“I think you should give her a chance and tell her.” This was my mother, a few weeks after the diagnosis when the sum of the people Arthur and I had told amounted to…our parents. I was wondering if I should tell a close friend of mine.
“But Mom, she has kids,” I protested. It was perhaps a bit unfair of me, but just after the diagnosis, I suddenly had no idea how to relate to people with children, even people and children I’d been relating to for years. I’d always assumed I’d join them. Now I wasn’t sure how to act or feel.
“You’ve been through a lot together, and I think she’ll understand. Really.” My mother knows this friend and is a fairly good judge of character. I took her at her word.
So the next time my friend called, we chatted for a few minutes, and then I took a deep breath and went for it. “Hey, you know how I told you Arthur and I were thinking about having kids? Well, I figured out something wasn’t right, so I went to the doctor and the doctor says I have polycystic ovaries and getting pregnant probably won’t happen without medical assistance.” All this said with no pauses or breaths between sentences because I was pretty sure if I took a breath, I wouldn’t be able to finish.
My friend thought for a moment, and then gave one of the best responses I’ve ever gotten: “I am so sorry.” She paused. “I want to say something else, but I don’t know what to say.” It’s hard to write the inflection with which something’s spoken, but in this instance, her sincere desire to comfort me and also to avoid saying something which would cause me further pain were very evident.
“You just said it,” I responded.
It takes guts to admit that you aren’t sure what to say to someone instead of giving one of the big, easy, frustrating platitudes that anyone who has struggled with infertility has heard. I appreciated that honesty. I’d so much rather if someone isn’t sure what the ‘right’ response is that they admit it. It’s a gift of sorts, a chance for me to explain a little, a chance to say what I need to hear from them.
This is a friend who, in the last few months, has also shown support for me in other ways. She made it, on a freezing day, to watch me finish running my first half-marathon and cheer. That meant so much to me, because I know it took a lot of work on her part (one does not pack up small children and drive 45 minutes without serious time commitment) and she did it because she knew this was something I’d been training for for a long time. She calls, and calls again a few days later when I haven’t managed to return the message because I’m depressed and can’t seem to pull it together. In short, I’m glad that she calls again because it reminds me to act like a human being and that I do have a life outside of infertility and work.
We have our moments, of course, like any other friendship. Neither of us are perfect people, so it follows that there will be some less than perfect times. There are days I’m jealous of her beautiful, well-behaved, smart, imaginative children. At the same time, her kids are the ones that remind me why I submit to long waits in doctor’s offices, pelvic exams, ultrasounds, medication regimens, and procedures in an effort to become a parent myself.
I’ve written at times about some of the more difficult responses (and non-responses) I’ve gotten from friends. It’s sad but true that a different longstanding friendship is in danger of snapping entirely thanks to my infertility, her surprise pregnancy, my inability to hear how she is hoping for a girl this time, her inability to understand how much pain some of her casually spoken words inflict on me. This time, though, I’m glad to spotlight a response that represented one of the most helpful and caring things a fertile friend has said to me.