Life Without Baby

Filling the silence in the motherhood discussion

It Got Me Thinking…About Telling Friends June 27, 2011

By Kathleen Guthrie

“I’m leaving my husband.”

It was girls night out, and my small group of gal-pals was catching up over wine when Jen* dropped this bombshell on us.

“What?!” After twenty years and three kids together, their marriage was one I held up as a role model for making things work. How did it suddenly come to this?

That night I learned she’d been going to counseling for years, trying to make it work, trying to overlook her husband’s shortcomings for the sake of keeping their family together. She’d wanted to leave him months earlier, but the timing wasn’t right, and now she was ready to take the leap and begin to build a better life for her and her children.

“Why didn’t you say anything?” I asked, as I reached over to touch her hand.

“Because you are so happy and in love, and I didn’t want to take away from any of your pre-wedding romantic bliss.”

I quickly replayed our recent visits in my mind and looked for clues that things were amiss, some hint of her pain that I hadn’t picked up on, some expression or comment that gave an opening for my to check in with her, to ask her deeper questions, to see how she was doing. Had I said anything that made her feel worse? Had she felt I was rubbing her face in my happiness? Had my joy in my new role as bride-to-be added to her hurt? I hated that I had not been a good friend to her in her time of need.

I respected her choice to hide her situation from me, yet it also broke my heart. “I wish you’d told me. I want to know so that I can be there for you.”

“But you have so much else on your plate with all the wedding stuff.”

“I’ll always have stuff on my plate, but my priorities include taking care of my friends.”

As I mulled over this in the ensuing week, it reminded me of our conversations—on LWB—about talking to our friends and families about our struggles with infertility and childfreeness. When do you tell them? What and how much do you tell? It’s not dissimilar from Jen’s decision to not tell her friends what was going down in her marriage, and I found it interesting to be on the other side of the conversation for a change.

And here’s what I learned: It’s important that we share our pain so that we can allow our friends to support us. Allow them to be better listeners, to learn how to help you with a hug or by knowing when it’s better to ignore the elephant in the room. Once you open up to a close friend, you also have an ally in groups. Moving forward, when the dynamic shifts to all things pregnancy and mommydom, and you feel yourself being pushed to the periphery, your informed and sensitive friend can help steer the group back to more inclusive topics before you have a meltdown.

Please share. How else will I know what you need? I want to help. I want to be there for you. I say to Jen, as I say to you, “Please let me know how I can best support you.”

*Not her real name, of course.

Kathleen Guthrie is a Northern California–based freelance writer. She’s mostly at peace with her decision to be childfree.


7 Responses to “It Got Me Thinking…About Telling Friends”

  1. Mali Says:

    Hmmm. In an ideal world, yes. But there’s nothing ideal about infertility! And so I have to disagree. I don’t think it is important to share our pain. I think it’s a very personal decision, based on your relationships, your friends’ experiences and personality. And even then, you never know how they are going to react. Not all of them are as good as you, asking how best to support us. Try as they might, they are not necessarily “informed and sensitive.” Even when they are trying to support you, the mistakes they might make can be so painful, it would simply be easier not to have them try. Not to mention that when they know, you often feel pressure – unintentional, sometimes even imagined, but pressure nonetheless – from them simply to “get better” (in other words, to conceive). And that’s tough to deal with.

  2. Kate B Says:

    I didn’t share at the time we were going through ART. I didn’t want the pressure of everyone knowing what we were attempting, so that if it failed, I didn’t have to deal with all the sympathy. I don’t handle some kinds of sympathy too well. I also didn’t tell many people about my miscarriage at first. For me, to have all the sympathetic gestures would have been like picking at the wound constantly. I told those I was comfortable with, whose support I definitely needed, but I didn’t talk about it to a lot of people. I do so more now, now that the wounds are healing and scabbing over. But that is how I deal with things and not necessarily what’s best for everyone.

  3. Sue Says:

    I shared the news about my pregnancies and miscarriages with my three closest friends and unbelievably all three of them failed at supporting me either by shrugging it off like it was no big deal and requiring me to instead focus on her crisis of the day (which I still do) or by saying hurtful or insensitive things. One of these women who had terrible advice and said some pretty unbelievable things actually got enraged when, after my second miscarriage, I declined to hold her baby because it was too emotionally painful for me at the time. The words she said to me that day pretty much ended our friendship. We are cordial to one another, but we are no longer friends. Needless to say I have shared little or no information with them about the rest of our IF journey.

    I agree with Mali. They might be our friends but they are not necessarily “informed and sensitive” about what we are going through or even how we stil feel once we have made decisions to remain childless. The loss or strain on friendships certainly did add to the pain of our struggles.

  4. Kathleen Guthrie Says:

    Let me clarify: I don’t propose we tell everyone, but try to broach it with close friends. At this end of things, I’m always so saddened to find out that a close friend has been going through a difficulty (no matter what it is, a serious illness, the decline of a parent) and to know that I had not been there to help her through it. The stories above are so sad to me. Maybe it’s just me, but I’d want you to let me in so I could be a friend to you, in whatever way you need.

  5. Mali Says:

    I know what you’re saying. Several years after my two ectopics and infertility, a formerly close friend confessed that she’d had two miscarriages over the last year. I was very hurt that she hadn’t confided in me. I thought I could have helped her – particularly given my experiences of loss. But it was her decision. It wasn’t about me, about me wanting to help. It was about her. In the same way that when I went through what I went through, it was about me, what worked for me, what was right for me, not my friends wanting to help.

  6. stink-bomb Says:

    i have to agree with the women who have said they shared and weren’t supported. i’ve shared our struggle and losses to a few people who i thought i could turn to for support and i’ve received sweet fa – in some instances i’ve been made to feel like i have nothing to grieve for and that if i did, i should be over it now.

    i now keep my feelings to myself. it means some days i really struggle to make it to the end of the day because i’ve just got that much bottled up inside me but for me that’s better than asking for support and having a brick wall thrown up in return.


  7. lmanterfield Says:

    Just to throw a new corner into the discussion, I have to say that I did confide in a couple of close friends, and they were wonderful, but I didn’t tell any of them everything. For the most part, I was always trying to just keep it together and to be honest, a kind word would have been enough to throw me over the edge to being an emotional wreck. I didn’t want to dump that on my freinds and I didn’t want them to be upset for me as that would only make me feel worse. It’s twisted, I know, but it’s also self-preservation. Once I put the whole thing in a book, some of my freinds were upset because I hadn’t told them and given them the chance to be there for me, but I did what I had to do to get through it at the time.

    This was a great post, BTW, Kathleen.

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