We all know the statistic: one in eight couples struggle to achieve and/or maintain pregnancy. We know firsthand. Looking at the numbers, “one in eight” amounts to an estimated 48 million couples, or 186 million individuals, that are affected globally (World Health Organization). Yet, those of us in that group of 48 million couples tend to experience isolation, and we feel alone in our struggle with the cross of infertility. Why?
In this series of posts leading up to and during National Infertility Awareness Week (NIAW), I have summarized what, based on my personal experience, are the most common reasons for the isolation that those of us struggling with infertility face. But of course, I couldn’t stop there. Now that the diagnosis is clear, I want to offer a remedy! I want to provide a window into our experience of infertility, and also show how friends and family can help support us through this experience.
PART FOUR OF FOUR: NO MAN’S LAND
It is dang difficult finding friends as an adult! Your childhood besties move away to Arizona, New York and beyond, and your college friends have always belonged to such “remote” places as Florida, Texas, and Minnesota. What was already an arduous task (making friends), suddenly becomes next to impossible when you don’t fit in with all the young moms with a baby on the hip. You don’t have kids for a play date, and then arranging dinner dates interferes with bedtimes. This “no man’s land” between the roaring 20s and motherhood is an awkward, lonely camp of not belonging. Conversation seems to naturally turn to the joys and struggles of breastfeeding, first words, and potty training, and you’re left smiling politely, but with nothing to offer. Sound familiar?
My husband and I recently moved to a new parish. It is a vibrant, young parish, but it has been difficult to integrate. Being an introvert by nature, it is intimidating to walk up to an entire group to try to introduce myself. So, it was a pleasant surprise to see a fellow graduate of our college class after Mass one Sunday. We exchanged pleasantries and then he asked for our current phone number so he could introduce us around and help us integrate into the parish. I cannot possibly communicate how thankful I was for his kind offer. I immediately felt a sense of belonging that I hadn’t realized I was aching for.
First, let me say that neither the problem nor the solution lies directly on either party’s shoulders. The uncomfortable situation is not squarely the fault of those couples with children or those without; it is merely the situation. Isolation can be (and has been in the past) my own fault. For all the reasons listed above and in previous posts about the hardships of infertility, it is certainly understandable to avoid opportunities for friendship and conversation. It is not okay to stay hidden there forever though. Take the time needed, then square your shoulders and get back out there! Be vulnerable and open to taking the first step. Are your eyes ever drawn to the family in front of you at church? Introduce yourself at the end of Mass. Let them know how thankful you were to see their child’s smile. Consider offering an extra pair of hands to the mother looking a bit frazzled in the check-out line. Offer to bring a meal or prepare supper during bedtime to allow for an evening get-together. Offer your babysitting services. There are plenty of opportunities to get out of your comfort zone and meet new friends and to stay engaged with old ones. It will likely still be lonely at times, and it’s not easy, but the opportunities are there.
What Friends & Family Should Know:
The solution requires cooperation on both sides. While we need to make efforts to get out of our comfort zones, as friends and family, please be mindful of anyone standing on the outskirts. In the story above, my husband and I happen to be struggling with infertility. As newcomers to the parish, it was only natural that we did not know anyone. The point here is to always be welcoming and inclusive in your attitude. In the case of infertility specifically, we don’t expect (or want) you to walk on eggshells. Don’t be afraid to talk about your children with us. We want to hear all the goofy, heartwarming, and even the difficult stories about raising your kids. Remember, we want children ourselves, so we are happy to hear your stories. However, friendships require common ground. Even though we want children, we don’t currently have them. Discussions about parenthood should not be the only topic of discussion when trying to befriend or continue a friendship with a couple struggling with infertility. Try to discuss other topics and share your hobbies as well. Additionally, we want to help! We know, from all the stories, that parenthood is tough, especially the first few years. Don’t be afraid to invite us to a messy house or be offended if we offer to help with the laundry. We want to be a part of your life. We have so much to offer one another: you have insight, comfort, and fellowship, and we want to walk with you and help wherever possible.
There are undoubtedly many more reasons for the isolation of infertility, and I encourage you to share your thoughts below. Know I am praying for you and uniting my sufferings with yours.
Sydnee has been married to her husband Bren for four years and resides in eastern Pennsylvania in a parked RV! Despite the unusually tiny living arrangements, she is a hoarder of both plants and books. To hear more about her journey, go to www.theonewithinfertility.com or you can find her on Instagram @theonewithinfertility.