We all have friends who have struggled with infertility. The friends whose homes are still quiet, still clean, who do not get to share in your daily struggle of parenting.
We all have those friends whom we are afraid to ask if they are having trouble. We don’t know what to say, how to lend support.
There are a lot of those friends who are touched by infertility. One in eight couples, to be exact, have trouble conceiving. Another quarter of known pregnancies end in miscarriage. Infertility is at its core, a season of loss. Infertility is not just a medical diagnosis. It steals from the couple.
If you are one of those friends who just does not know what to say to the woman who so badly wants to be called Mom, it starts by gaining a little understanding of the loss that infertility brings.
A Loss of Life
I am afraid that we are often a bit flippant about referring to babies as miracles.
Surely every parent believes that their beautiful little baby is miraculous. But few of us pause to consider what it took to make our miracles happen. One in four known pregnancies ends in miscarriage, but that does not count the half of pregnancies that end before the woman knows she is pregnant. The amount of life that is lost before birth is humbling.
Infertility brought into clear focus for us, just how unlikely our existence is, how much the odds are stacked against us. For some couples, they are grieving tangible babies who she felt kick and squirm. For other couples, we grieved babies whom we knew only lived a few days. And still, for other couples, they grieve babies who were never conceived at all.
A Loss of Time
For many of us, infertility represents a race against the clock. We feel the months slip away more acutely than we did before. As months turn into years, we imagine that our little one would be celebrating a birthday.
And then we think more long term. We have to come to grips with the fact that our children will be younger than our friends’ children. We will be older parents than we wanted to be. Our own parents will have less time to be grandparents. And we will likely see fewer milestones in our children’s adult lives.
If you are exhausted or weary and find yourself wishing that “this phase” with your kids could just get over and done with, pause and ask yourself if you really mean that.
A Loss of Community
Your childless friend is probably lonely.
Friendships are built on commonalities and shared interests. Now that you are busy with the kids, your life, by nature is completely different from hers. You should not need to feel sorry about that. It is natural. But your friend is feeling isolated as more and more friends become moms.
She probably cannot even go to church without being reminded of her loss. Family life is a cornerstone of American church life, where a myriad of resources and ministries are devoted to building up parents and families. Is there a group for the sad childless women? If there is, it is probably akin to being seated at the card table at Thanksgiving. She is not a part of the real conversation with the adults.
A Loss of Worth
Perhaps more profound than the loss of time, community or even finances that infertility represents is the loss of self. This is the loss that we must be very sensitive to see.
It is true that men and women, but perhaps especially women, find much of their self-worth in their ability to raise a family. Not much has changed since the beginnings of recorded history. Fertility has always been a female domain, a means by which a woman asserts her power and control. Take away a woman’s fertility, and for many, it means a loss of self.
Some women have dreamed their whole lives of becoming mothers. It is what they knew they were born to do, while others took longer to realize this desire. Either way, infertility often represents a very personal attack on a woman’s womanhood.
How to Support Your Friend Through Loss
How can [you] encourage your friend?
Be her community, the way you used to be. Send the kids away for an afternoon and talk about things you have in common, not how big your kiddos are getting.
Tell her you are praying for her, but don’t pry for information if she is not willing to share. She gets asked enough questions from nosy relatives.
Affirm that she is valuable. Tell her that her life is full of purpose, that she matters. Nothing you say could be more true than that. For that matter, affirm that truth for yourself, and you will believe it all the more when you tell her.
Finally, go home, back to the mess, back to the noise and chaos. Look at your kids with fresh eyes. You had so very little to do with them being here today. You did not decide their hair color or their temperaments. You are just stewarding them for a little while.