoes I discarded … I am mindful and sensitive to their feelings … they say they are comfortable around me and respect that I am so sensitive … is it because I am still infertile ??? Who knows??? It is such a rough road!!!!

  21. Joyce

    June 19, 2008 2:40 am

    I couldn’t imagine working at an ob/gyn’s office. Working at a library where mothers come in w/ their kids for the children’s programs is bad enough! Seeing pregnant bellies all day would kill me.

    As it is, I wish people would just listen to me. I don’t want to be invited to baby showers, I don’t want to be sent pictures of your baby, I don’t want to know that you’re having a hard time b/c it’s so hot outside and you’re pregnant as all get out. I just want to be there in your place and have my own baby. Then maybe I’ll want all of those things. Until then, shut up.

    🙂   (here from NCLM)

  22. frumiousb

    June 22, 2008 6:18 am

    I just found this blog, and it is quite comforting to read. I’m nearly 40 and my partner and I have been trying to have a child since I was 33. Getting pregnant is not our biggest problem. Staying pregnant has been the trick for us. I’ve spent most of my late thirties pregnant, it feels, and all I have to show for it is one dead baby (stillborn) and a string of miscarriages. They have no idea what’s wrong.

    Anyhow. Things to say and not to say:

    1.
    Don’t say you understand when you don’t. Listen, but don’t pretend. The fact that it took you nearly a year with your third does not qualify you for understanding.

    2
    Do not be angry if I do not acknowledge your birth announcements with a gift and/or do not come visit. Please understand that this is too much to ask. I’ll be around later, when I can.

    3
    If you have a specific suggestion that you think might help my situation, think really really hard before you make it. Please consider whether suggesting that I adopt because you know three people who immediately had healthy babies after adoption is really appropriate.

    (and finally, this is a special one for my mother-in-law, and probably particular to me. However, I’ve heard other women in management complain that they’ve heard similar.)

    4
    Please don’t hint that my job is causing the miscarriages and that “taking it easy” might help. You’re blaming me then. Do you realize that?

  23. Cecilia

    July 11, 2008 1:34 pm

    Thank you for your blog and the NYT article. This issue came up for me in a big way recently because I was experiencing symptoms of being pregnant. I’m 50 years old and in 7 years I’ve had one period, so the symptoms are all from deranged hormones. But yesterday I was at my new gyno’s office to see if he could shed light on my symptoms, and when he said flat out “You’re definitely NOT pregnant” I was surprised by the grief I felt. I have no children and always wanted them, and I guess in the back of my mind I entertained the fantasy that this was my final chance, I was being redeemed, forgiven, blessed, etc. Well I’m surprised by how heartbroken I am, and the realizations that whenever colleagues would show up with their new babies I would walk out of the room or otherwise ignore them. I now understand that I was pushing the thoughts out of my mind that I would never have one. They must think that I just hate kids. It was my protection to put up that barrier. Lucky for me my fiance is a kind and romantic partner (and a great cook). he will fill my days with happiness and I will do everything I can to make him happy. I’m getting married October 12 🙂 He is indifferent to kids, especially since one of his friends has a demon daughter from hell, so I think we will have a blissful time together traveling without anything to weigh us down. As for advice for pregnant friends, I think I’m going to stick with adjusting my sail rather than trying to change with wind. Although it’s hard, that doctors’ office had lots of young ladies with basketball bellies and hundreds of baby pictures tacked to the walls. It made me feel like such a loser. I thought Jesus I’m never coming back here again. Somehow I’ve got to find a way to be happy for them in their destiny, and to not only accept my destiny but embrace it.

    • Pamela Jeanne

      July 12, 2008 4:32 am

      Cecilia: Thanks for taking the time to write and share your story. I truly believe that it is only by facing and understanding the emotions that come with this life-changing experience (rather than deny or bury them) that we will be in a position to convert our sadness, anger or disappointment into the strength needed to, as you say, “adjust our sail.” I wish you and your fiance all sorts of happiness…best regards, Pamela

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