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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Understanding Infertility, One Mother's Perspective

Last week, I wrote a blog post titled “Friendship vs. Infertility.” 

Today, I am editing that post. 

If you read my post last week, I am editing my original post for a few reasons.  For one, some people that actually know me well and know the context of my post may have thought I was going through a difficult time in my life right now based on some of the emotion they felt from my post.  This isn’t the case.  Secondly, I came off insensitive to some, including some who may have struggled or currently are struggling with infertility, and that was not my intention.  That being said, some people echoed my sentiments and I actually got some great feedback, even from women that have suffered through the painstaking process of infertility.  However, my intention is not to offend anyone, and if I did, I apologize.

Since I first posted “Friendship vs. Infertility,” I learned a lot about my own ignorance on the topic, as well as a lot about myself and the journey I am currently on in my life. 

I still firmly and fundamentally feel that people’s ‘feelings’ are valid and just because someone doesn’t perceive an issue the same as you may, it doesn’t make your feelings any less valid.  I am however going to address and reframe most of what I wrote with the understanding that some people will still perceive my post negatively and some will not.  I’ve come to terms with that. 

Friendship vs. Infertility 
Understanding Infertility, One Mother’s Perspective

Recently, I saw the words “I refuse to sink” and it immediately spoke to me.  Not because I’m going through a hard time in my life and feel like I’m sinking, but because in recent months, partially after I lost a friendship late last year, I began doing some cliché soul searching.  I wanted to explore what I was so angry about.  I wanted to figure out why I had so much anxiety leaving Elijah, my almost two-year-old son.  I wanted to spend quality time with the core people in my life – to surround myself with positivity, because obviously losing a friendship isn’t easy.  In my soul searching, I evaluated mistakes I made along the way, not just with friendships that dissipated, but in all aspects of my life.  I wanted to learn from them.  And I refused to sink because of them.  


I always knew, as a young girl, a few core things to be true – I wanted to graduate college, I wanted to have a career, and I wanted to be a mother.  That day finally came on my 29th birthday.  I found out I was pregnant.  I sat in disbelief, after taking multiple tests, and cried.  My husband also cried.  We were surprised but so incredibly happy.  It turned out to the best surprise of our lives.  Being pregnant was an amazing experience and I won’t discredit the gratitude I have for being given this gift by complaining about all the woes you may already have heard about pregnancy.  Yes, it can suck at times, but overall, I can’t complain about what eventually gave me a beautiful and healthy son.  My son was born on our second wedding anniversary – May 23, 2011.  He was perfect but I went through a difficult labor and delivery that resulted in me losing an incredible amount of blood and my son being born breathless.  The long story short, after a week of being in the hospital, we were able to take him home.  And I quickly realized how he forever changed my life.

Something inside of me drastically shifted.  I had given birth to a beautiful little person who needed me more than anyone in the world.  I wanted nothing more to love and provide for him.  So I did.  I made a great many resolutions when Elijah was born – “I’ll take such good care of you!”, “I’ll keep you safe from harm!” – some were more specific, “I’ll breastfeed you for at least six months!”,” I promise to nurture you and give you unconditional love and affection!”

The birth of my first child was a momentous turning point in my life.

Becoming someone’s mother meant that my role in the world had changed --I wasn't just the same old me trying to be a new, improved version. I was a mother, really and truly and forever, and the question was, what kind of person, what kind of mother, would be reflected in my child's eyes?" 

As a new mother, my thought processes shifted and I began focusing on what became a lengthy period of self-exploration and realization.  I sat and thought of all the things in the world I could do better, in turn setting a better example for my child.  I set goals of being healthier and fitter, and I made small and large changes to my lifestyle.  Things as simple as brushing my teeth at night again, because being lazy and skipping this crucial ritual to grab the bottle of Listerine isn’t setting a good example for my son  Some were larger changes – like cutting people out of my life I no longer felt were benefiting my growth, or influential in my son’s life. 

You fixate your life on being a better person, because it’s the natural progression of being a new parent.

As I grow as a parent, I want my son to think I’m a good person, and not just a good mother, but that I’m honest and honorable, and that the world is somehow a better place because I’m here. So I sit down and have conversations with my almost two-year-old about the beauty of the cultural and linguistic differences we share with our diverse friends and family. I know he doesn't really understand me at this point, but I've already started to instill my values upon him.  And his sweet smile and baby babble makes me feel like he actually does understand.  I give more to charity than I used to and I make more karmic decisions because I don’t want any bad ‘ju-ju’ to bite me, or my child, in the ass.  I sat down and really began to reevaluate my life.  I went from having an abundance of freedom and the ability to get up and go where I pleased, when I pleased to realizing how selfless and sacrificial I had to be in order to be the mother I wanted to be.  And I did just that.  

