How do you navigate and maintain friendships with friends who have babies, when you’re struggling to conceive?

Sep 13, 2021

Unfortunately, one of the many casualties of infertility is our friendships.

In my experience, there are usually two types of friendship deaths.

The first category is where we lose friends who are unable to support us in the way we need.  Who continually say insensitive comments and are blissfully unaware of how hurtful their questions are.  We gradually distance ourselves from those friends. 

Then you have the friends who smoke bomb you when the going gets tough, and you never hear from them again. 

Those friendship break-ups, while hurtful and disappointing, aren’t really losses in the grand scheme of things.  Because they aren’t the people who we want to hang around with.  This journey certainly allows us to see our real friends.  And real friends are those who are there for us in good times and in bad, and who have the compassion and strength to support us.  As opposed to mere acquaintances. It’s like a detox in your friendship circle – which can definitely be a good thing.

The second category is a little more complicated.  These are the friends who support you in your struggles, and have done nothing wrong, aside from being blessed by the fertility gods.  They have their own children and are living the life that you crave.

But whenever you hang around with them now, the discussions about their children feel like fingernails on a chalk board. You’re raw, and every mention of their babies is like rubbing salt into a wound. It’s exhausting spending time with them, because you find yourself having to force compassion in their discussion about play dates, teething, and lack of sleep.  You’re sensitive to the conversation and wonder whether everyone is looking at you and feeling sorry for you.  You’re jealous of everything they have, and even start resenting it when they complain.  You feel like an outsider – like you don’t belong and that you don’t have anything in common anymore. 

And unfortunately, over time, when months of trying to conceive turn into years of infertility or losses for you, more and more of your friends fall into that second category.

It’s not that you’re NOT happy for them, and that you’re not interested in knowing what’s going on in their life, but it’s a slippery slope.

First of all, let’s be clear.  None of these thoughts or feelings makes you a bad person.  What you are going through right now is traumatic, and it is hard to be sitting inside the fight when you see others on the other side, living their happily ever after.  You just want to get over to that green pasture so you can live there too.  And the longer it takes, the more it feels like you’re being left behind.  They’re already onto their second child, and you haven’t even gotten off the starting line. 

Give yourself permission to feel angry, jealous and frustrated.  It’s completely normal and warranted.

So how do you navigate and maintain these friendships when you’re struggling with infertility?  Here are my thoughts –

  1. First of all, make sure they are friendships that are worth maintaining. Your friends with children still need to be compassionate and sensitive to your struggles.  If they say things like….you’re lucky you have so much free time / get plenty of sleep now, because when you have kids, you won’t sleep again / you can look after MY kids for me, then you won’t want them so much……you have my permission to stay away from them.  You need to protect yourself and be choosy with who you hang around.  And right now, these are not your people.  You can put these friendships on hold, or you can leave them behind.  But these are not the friends or the encounters that are worth getting anxious or losing sleep about. 
  2. Limit your exposure to your friends with children if you need to. I’m definitely not saying that you shouldn’t see them anymore, but it doesn’t have to be every single weekend. If you know that hanging around them is going to drain your energy (which it usually will), catch up with them infrequently.  And before you start feeling guilty, remember that this is a tough season, and you get to CHOOSE how you spend your time and how you deal with this.
  3. Choose WHEN to see them. If you’re feeling particularly vulnerable i.e. if you’ve just had a negative pregnancy test, or if you’re in the middle of an IVF cycle and don’t want them to ask why you aren’t drinking, put the catch-up on hold.  Give yourself permission to stay away from them at certain times and take control over when you do see them.
  4. Have honest conversations with them about how you’re feeling and what you’re going through. Remember – they haven’t been through this before, and that’s not their fault.  If you haven’t experienced infertility, it’s hard to grasp.  It’s important that they know where the line is, so they don’t cross it.  And while you don’t want them to feel like they can’t talk about their children, because you do want to be a good friend and know what’s happening in their life, there needs to be some boundaries.  They can’t support you if they don’t know how much it hurts.  Also tell them how they can support you – you’ll be doing both yourself and them a favor.
  5. When you know you’re going to see them, make sure you’re firing on all cylinders. That is, make sure your cup or tank is full.  If your energy is low, you won’t be able to navigate the conversations and will feel extra sensitive.  Before you catch up with them, go for a walk or run / have a bath / get a good night’s sleep / get out into nature / sit in the sunshine.  Anything that will allow you to build up your energy before you catch up with them.
  6. I know this may sound weird, because it’s your friends we’re talking about. But if things start to feel awkward or the conversation is getting consumed by children talk, have some topics or questions you can ask that don’t include their children.  You can talk about holidays, or house renovations, or work.  It’s good to have a few go-to subjects to create a little space for you to breathe in the conversation.
  7. If you’re going out to dinner with a group of girlfriends, try to make sure there are some people invited who don’t have children. You can gravitate toward them. That way it doesn’t feel like the conversation is completely one sided and you’re outnumbered.  It’s nice to have a partner in crime and someone who may be able to support you too.

While it is sad that we must go to these lengths to protect ourselves in the midst of infertility, it is sometimes essential for survival.  And while some people will tell you that you should be able to separate out your sadness from your friend’s happiness, it’s easier said than done.

You don’t have to be a hero. Nor should you set impossible expectations for yourself – especially right now. You need to surround yourself with people who support you in the way you need right now.

Remember, some people come into our lives for a reason, a season or a lifetime.  And there is no need to feel guilty for walking away from a friendship that isn’t helping you right now.

 

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