As you can probably guess by the fact that I had four children in five and a half years, I did not have much difficulty conceiving. However, two of my very best friends struggled for years to get pregnant, so while I would not want to give advice to someone who can’t conceive, I do feel qualified to give advice about what do to when your friend can’t get pregnant while you can. One really good friend of mine had been “trying” for a few years already when I had to tell her I was pregnant with my third child. And then she was still trying when I got pregnant with my fourth. This situation is obviously hard on a friendship, but we are still close friends. Here’s a list of things I definitely tried not to say during that raw and awkward time, and why I think you shouldn’t say them either.
1. “I’m pregnant!”
You know who will be happy to hear this wonderful news? Your mom, your husband, a different friend, your sister. Don’t put your friend in a situation where she has to either pretend to be happy for you, or feel guilty about reacting negatively to your exciting news. You do have to tell her, though, so figure out a way to let her find out in private. Email or Facebook messages work, or a carefully worded text may do. Maybe give her husband a call and ask him to break the news (if you don’t think it will be too difficult for him to hear, too). Whatever communication method you choose, let her know that you have no expectations for her to respond happily any time soon. Something like, “I know this is probably very difficult for you to hear, and I’m so sorry that my happy news might make you feel worse. Take all the time and space you need; I don’t expect you to respond to this message.”
2. “Do you know what you should be doing to get pregnant?”
Do you know what you should be doing if you’re saying this? Shutting up. You are not your friend’s doctor, and you are not an expert on your friend’s uterus. If you have an idea about a drug or a treatment option that you think would make a difference to her, maybe you can ask her if she’s heard of it, but use a tone of curiosity, not knowledge or wisdom — ask her what she is doing, don’t tell her what to do.
3. “I know someone who was in your situation, and they have a twins now! It’ll definitely happen for you.”
This does really sound like a helpful and hopeful thing to say. And for your friend, it just might be, depending on her personality, and her outlook on that particular day. But the problem is that for people who want a baby but experience massive disappointment month after month, you actually don’t know if they will eventually be a “success story,” so they usually don’t want to hear your success stories. If anything, a story about someone who never did have a baby but is happy and at peace anyway would be more helpful. Your friend may want to be optimistic and hopeful, but there are lots of people who just don’t ever get pregnant. Maybe it will happen for her. But maybe it won’t. Don’t make her explain that to you.
4. “If you were thinner/heavier/fitter/more rested/healthier/younger, I bet that would help.”
Yeah, you may be right about this, but you are probably not. Either way, it’s none of your business. People who are heavier/thinner/less fit/less rested/less healthy/older than your friend get pregnant all the time without even trying. Infertility is stinking unfair and you definitely don’t want to imply that it’s her own fault she can’t have the baby she desperately wants.
5. “If you would just focus on other things, it would happen. You just need to relax!”
When has there ever been a time that telling someone to relax has made that person more relaxed? Infertility can be an all-consuming and extremely frustrating reality to live with for a very long time. She’s probably already trying to relax about it, or distract herself with work and hobbies, but that is much easier said than done. Again, don’t imply that she’s to blame.
6. “Don’t give up hope!”
Hope is a funny thing. Sometimes it makes you feel better, but sometimes it really makes the disappointment so much harder to take. My friend told me that she preferred it when people would tell her that they would keep hoping for her, even if she and her husband felt like they had lost hope themselves.
7. “I feel so [insert unpleasant pregnancy symptom here]”
Again, find someone else to complain to. I remember one time I was at my friend’s house while I was pregnant and she was still not, and I was feeling so sick. I kept wandering off to the bathroom to throw up, and then coming back out to continue our casual conversation about the episode of The Bachelor that was on the night before. My friend knew I was pregnant, but I knew she would prefer to keep ignoring that reality for a while. So I did too, even when it took kind of a lot of effort to do so.
8. “Why can’t you just be happy for me?”
Because she can’t. And she probably is, too. It’s just really hard.
In being a pregnant friend to someone experiencing infertility, I realized that life is too short to give up on a friendship, but life is too long to be impatient with one. Friendships have seasons, and if yours takes a few steps back for a while, that’s okay. Be patient. Things will eventually be different, whether or not your friend does one day have a baby. In the meantime, don’t be surprised or insulted if she doesn’t want to hang out with you as often as she once did, and is opting to prioritize other friendships instead. It’s okay to be sad about that, but try to focus your frustration on the situation and not on your friend. She’s gotta do what she’s gotta do. So do you, though, so don’t feel guilty about your own happiness, or feel bad when you seek out friendships that are simpler at the moment. There’s no “friend limit” for either of you, and no one should be keeping score.
When in doubt, if you don’t know what you can say to your friend, try, “How are you? Want to talk?” And if the answer is no, accept that and move on to something else. She probably does need to talk sometimes, but it may not be right then and it may not be to you. Infertility is a rough and lengthy road to walk, and those of us who have not walked it will probably never fully understand how it feels. So hug your own babies tight, and support your friend how she needs you to, even if that means from far away. If the friendship is important to both of you, you can make it through.
This post is dedicated to baby Caroline Hope, who we can all agree was worth the wait.
And also these sweet boys, whose friendships with my daughters make me wish I could arrange their marriages.