And I’m the happiest I have ever been in my life.

At the same time, I know that there are many women out there, at this very moment, crying tears of agony for losing another pregnancy while they undergo the painstaking process of infertility.  I know that while I share my joy, someone is wiping tears of grief.  I know that while I rock my son to sleep, another woman is agonizing to have that dream come true one day. It can’t be easy.  It must be excruciating.  I understand.  I may not have walked in your footsteps, but I have enough empathy in my heart, as a woman, and as a mother, to know what it is that you so desperately want and desire.  I understand, with deep sincerity. 

I have known seven women to battle infertility, personally, over the course of five years.  My experiences with each of these women were different, but it was incredibly emotional, frustrating and damaging with one in particular.  I realize now that the breakdown in our friendship wasn’t because of her infertility - it was because of us.  The lack of communication, the misunderstandings and the unwillingness to meet each other half way were ultimately what doomed our friendship.  This was an isolated incident.  An unfortunate incident – as losing a friendship often is – but nonetheless, it was isolated with many factors unrelated to infertility that eventually sealed the fate of two girl friends who once shared so many fond memories together.  I realize my mistakes in the communication failure, yet I also know that what happened with us isn’t a precursor to other friendships I have with women who battle infertility.   

I find solace in that.  I find solace in knowing that I may have failed in this friendship, but I am not a failure.  Life is a lesson.  And I’ve learned mine.

“The situation is like oil and water.  A woman’s inability to conceive is equivalent to that of a death or loss.  Nothing you could every say could lessen her pain; you just support them the best way you can.  And for parenthood, that is the most amazing thing humanly possible.  That being said, the two perspectives just don’t go together.  It’s like oil and water.  Only the strongest of relationships could withstand that type of dissonance” – Anonymous Friend

Being a new mother is challenging in its own retrospect and I think that needs to be acknowledged.  What I have found, in conversations with women battling infertility, and reading various publications, is that women who battle infertility are “constantly grieving the child they believe should be in their arms right now” and subsequently, infertility can be equivalent to death or loss.  Nothing I say could ever really lessen the pain a woman is going through in her journey to create life.  Nothing.  And while I should, as a good friend, support and listen to any friends I have struggling with infertility, I strongly believe that friendships are built on mutual respect, communication and trust.  When one or both people involved break that bond of mutual respect it becomes very difficult to relate to the other person. 

For many women, like myself, infertility is foreign ground. We haven’t had to deal with the painstaking process, and while we can research, review and try to understand the perspective of an ‘infertile,’ we don’t know the firsthand pain dealt with this great loss.  Society reminds us daily how to be good parents by nurturing and loving our children.  With the many messages we see on a daily basis, we are taught to provide our children with stability, substance, and surround them with loving, kind people. Society also does a great job in telling us, if we look, what we should NOT say to a woman who is having difficulty conceiving. What society does a shitty job at doing is telling us what TO SAY to a woman who is battling infertility.  Go ahead, Google it.  You’ll find more on what NOT TO SAY than the more resourceful information on what DO YOU SAY? 

This was an issue for me.  What do I say to a friend who is battling infertility when everything I say or do feels wrong and out of place, specifically coming from me, a mother.  What do you say when you feel like everything you're saying or doing is rebutted with "you'll never understand!" We continue to offer our support, an ear to listen, a shoulder to cry on, even if we know it won't be good enough.  We hide our joy for our babies and don't share as much as we otherwise would, not as a means to alientate our infertile friends, but because no mother wants to continue to contribute to the hurt a friend is feeling. 

When talking to other mom's who have had friends battle infertility, the consensus I've found is, "we're damned if we do, we're damned if we don't."  We have something 'infertiles' want.  Something they want more than anything in the world.  No amount of understanding and support will unconsciously take away that resentment and bitterness an 'infertile' may feel when seeing you with your child.  

It's like 'oil and water.'  

However, I have been doing my own research.  And in doing so, I came across several articles and posts.  Specifically, a blog titled A Blog about Love: Infertility and Friendships that I found had some helpful information in regards to what to say (or not say) to an infertile friend.  What I loved about this was there was also a piece of advice for infertile friends to take into account.  I didn't see that in any of the other articles or blogs I came across.  Again, society was reinforcing the lack of information on what to say to an infertile friend, at the same time providing little insight to 'infertiles' on what it must feel like being a friend trying to offer support.   

