The infertile friend

As I scroll down my Facebook feed, I freeze. My eyes fill with tears and I wrinkle my nose to thwart their impeding cascade down my cheeks. I shut my laptop and walk away. Mad. Happy. Sad. Ashamed. Confused. Wishing a single post did not hold the power over me that it does.

She is pregnant. An adorable pregnancy announcement on Facebook just confirmed my suspicions. I already knew on some level. The last time she saw me she kept asking “how are you?’ with a tilt of her head and raised eyebrow. Over the years, I developed an uncanny prego-radar.  It helps that people usually give it away with how suddenly they feel awkward around me or even avoid me altogether.

You see, I am the infertile friend.

At this point, my friends are on baby #2, 3 or even 4. The announcements are growing less and less and many of my friends feel their families are finally complete. I remember a season where I would look at my hubs and lament “is seriously everyone pregnant?!” That was also the season where I would bulk buy pregnancy tests from medical supply companies. Now under the bathroom sink sits an unopened box that I haven’t used in years. I am in a different place but somehow that announcement post surprised me. My reaction caught me off guard.

I hate that my barren womb is such a joy sucker. I hate that my friends feel like they must be nervous to tell me. I hate that when they do tell me, while I have great joy, I also go home with a fresh reminder of my grief. My wait. I hate that I walked out of a baby shower last year when the mama-to-be was complaining about pregnancy symptoms (she has the right to complain to her friends - growing a human inside of you is kind of a lot of work). She was tired, constipated, stretched and simply ready to meet her little. I heard those complaints and felt like Frozen’s Elsa had just shot an icy beam to the heart. I kept thinking; "I would take all the hemorrhoids in the world and how I long for morning sickness, or if only I had killer gas that could clear a room." I don’t know if I really meant those thoughts, but in that moment, I set my coffee cup on the counter and snuck out the door without a single goodbye or piece of cake. (I was in my right mind enough to grab a shower favor, those damn shower cookies are melt-in-your-mouth-divine).

Or that baby shower where everyone began to share labor and delivery stories. In college, I used to binge watch that show “Baby Stories” on TLC. I loved a good labor story. Enough medical drama to feed my medical obsession yet still a story about the power of being a woman and the remarkable way we give life. My friends swapped details and then suddenly all eyes began to dart nervously back and forth at each other and then toward me, quietly trying to signal “what about our infertile friend.”  The stories abruptly stopped as someone awkwardly proclaimed, “It has rained so much this week.” Sly transition, you guys.

See, their hearts are trying to watch out for me. And I feel like they are in a catch 22. If they don’t tell me before they announce it on social media, they run a risk of hurting my feelings. If they call me or tell me in person before they announce it, they run the risk of hurting my feelings. If they talk about pregnancy or labor at a shower, I could complain they are being insensitive.  If they don’t share the updates and details, I might possibly accuse them of treating me differently.  The reality is, I want to hear the story about my friend delivering her own baby in the car on the way to the hospital as much as we all do. Who cares about the rain?! Don’t transition away from that goodness.  

I recently asked on my social media account, which way other women in the midst of infertility prefer to find out about pregnancies from friends. The answers were all over the board. Some felt that they did not want to be treated differently than any other friends you were just going to have seen your FB announcement. Others said they felt more respected when friends made a call to share the news privately with them before going public. However, one theme ran deep in every response. Even though we might encounter a reminder of the loneliness of our journey, we have great joy for the new life you are announcing. We are genuinely happy for you. Us not sharing in your joy stands opposite to our hearts desire. Because if you did not have this announcement to share, that means you are now in our infertile friend club too. While we are an incredibly welcoming, supportive group, we do not seek or desire new members.

I also asked the fertile ladies what it’s like on the other side. Are they nervous to tell us their news? Specifically, I was so afraid that my grief was stealing from their joy. Gracious, beautiful women with miraculous, egg-making ovaries shared that they simply want to respect our grief. Respect our struggle. Grieve with us.

I wanted to write a blog that would help our fertile friends share their news and might help my fellow club members share in their joy. But you guys are already doing that. We are all trying. We are trying to grieve together. Celebrate together. Share in new life. Despair over lost life.

Bitterness sneaks in when we forget to invite grace into the conversation. When we assume the friend making her pregnancy announcement has not seen or shared in our grief. When we assume that our friend will not share in our joy or would not want to know the latest update. The best way to dismiss assumptions is to humbly voice our intentions and bravely share our fears. And then smother the whole mess with GRACE.

Have grace for the silent exit at a baby shower, for the awkward conversation transitions, or for the text or phone calls asking “how are you?” Extending grace for the tears that gleamed in my eyes as I genuinely exclaimed Congrats! I am hanging out in the tension of joy and grief. Thanks for trying to meet me in that space.