Sunday, September 19, 2010

Sensitivity: A Sticky Wicket

When you are going through infertility, you require extra sensitivity. This can be confusing to your friends and family and even your husband (or partner) because different days bring different needs. I have days when I can be around babies without sadness and go to Target and walk through the baby aisles to see what we might want someday and it doesn't make me tear up. I love babies--obviously I am doing everything possible to have one. But other days I just can't handle it. I feel like the world is shoving one newborn or hugely pregnant person in my path after another--I go to Starbucks and an employee on maternity leave is showing off her new baby to everyone. I go to Wegmans and everywhere I turn there's a tiny baby crying and it just tugs on my heart and makes me want to run out of the store crying. I get on Facebook and it's the day everyone is either posting pictures of their new babies, announcing pregnancies, or posting "If being a mom is the best thing that has ever happened to you and your life is completely fulfilling because you have a child, press LIKE!" It is not that I am not happy for everyone else. It is not that I can't stand to be around babies right now. It is not any one thing--it's the combination of everything all at once. We live in a very baby-centric society. Magazines and television shows and websites are constantly scoping out new celebrity baby bumps, baby products celebrities use, whose baby (or babies) are the cutest. There is no where you can go where this focus on motherhood, pregnancy, and babies isn't slapping you in the face. Maybe a strip club, but that's not really my scene.

This can be a tricky minefield--both for me and for those around me. All that I can say is that showing interest and expressing support is always appreciated. Just about everyone I know has at one time or another said something that could be hurtful, completely unintentionally. There's no way around that--and honestly I know that people are not meaning to hurt my feelings. Sometimes people say things but they don't know what I'm going through. I may vent about this to very close friends, but even as I am venting I am not actually mad at the people who unwittingly said something insensitive. How can I be if they are in the dark? A question that I am fine with today could make me cry (but still answer) tomorrow. Asking me how I am doing and what is going on in the process is always ok. If there is a question that I'm not comfortable with, I will tell you (although there's not much I'm not comfortable with). If you are curious about the ins and outs of infertility I am more than happy to share -- it shows me that you care and want to be more informed about this highly invasive and involved process. If you have success stories of people you know who've gone through this process that's wonderful--but it won't always make me feel better. (Ditto for "my sister had her babies in her 40s, it's not too late for you!" -- A well-meaning story, but age is not really our problem so it just tends to make me feel worse that someone with 40-year old eggs can get pregnant and I can't.) There are some days when all I need is for someone to be there while I cry and nothing you say will make me feel better, but the fact that you can be there to listen and hand me a tissue means a lot. There are other days when I just want to be alone with my discouragement and sadness and need quiet time to myself. And even other days I can sit surrounded by pregnancy books and dream about the day when that will be my reference, and not the overflowing shelf of fertility-related books. (At the moment, the pregnancy books are all stuffed back in a drawer safely out of sight.) It truly is a rollercoaster.

So what do you do to be supportive and navigate my minefield of conflicting emotions while still having a give-and-take friendship? A friend of mine from a support group had a great strategy--her best friend was going through a pregnancy at the same time that she was going through multiple (unsuccessful) IVF attempts. They had a system--she would say "I need you to be my best friend, not my best friend who's pregnant" if she was having a difficult time and couldn't handle pregnancy-related topics. Her friend would say "I need you to be my best friend, not my best friend in infertility treatment" if she needed support talking about her pregnancy or adjusting to her newborn at home. The upshot is, honest and clear communication without fear of saying the wrong thing is the best way to go. I am trying very hard to temper my infertility talk with the other things going on in my life, and to be sure to ask you what's going on in yours. It's a struggle because treatment is so consuming and affects you physically and emotionally in so many ways. I require a sliding scale of sensitivity, patience, and a sense of humor these days, and have truly appreciated the support I have received so far.

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