Wednesday, October 02, 2013

How to help your friend through infertility

I often get emails from blog readers asking me questions. The question I get the most, a prevailing question if you will, is how can they help a friend who is struggling with infertility.

One of my more popular posts is this one: What not to say to your infertile friend. It details what types of things are helpful or hurtful as you help your friend navigate this difficult journey.

Another popular post I wrote was a letter to a grieving friend. I titled it: To My Grieving Friend.

There is always a person (or more) that I am "currently" supporting in infertility. As a friend has their journey end (either because of a successful treatment or because they decided to stop treatments), another one "pops up" that I start corresponding with -- either in person or via technology.

I will tell you that standing alongside these women, even for me, someone who knows the journey firsthand, is never easy. It is painful for me. It hurts me to see them hurting. It stresses me out to wait for results with them. It angers me when results are negative. (But it really excites me when the results are awesome!)

It also helps me see how wonderful and strong people who stood alongside me were. Wow! It takes a lot of courage to support someone who is in deep pain.

I recently read an article detailing how a couple can survive the pain of repeat miscarriages. While written for couples and miscarriage, I really thought the suggestions were incredibly applicable to anyone standing alongside someone in grief. Some of the tips included:
  • Hug. A lot. A full embrace with the your favorite person in the world can help heal in incredible ways. Don’t avoid intimacy, pursue it. Sit close. Sleep closer. Don’t be away from each other for extended periods of time.
  • Talk. We talk about our pain, our anger, and our frustrations. We invite our close friends into our conversations and they patiently listen without unloading their suggestions. We also talk about the weather, the Red Sox, and what’s for dinner. Be sure to continue life in increments you can handle.
  • Cry. Together. Missy has an amazing way of comforting me by crying with me. She’s silent and she’s present. Our moments of weakness are often perfectly matched in strength by the other, enabling us to carry each other through.
  • Pray. It can be silent. It can be quiet. It can be screamed at the top of your lungs. Talk with the God who understands the loss of a child. Ask that He grant you the peace that surpasses all understanding.
The author of this article said something else that was incredibly powerful. He wrote: "I know it’s impossible for a marriage which has suffered loss to pass through unchanged. And I’ve been told the couple has a choice: they can let the trial of fire either define them or refine them."
I so agree. Both for a person and a couple, one must decide how this experience will define their life.
In 2007, during the early days of our intended adoption from China, I wrote a post entitled: Not bitter ... Not broken. I wrote:
The subject of "bitterness" has come up in recent weeks in numerous conversations I have had regarding infertility and grief. Even today, bitterness is my constant enemy. I am very careful not to allow myself to make calloused comments or hateful statements. Phrases like, "I'll never get pregnant. What am I doing wrong? Why can't it be my turn? That's so unfair etc. etc." These phrases just have to be eliminated from my vocabulary. John helps me in this. Early on in my infertility journey I had an image of myself at my own funeral. I realized that the eulogy could go two ways. Either everyone would say, "You know, from the moment she found out she was barren, that woman became the most bitter, biting old hag I ever met ..." Or, people could say, "You know, even though she fought that infertility crud, she never let it get the best of her." I wanted the latter! I wanted to be happy.
As a supportive friend, you are going to see your friend reach a crossroads. They must decide, at some point, that they will either (a) let this experience break them and bitter them OR (b) let this experience make them stronger and better both as a person and a couple.
I chose BETTER over BROKEN. I chose BIGGER over BITTER.
Encourage your friend to use this experience for good. Explain to them how you, watching from the outside, have been changed by their pain, and how it is helping you in your own life. The truth is: you can't make this better for them.  Love them. Let them grieve. And grieve with them.


Sherrie said...

Thank you for talking about this! I feel like so many people are so private about their infertility (which is obviously completely up to them) but if you've never been through it, you have no idea how to support them. Your blogs have helped me a lot with my own family :-)

Also, thank you for mentioning that it’s ok to cry with someone. When my family had a tragic late miscarriage, no one knew what to do or how to react. The overriding reaction became avoiding the topic- and this devastated my sister. He baby did live while he was inside her, and she was mourning the loss of a loved one that NO ONE could understand. But she needed us to cry with her, and to mourn with her. She needed us to validate that her baby’s life had existed, and avoiding the topic made it so much worse. No one likes to talk about loss, but I’m so glad you don’t shy away from the topic in your blog. It much better to consider the issue before you are faced with it directly.

Wendi Kitsteiner said...

Sherrie I completely agree. So many times we want to fix something so we either don't talk about it (so as to not hurt the person more) or we talk too much about it. Instead, we just need to be present and grieve with someone!