It’s very difficult watching someone you love suffer pain. Especially when you are not able to alleviate the pain. We spend so much time talking about women who are TTC, their partners, parents, and family…but not enough time on the other members of this support system. The friends!
By friends, I don’t mean the frenemy of nowadays. The girl you have a laugh and a good time with, but who goes ahead to slag you off to the next person. No, not her. I’m talking of your friend, your besto, your person, your ride-or-die! That person who has had your back for years, and vice versa! You’ve had so many laughs together, cried over men together, gossiped together, planned wedding(s) together, and now here you are. You are faced with infertility, and for the first time, she doesn’t quite know what to do.
For the first time in forever, she might be walking on egg shells around you, not quite knowing what to say. She reads up everything she can about what you are going through, but sometimes manages to say the wrong thing, and generally puts her foot in her mouth. Worse still is if she is able to get pregnant at the drop of a hat! Suddenly, she is at a loss about how to be a good friend to you. But what is most important is to be able to properly manage this dynamic…to ensure that this beast called infertility doesn’t break you, but instead makes you stronger.
My best friend and I met in 1994, just as we were both finishing secondary school, and we clicked immediately. We went to the same university, and even though we were close, we hung out in different circles, and hardly saw each other. After graduation, we were in the same NYSC camp, and became inseparable. We drove in her car, through the streets of Lagos, job hunting together. We were both in serious relationships, and most times hung out as a foursome together. When both relationships went up in flames, we cried with each other, supported each other, and gave our exes lethal death looks whenever we ran into them, even independently. When I had a brief spell of unemployment, she would insist on scheduling our hair and nail appointments together, so she could pay for them. When she was having problems at work, it was my office she came to, and we strategised on what she should do, in my lunch room for the greater part of the day. And when I was getting married, she was my planner number 1! The best chief bridesmaid anyone could hope for. And then infertility came knocking at my door.
Without flinching, after my husband, she was the one I would call to cry to, and her shoulder was always there for me, anytime of the day. She didn’t quite understand all the terminologies, and all the procedures I was undergoing frightened her more than I. She didn’t make any pretence of going to read them up, but she asked a lot of questions, to help her better understand this new alien in our relationship. When I was about to start IVF, she, like me, thought it was a success guaranteed procedure, and we were both excited about the babies I would have in the summer of 2011. When that cycle failed, she cried with me. Like me, she felt cheated, devastated, defeated. She mourned with me, and strategised about what option to go for next, and which hospital would be best for me to cycle in second time around. I delayed the start of my cycle 2, as it coincided with the preparations for her own wedding, which I threw myself into with much gusto. One day, a few weeks to her wedding, she tearfully confessed to me that she was so afraid of getting pregnant before me. To be honest, that thought had already crossed my mind, but I had had enough time to mentally process that possibility, and come to terms with it. I remember squeezing her hand, assuring her that if it happened it would just mean I would get to experience motherhood through her. I started the injections for my cycle as her wedding drew closer, and timed it in such a way that my egg retrieval was a few days after the ceremony. When I got my positive pregnancy test result, she was far away in Barbados on her honeymoon. I was so bummed that I wasn’t able to call her with the news, and sent her multiple e-mails to that effect. That evening, she was able to call me and we screamed and rejoiced together. When I was 7 weeks pregnant, she found out that she was pregnant too. And our daughters were born within weeks of each other.
I won’t lie that I didn’t experience a tiny bit of envy when she got pregnant, literally on her honeymoon night. And her daughter hadn’t even turned 1, when she got pregnant with her 2nd child. I was green with envy at her atomic fertility…but it was a good envy though. It was a “Gee, I wish I had that handbag of yours” kind of envy, and not an “I hate you and your over efficient uterus” envy. Would it have been the same if I was still TTC? I would like to think so. One of my other close friends, who got married the year we graduated from university (translation, many many years ago), had had her 3 kids in quick succession, and we remained the best of friends. All of a sudden, she became unreachable. Her phones were always switched off, BBM…inactive, Facebook…no way! I was so worried about her. That was until a mutual friend told me she was pregnant. I eventually laid ambush for her at her home, with the intentionÂ to tell her off, only for her to tearfully tell me how she had felt so awful about being able to conceive a 4th child, when I was still struggling with 1. My anger dissipated, and we cried together. I assured her of how happy I was for her, and I genuinely was. It broke my heart to see her struggling with so much unnecessary guilt.
So how can you be your sister’s keeper? How can you be there for your friend when she is walking this journey you have no road map for? First of all, you need to make sure you listen. When she needs to cry, lament, complain…listen! And not just listen for listening sake. Listen, and try to remember. I can tell you that it is very annoying to have to repeat the same thing to this so-called concerned friend of yours, over and over again. You also need to be supportive, and not antagonistic. It’s all fine and good for you to research treatment options on her behalf, but it would be extremely unhelpful of you to shove unrealistic and unattainable solutions down her throat, just because Mrs X in New Zealand did it. Be a shoulder for her to cry on, as many hours in the day as you can manage (24 is usually a good number :good:). You also need to be a filter for her, and protect her from anything with potential to hurt her feelings. And if you’re in doubt, ask her specifically how you can help her.
What you absolutely must not do is hide or downplay your own fertility, especially when you are around her. Trust me, it would hurt her way more to hear about this pregnancy you are protecting her from, from other people but you. You must never lose patience with her. Many times, she will be irrational, impatient, and a real b-word. You know her well enough to realise the devastation and sorrow are the ones to blame. Yes, she might be a Debbie Downer these days, but you must not cut her off from anything you ordinarily would have made her a part of, or avoid her all together. If you find yourself getting impatient with her “Woe is me” attitude, try to remember your glory days of friendship, and take a long, cool glass of patience juice. A friend of mine ranted on Facebook about how a number of her contacts have unfriended her. True, the babe’s Facebook statuses are very very depressing, but in the last 5 years, this woman has had 2 ectopic pregnancies, lost both her tubes, had 3 failed IVF cycles, 1 successful one that ended in miscarriage…surely, she can be allowed to be a little low on her social media handle?! I told her that she was far better off, as the people who had unfriended her were never really her friends to start with.
It’s not easy, but if you love your friend enough, you’ll make the effort!
Good luck, and baby dust to all!
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