Infertility & Isolation: The Hidden Risk to Important Relationships
Cheers, dear readers,
I’m writing you on the other side of a both inspirational yet challenging weekend. This weekend was inspirational thanks to a transformational and life-changing 3-day immersive seminar towards my coaching certification. Yet the weekend was also challenging due to some feelings of isolation, exclusion, and disconnection that I experienced.
The purpose of this blog is to educate, to support, to spread awareness, and to share love, compassion, and empathy towards others who may be going through a similar situation. To that end, I’ll share some thoughts that have helped me and others on a similar journey.
You see, it’s not only the diagnosis of infertility or the subsequent emotional and physical challenges of IVF treatment that can make us feel isolated from friends, alone, or misunderstood (though that certainly can happen.) Some of us face depression, isolation and feeling misunderstood or isolated far beyond the treatment period.
Those who we count as close friends can seem like they have no empathy for what we’re going through, no concept of how “big” this is in our lives. If treatment is successful, it can feel like our loved ones assume that getting there was no big deal. If it is unsuccessful, they can seem utterly, hurtfully oblivious to the hole it leaves, and we suffer increasing isolation because we’re not in the “Mommy Club” that forms the basis of much of their day-to-day.
We all desire the feelings of love, belonging, feelings like others have our back and will always be there. This is an innate human desire that we all experience in much the same way that we innately desire to carry on our lineage and give birth to our sons and daughters. It is in our DNA.
When that support, love, and encouragement is withdrawn or seems to fade away, it can feel extremely painful in ways that are difficult to describe. It can feel like betrayal, or lack of safety, or neglect. While I do believe that infertility, depression and the aftermath of treatment are often misunderstood, I also know from friendships, even with “mommies” that have endured beautifully though my experience, that connection is possible despite different experiences if both sides can practice empathy and invest in those relationships.
As anyone who reads this blog knows, I still struggle with many of those emotional challenges. My parents are gone. I’ve no biological family above or below me (thank goodness for my incredibly supportive and accepting sister!)
Part of the reason that I am pursuing a coaching career is my deep desire to help reduce others’ suffering in the areas of mental and emotional health. I’ve learned the power of community to heal, and to remember something that one of my new coaching friends said to me this weekend:
I deserve to have friends who love, support, and accept me for who I am today.
She asked me to say it with her… out loud. As I did, I broke into tears. I realized that some of my closest friendships have been a casualty of the infertility journey (partly due to the depression and the identify crisis that followed).
I was saddened and frustrated by that loss, and I definitely struggle with how some of my friends acted (or didn’t act) during that period, but I also felt the need to take responsibility and feel guilt for my part in the unfortunate changes in those relationships. I had to acknowledge that those friendships not being as close as they once were was partly due to my own withdrawing to deal with my own depression, identity crisis, and re-inventing myself.
A classmate reminded me to not apologize for things that I cannot control, and I know that I had no control over my infertility diagnosis and the aftermath of depression and grief that ensued. But I’ve also learned from my own experience. Precious relationships don’t need to be undermined. No matter which role you’re in, you can keep those relationships strong.
- If you’re the one going through infertility treatment, let your friends know that while you might need some space, knowing that their support, love, and friendship is still there is extremely helpful.
- If a child-challenged loved one reaches out to you first, try not to shy away from them telling you about the pain that they are experiencing. Be willing to listen and lean into it while not offering any advice or try to “fix” them or their problem.
- And if someone that you care about in your life has experienced infertility even in the past, consider reaching out to them and seeing how they are doing. Tell them you understand how big and important this is. Ask how you can support them on their unique journey.
It does not matter if you have not experienced infertility or depression yourself. Care, compassion, kindness and empathy can all be practiced. It could even save someone’s life. Seriously.
Please join me next week to hear more about my personal journey down the infertility path. I look forward to speaking with you. I wish you the best on your journey.