It’s been quite a while (April, actually) since we had an entry for the Act of Kindness category, but that’s just an oversight on my part. The “acts” have been happening from women who have been trying to figure out just what is going on inside the head of their infertile sisters. You only have to read my email to see it. So it’s time to surface a few of them to demonstrate that there are some big hearts out there.
From Shonda, I received this email:
“…one of my oldest friends was drowning in the infertility pool. Each month she would call me with a sad report that her period had, in fact, arrived. I remember that it reminded me of the weekly death tolls reported during a war. As it is, she is married to perhaps one of the greatest men in the world and his support and patience during this process was moving.
“Over too many beers at a cookout, he confided to me that, even though he was having intercourse more than any other time in his life, he missed his sex life. After a year of ovulation sticks and temperature taking before sex could be approved, he said he felt like an emotionless robot. With all of this going on in her life, I didn’t know how to proceed with her with my own pregnancy. We’ve been friends since we were five years old and this was the most exciting thing I’d ever been through. I had wanted a kid since I was a kid. But, deep in my spirit, I knew this was hard for her. I knew she didn’t want to be jealous, I knew she wanted to help me decorate the nursery, but I could see in her eyes and hear in her voice that it was just too hard. So, I just decided not to bring the subject up with her, to let her bring it up with me. Because she loves me, I knew she would. And she did. This way we still got to talk about it, I just knew it was on days that she wasn’t mourning the arrival of her period. Reading your stories, I remembered all that my friend went through. Had I not watched so closely as my friend sought after a pregnancy almost like a heart-broken lover chasing a fleeting lover, I probably wouldn’t have thought so much about this subject.
…Even more than that, I already knew that had she not had her baby, this sting would never fade away. I don’t know if you are allowed to have “fertiles” for friends or admiring readers, but you have one in me anyways. So, keep blogging not just for IF women, but also for those of us who don’t want to be insensitive.”
Thanks, Shonda, for being a good friend (and yes, I welcome friendship from women who are as wonderful as you clearly are.) May others follow your lead and take the time to understand how hard this experience can be for those who live it every day.
And from Danielle:
“A best girlfriend of mine – we’ve known each other since we were 13 – was going through a lot trying to get pregnant. When her trials started, she distanced herself from her friends. She has always been a private person, so I suspected that she was going through a lot and I didn’t want to pry and wanted to respect her privacy. However, I wanted to be a good friend and remain open enough, hoping that she would open up to me one day, on her terms, with her comfort level. But she never even said the word “boo” about trying to conceive – good, bad, or ugly. When I became pregnant (rather quickly, despite many doctors telling me otherwise) our friendship virtually vanished. I felt guilty and sad, but I could not hide my “fertile” self.
I’ve wanted to be able to understand what she was going through, to help shoulder some worry. To know how to act, to understand her sensitivities, but there was a big wall there, so I couldn’t. Your blog has helped me understand a little better. So you are not only helping women and couples who are infertile, but friendships among women too. Thank you.”
I’m sorry, Danielle, that your friendship suffered. Speaking as one who built a huge wall to fortify myself (literally) during the worst years of my infertility, I’m sure your friend was only trying to protect herself from pain that wasn’t caused by you but instead by the awful knowledge and the constant reminders that infertility was robbing her of an important and much desired set of life experiences.
Please feel free to share your stories. I’m sure readers would appreciate hearing from those on the other side who look to help those with infertility. Just know that there’s a desire to make a difference and understanding helps take the edge off.
August 6, 2008 3:22 pm
Thanks for sharing these emails PJ. It was a nice treat to wake up and read how much some “fertiles” care.
August 6, 2008 7:34 pm
yet another reason why your voice and this space are so very important. thanks for sharing these stories.
it would be nice if all infertiles had friends that at least wanted to understand…
August 6, 2008 11:13 pm
Just like Mel said at the conference, there are just the sensitive and the insensitive. It’s heartwarming to see such sensitive women out there who are seeking a better way of being a caring friend.
August 7, 2008 1:25 am
I think we are all guilty of acting insensitively or carelessly when we are unaware of other’s situations. Because of my friend’s infertility and was actually with her a couple of times when she found out about or ran into someone who we knew might not be fit parents (one whose child is now is CPS custody), she put a voice to the frustration and, frankly, anger you must all feel to see some be so cavalier toward a life experience you all have forked out a fortune in money and tears to reach, often in vain. I liken myself as someone who tries to be aware of the struggles of others, but I’ve had many foot in the mouth situations. And that’s just the ones I know of, no telling how many I didn’t realize I did.
