Friendships after Infertility

You are finally a parent! So why do you still feel some of the bitterness of infertility?

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Resentment that built up during your infertile years may not automatically evaporate once you’re a parent. In this excerpt from The Belated Baby: A Guide to Parenting After Infertility, the authors acknowledge those leftover infertile emotions, and discuss how you can move on to meaningful relationships with old friends and fellow parents—regardless of how they got there.
When you were hoping to become a parent, maybe you glamorized the other side of the fence. Once you were a mom yourself, you imagined, you’d immediately fall into a close circle of fellow moms, and find all the love and laughter and support they seemed to share when you were watching from “outside.” You’d no longer feel alone, or outside the group—with a baby, you’ve gained entrée, at last!

If only it were that easy. Friendships can be just as challenging once you become a parent as they were before—or at least as complex. One of the best ways to work through your residual bitter feelings is by having strong, supportive friendships. But after going through infertility, those friendships may have changed.

Through Thick and Thin

Did you reach out to your friends during your fertility struggles, or retreat and become a total recluse? How you went about managing your social life during your darkest days may influence who your best buddies will be as you enter parenthood.

If you are the type of person who talks openly and often about all aspects of your life, you probably wore your heart on your sleeve pre-kid. Many of your friends may have known month-by-month (or day-by-day) what you were experiencing, and followed your cycles right along with you like watching a real-life soap opera. They sent cards and candy after each failed attempt, and backed you 100 percent when you vowed to try again.

If a friend had gone through infertility herself, she may have been extra tuned in to your needs, and perfectly understanding about your moods. She didn’t require a lengthy explanation of each procedure; she didn’t judge you on the ethics of your choices. If she was green about what is involved in treatments, though, you grew to dread her looks of pity, especially if she was busy managing a crew of kids herself.

In either case, your friendships either grew stronger, or eventually your woes wore out their welcome. Infertility served as a litmus test, and filtered out the true friends from the flakes. You emerged from the experience knowing who will stand by you and now help you become the best parent you can be.

Fellow Infertile Friends

You’re fortunate if you’ve maintained friends throughout infertility and parenthood. But if you expanded your circles and created a new set of friends in the infertility underground, you may find yourself estranged from these people once you become a parent.

After all, you remember how it felt when another person who was in the trenches of infertility announced her success. Although you were happy for each victor and knew intellectually that it had nothing to do with you, emotionally it felt like a dagger through your own heart that you weren’t the pregnant one. You remember a subdued and sheepish “I’m pregnant, guys,” or the online subject line header “BFP++++++++” from a fellow infertile. You were politely enthusiastic when someone was exiting the process, but you’d always thought that you were next.

When it is finally your turn to be the lucky one, you’re elated, but also sensitive and want more than anything not to sting others with your news of becoming a parent. You may feel guilty, and as if you are betraying your friends. You want to give them hope and not discourage them from continuing their pursuit to being a parent, but it might be impossible to disguise the fact that you are one.

Continuing to relate with certain groups can pose a Catch-22. You don’t want to preach from the pulpit of parenthood, but you also may feel wiser than you were during treatments. For example, if someone is jamming five embryos into her uterus during IVF, you’re in a more comfortable—and therefore rational—position than she is to see the danger in her decision. If you adopted, you may want to spread the word that this is best way to resolve infertility of all—why continue to torture your body when there are babies to be had elsewhere? You feel caught in the middle.

Just remember that everyone has her own destiny to play out, and the true friends are the ones who will stick by you and share in your successes and failures—and you for them. Surface friends come together because they share a particular time in life, and infertility can be one of those times. While you may miss the camaraderie of those friends, it was probably rooted in the drama of infertility. Now you have the drama of parenting ahead of you, and you’ll have the chance to connect with plenty of new friends who are parenting kids the same age as yours.

The Obvious Infertile

Remember, even if a woman looks like she has it all—handsome, attentive husband; beautiful, easily-conceived children; meaningful work; drop-dead looks and abs you can bounce a quarter off of—you have no way of knowing what she’s been through. Maybe she had multiple miscarriages. Maybe her husband just admitted he’s having an affair. Maybe they’re about to lose that beautiful house you envy. You can’t tell everything about someone just by looking at him or her.

The same is true of you, too. Maybe no one can tell by looking at you how you suffered to be a parent, or that you still deal with leftover emotions today. But while people can’t know about everything, what if they can “tell” about your infertility? What if you’re an “obvious infertile,” or someone who looks different from the parental “norm”? Maybe you have twins after the age of 40, you’re parenting an only child when everyone around you has two or three, or your kids look different from you. People demand an explanation. Suddenly everyone wants to know how you became a parent, why you don’t have another child, or where all of those kids came from. You feel as if you’ve been transported from the fertility doctor’s waiting room to the freak show stage at the circus!

The comments from people will range from amusing to downright rude, causing you to wonder how many people were raised in a barn. If you were somehow cajoled into disclosing the fact that you used fertility drugs, be prepared to field extensive comments about the process. The topic of your sex life is also free game. Whether infinitely curious or exceptionally stupid, the public will request information from you that’s not always (or ever!) their right to know.

The barrage of comments you receive when you’re out and about as a family can be a constant reminder of the reason why your family is the way it is: Infertility. Maybe your child is Chinese and you’re Caucasian. If you’re an older parent, people may assume that your child is adopted or you used donor sperm or egg—if they don’t first think that you’re a grandparent. Have twins or more? The chance of having multiples increases by 20 to 25 percent if you’ve used reproductive technologies.

Know Your Limits

Now that you’re a parent, your infertility no longer consumes you. You’ve accepted the fact that things didn’t go smoothly for you in building your family. Maybe you wouldn’t change a thing about your family today. But you may still need to protect yourself from certain situations if they are painful.

Just because you’re a full-fledged parent doesn’t mean that cuddling another woman’s infant will hold instant appeal for you, for instance. In addition to the baby, wrapped in that blanket might be a bundle of your unresolved emotions, and holding it may bring on an acute sense of regret and loss for what might have been. For example, if you’re worried about your next round of treatments to create a new brother or sister for your child, your secondary infertility may make it painful to even catch a whiff of someone else’s infant.

Face it: Every baby you meet and greet from now on will represent something more than just a milk-guzzling, pooping machine. You will relate each small person back to your own situation, and might continue to feel pangs of jealousy. If you’re unable to stomach attending a baby shower or feel uneasy about visiting the infant of an acquaintance, don’t feel guilty for taking a pass … at least this time.

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