A Blog About Love was different and refreshing; here is a bit of what I took from it. (I copied and pasted the tips below - they are not my words)

Here are a few bits of advice for friends who are mothers or who are pregnant:

1.  Realize that women are at many different stages when facing infertility.
  There often times are dark stages when women feel much despair and feel on the outside of society - even among friends and family.  Many women get through this time and come to a place of peace.  As a good friend, you could try to be sensitive to the stage one might be in at the time.  You could even ask them directly how they are doing and how much they'd like to talk about what they are facing.

2.  Try not to judge.  An infertile friend might be acting in ways she normally wouldn't (she also may be drugged with hormones).  She may need your patience.

3.  If you are pregnant or a mother - include your infertile friends in conversations that you would naturally want to have with a friend and see how it goes.
  Personally, I prefer that friends don't have to walk on eggshells around me.  And as a woman who would love to have kids, I love getting the scoop on motherhood from my friends and often initiate those conversations.  But, if that normal conversation doesn't seem to be going well, you can ask your friend directly if she needs some space from talking about babies.

4.  Respect boundaries, if they arise.  Realize that though you may be very involved in many conversations about her treatments and even dates for big days, there may come a time when you get an abrupt silent treatment and you may feel as though you're no longer privy to the info. Any more.  Most likely, your friend is pregnant.  Or had a miscarriage.  Either way, give it a wee bit of time and play the dance.  Hold back the infertility questions if your friend has pulled back.  Though I'm sure anyone would appreciate someone just checking-in periodically to see how they're doing.

5.  Include your friends in your kids' lives.  I absolutely adore my friends' kids.  But their parents are so sweet and include me in their kids' lives.  It has been such a sweet and generous offer - one of the most beautiful I have ever experienced. 

And here are some bits of advice for infertile friends:

1.  Try not take offense.  May I kindly suggest that most people have good intentions (though their words may come out wrong in the moment when they are nervous about how to act or what to say to a friend who is infertile or they simply do not have the knowledge or experience.)  Also, in many cases, I've noticed that some infertile women take offense to comments by people who don't even know the situation.  I think it's unfair to blame them.  As in all situations in life, taking offense harms you more than it harms another person.

2.  Do not hold a friend's pregnancy or motherhood against them. 
 There is a huge opportunity here to learn how to replace your jealousy and pain with real love for your friends.  Being able to extend genuine congratulations, happiness and excitement to your pregnant friend is a big deal...but it's possible and worth shooting for.

3.  Look on the bright side of knowing some mothers and pregnant women.  There's a lot to learn (I have learned sooo much!)  Plus, you'll want all those connections someday if you have a child.

4.  Communicate with your friends, as soon as you feel the time is right.  Most women I know have had an immense burden relieved when they have let their closest friends and family know that they are facing infertility.  I highly recommend it.  Also, along the way, feel free to directly tell people if you need some space or if you prefer to not talk about things for a while.

5.  Try to remember that you aren't the only one facing a difficult time.  Your friends - though they have kids - actually may be facing something difficult in their lives and they may need your support, too.  Trials come in all shapes and sizes and they don't come to a halt when someone gets pregnant or has a baby.  In the end, we are all in it together - no matter what we are facing.


Through it all, I think it’s important for ALL of us – infertile or not – to remember that when it comes to friendship, WE ALL NEED AND WANT TO BE SUPPORTED, ENCOURAGED AND LOVED (refer to number 5 above).  The friend who just became a new mom, she needs support, encouragement and love.  The friend who is battling infertility, she needs support, encouragement and love.  The friend who just lost her mother to breast cancer, she needs support, encouragement and love.  The friend that is going through med-school, she needs support, encouragement and love.  

We ALL need support, encouragement, and love in our lives. 

That being said... 

To the mommies-in-waiting:

You are seen.  I know you are hurting. I know you are sad. I know you are jealous, angry and envious, even if you won’t admit it, and yet you are hopeful and thankful at the same time.  I know this.  I read recently that a “mother becomes a mother long before she holds a child in her arms. From the moment you hope to bring life into this world, you are different. Those dreams change you for the better even when it doesn’t always feel like it.”  Hang in there, mommies-in-waiting! Your day will come and you will be amazing mothers!

To the new moms:

You are seen too.  Being a new mother is challenging.  The sleepless nights, fluctuations in hormones, juggling what feels like a zoo and circus intermingling… it can all be very exhausting.  Hang in there! You are doing an amazing job! You are doing the best you can! Find solace knowing that there is a little person out there who loves you more than you know.  And know that your every nurturing move is building him to become an amazing person. 

Peace and Love,


  1. Great job on the revision! I think this is definitely more sensitive to both sides and offers some good advice for friends on both sides of the issue. :)

    Melissa D.

    1. Thanks Melissa! I appreciate your feedback!