My friend who went through infertility is like my sister. She is as much an aunt to my kids as my sister is. For that reason, I’ve let her see my ugly side and she’s let me see hers. She knew she could vent to me about how she was pissed when a girl she worked with giggled about an accidental pregnancy. I remember that she said that she felt silly being mad, but she couldn’t help it. The girl was 19, unwed with no savings.
My friend’s candid conversations with me opened my eyes to her full struggle. I already knew it was hard. Honestly, I cannot imagine it. I’ve had things in my life that were just beyond my fingertips, but I know if I would have been infertile, I would’ve been the angriest, most bitter infertile on Earth. But, those were hypothetical thoughts. My friend’s honesty gave those hypothetical feelings a face I knew on a person I loved.
So, keep educating us. I wrote an article a few years ago about breast cancer fund raising and, according to the experts I spoke with, the most effective soldiers in that battle are survivors and their close friends and family. (BTW, does infertility have research fundraisers?)
My favorite blogs are frank truth,no matter what the content is about. And, no blog sector is more honest, often painful, than infertility blogs. I guess that’s why I like them.
I’m sure most of you do talk openly with your loved ones like my friend did with me. But, if you don’t, do. The anguish is so much more real when it’s on the face of someone you love. In the meantime, keep up your great posts. Whether you are inspiring others to not be ashamed of valid feelings or giving each other a shoulder to lean on or informing the general public about as overlooked sector of the population, you are all doing great work!
August 7, 2008 1:57 am
Celiac disease may cause infertility.
It occurs in about 1% of the US population, but doctors miss it 97% of the time. It can be detected by a blood test of tTG (tissue Trans Glutaminase) and IgA. Once diagnosed the only treatment is a gluten-free diet.
Wishing you luck.
August 7, 2008 12:44 pm
I have an act of kindness to share. When I first found out about my infertility, I was devestated, and I naturally turned to those who I was closest to for comfort and understanding. That’s when the real slap in the face happened – I found very little comfort and almost no understanding. Typical responses were (the same as all of us get, I’m sure) “you can always adopt”, “quit stressing – it’ll happen”, “if you really want children, you’ll have them. It’s your own fault if you get defeated.” Then, there were my favorites, the ones that insinuated it was my fault “is it all those birth control pills you took for years?” or “is it all of that running you do?” I couldn’t take it anymore — the feeling that I was going through trauma and no one cared — so I stopped opening up to anyone.
That’s when I ran into an old friend and we decided to have lunch. She asked how I was doing – I surprised myself by telling her that I was dealing with infertility and it was very devastating. Her response was a very, very compassionate look, and she said, “oh, no. please tell me all about it.” I started crying right then in the middle of the cafeteria. No one had ever said that before. No one had asked what specifically it was that I was going through and what kinds of things I was dealing with. It was one of the sweetest moments of my life, and I’ll always love her dearly for it. The moral of the story — wonderful people ARE out there – and their kindness is much more important than the hurtfulness/disregard of others.
August 7, 2008 2:15 pm
Your story really struck a chord. Given how guilt-ridden and anxious I was at one time about why I wasn’t getting pregnant, I couldn’t talk to anyone. When I finally did and received warmth and caring I, too, was taken aback and cried at the relief of it all. There’s nothing as healing as a kind word or gesture. It reminds me, too, of when a friend of mine sent me a beautiful orchid and condolence card when she learned our last IVF failed. It was a tangible recognition of our loss and to this day still makes me tear up when I think about how much the gesture meant to me.
August 7, 2008 5:35 pm
Thanks for posting these messages PJ. Reading them, and the subsequent comments makes me realize just how much I am actually hurting inside.
Like you, I created a huge wall to protect myself, and now find myself fairly isolated IRL. While that approach has been helpful to me over the last five years in that it allowed me to keep myself together and functioning, I am now finding it incredibly difficult to envision how that wall will ever come back down.
August 8, 2008 10:55 am
Hang in there – you’ll find your way. I wish for you strength and happiness.
August 8, 2008 4:24 pm
I understand the isolation, I am just now beginning that process of isolating everyone, because I can barely cope otherwise. And I am tired of all the “pep talks.” As if anything anyone could say would make it better at this point. We are facing the possibility of not being able to have biological children, words cannot fix that!! Hang in there!!
August 8, 2008 12:35 am
I feel so much more comfortable talking to all of you on this blog than anyone else in my life (sans my husband.) It’s so helpful to check in with all of you everyday. It helps so much. It’s good to see there’s hope and kind words out there.
August 8, 2008 9:19 am
These stories remind me of some friends that I lost due to being infertile. One of my very old friends moved back to the city where I lived and we started to become close friends again. Then she got pregnant although she was 42 at that time. I couldn’t bear this. I started not to answer her calls and became quite rude by telling her that I don´t have time. That is only one story, I lost a lot of friends due to behaving like this. I think that infertility leads to loneliness as long as you are not able to openly tell at least friends that you are infertile. Sadly I am not that far.
August 10, 2008 3:00 am
Great to hear these touching stories. To Danielle, if she’s reading: never give up! Most of the`time, walls don’t last forever. When the pain gets less raw, they will be taken down. So too, they will break if the pain gets too much. I encourage you to be there when it happens.
October 1, 2008 7:31 pm
You’ve got a good bunch of comments here. Let me offer my view from the other side of the fence. I wouldn’t even try to pretend that I understand the despair of infertility. I‘ve had little trouble conceiving, but close family members have had fertility problems. I saw what they went through. It’s not nice to watch people you love suffer.
But what about times when it seems that nothing you say is right or helpful? A close friend of mine discovered she and her partner were infertile after about 2 years of trying. We’d been friends for about 15 years at this point, and I felt badly for her. I did try to show sensitivity, not make thoughtless remarks, show support for their decisions, and not inundate her with info about my kids. Did I still make an occasional insensitive though well-intentioned remark? Probably. Did I mean to hurt anyone’s feelings? Of course not.
As time went on, she repeatedly made it clear to me how thoughtless and insensitive people were, recounting to me in detail remarks people had made. (By the way, I’m no stranger to these kind of well-intentioned remarks. Mental illness has touched my immediate family, and I’ve been told “He/she should just get over” a case of crippling anxiety disorder, and other remarks. I get angry too.) But I realized that 99.9% of the time people say things out of ignorance, not with intent to hurt. While I tried to be supportive, after awhile I felt like I was supposed to apologize for all women or couples who were able to have children. Her obvious resentment was disturbing (though understandable,) and became a problem I couldn’t help her with.
She and her partner eventually adopted a little boy, and that has worked out really well. Do I wish them well? Absolutely. I’m delighted for them. Unfortunately, I eventually ceased contact with this friend for my own sake. It seemed like she transferred her bitterness about insensitive remarks regarding infertility to remarks about adopted children. Her capacity to be offended seemed to have no limit. Eventually even I was not immune to her anger, and she treated me in a very disrespectful and insulting way. (No, I’m not going to say what, because that’s not what this is about.) I appreciate that she is protective of her little guy, as all parents are. And there’s still a part of me that feels I’ve let her down. How dare I judge her? I don’t know what she’s been through. True, but perhaps she didn’t realize what she was putting me through (and others I’m sure.)
I know that this may be an isolated incident. I’m not making sweeping judgments. In case I’m not being clear, I KNOW THAT NOT EVERY INFERTILE WOMAN/COUPLE OR ADOPTIVE PARENTS BEHAVE THIS WAY. But my story illustrates the challenges of being a good friend to an infertile. We still love you all, keep bearing with us, and we’ll do the same for you.
October 2, 2008 2:09 am
Thank you for your article. It provides something solid for our feelings to condense upon.
We conceived after quite a long time trying. However, during that time, there were so many occasions when we’d be in groups of friends, all of the same age group, all of them discussing babies happily, and we’d have to sit through these discussions with a silly, fixed grin.
At some point of time, I started excusing myself from baby showers and other like functions, on the ground that I had a cold and did not want to pass it on to the baby.
Another favourite pastime of ours was to keep counting the number of couples of our age, who were yet to stamp their “fertile-perfectness” upon this world by announcing their pregnancy. One after the other did so. One very interesting factor that we noticed was that the pain and ache never diminished and it was equally fresh, each time a peer couple announced their pregnancy.
We lost at least a few friends because our anger, frustration and hurt at our situation was too strong. It is easier for a childless couple to be friends with a couple with an older child, rather than a couple with a newborn.
I think the bottom line is that infertility is still one of those few topics where political incorrectness is still permitted. People still talk to childless couples with sympathy (stemming from the inbuilt sense of superiority). And people can get away with being politically incorrect under the garb of “well-intentioned questioning”.