This whole process puts such an enormous strain on relationships – even the ones you thought were unshakable. In the past month, I’ve gone through this with my two closest friends. It’s brutal. I think these friendships will emerge intact, but they will be changed.
H2 was my maid of honor, and I was hers. She had two miscarriages in the past couple of years, and she was a tremendous support to me in mine. This last pregnancy she had was fraught with difficulty, but her baby made it. He’s been in the NICU for about 3 months, and he’s still not ready to go home, but he’s defied all the odds a baby born at 24 weeks faces and is (in my mind, anyway) a bona fide miracle child.
I know it must be so hard for her to not have him at home, to be able to hold him, feed him, tuck him in at night. I’ve tried my best to support her. I found a place online that sells micro preemie clothes and sent her some. In those early days, I wanted her to have something that was specifically for THIS child, not potentially for some later child who might have better chances. As weeks went by, though, it became less clear how to be supportive, but I made my awkward attempts. We live in different countries, and we communicate mostly by text now, so it’s not like it’s been in years past. Somewhere in there it all blew up. I got a cutting message from her that I was saying the wrong things. I was livid, as I felt like I was giving her the best I could and had been sucking it up forever that she was telling me the wrong things.
At the end of the day, after a few explanatory emails were exchanged, what I think is that we were each giving each other what we ourselves needed…in my case, it was acknowledgement. I was working hard at demonstrating to her that I understood that what she is going through must be so painful. I even felt like acknowledging this was an expression of love to her, a sacrifice on my part, because, despite all of this, she has not one but three living children. And this last little one, who looked for all the world like he wouldn’t pull through, is actually going to make it. I feel like she’s incredibly fortunate, even though this is hard. I’ve never had a living baby out in the world. I don’t know what it’s like. So I tried to imagine what it must be like to have your baby be alive but not with you, and to sympathize. But she was well in touch with the hard part, and she didn’t need to be reminded of it. My efforts were only rubbing in her face what was already so difficult.
She, meanwhile, was giving me what she needed: hope. Looking at the bright side. Focusing on what’s going well. Telling me things are not that bad, that they will get better. But what she doesn’t understand about what I deal with is that I don’t have a baby in the hospital that I can post pictures of. I don’t have a single thing to point to to say “this is why I hurt.” I have an invisible disease, and I have an absence. People don’t relate to those things. They don’t remember them. Or if they do, they just have no idea how to talk about them. So nothing is said and nothing is done, and the world marches on. What I actually don’t need is for people to look in the bright side. I just need someone to sit in the dark with me.
So while my heart is crying out for someone to please acknowledge that what I am experiencing is real, she is making light of it. And while she is desperately needing to look forward to good things, I’m harping on the hard thing. And we’re both busy and exhausted and keeping our heads above water and accidentally hurting each other while we’re trying to help.
We emailed back and forth and settled it at this: We love each other. We’ll sort this out. Later. We’re too maxed out with our respective situations and our life circumstances to sort it out at the moment, but we will sort it out. We’re just putting everything on pause. I don’t have to be her cheerleader at the moment, even though I’m trusting she knows in my heart I’m wishing her and her little boy every good thing. And she doesn’t have to be my confidant, but I’m trusting that when the dust settles, we’ll be able to find each other again. I wish we each had the capacity to be there for each other during what are rough times for both of us, but we just don’t.
Then there’s the other friend, the one I was pregnant with – a year and a half ago, we were incredibly close and had everything in common. We worked together, got pregnant about the same time, even got laid off on the same phone call. Then she had a baby boy, and I lost mine. She’s now a full-time mom, and I work with my husband in a field unrelated to the work we used to do together. If we’re honest, we have little to talk about. We try, but it’s hard. I find it particularly hard. I finally had a clear-the-air talk with her about it – because I felt like she deserved my honesty and not some kind of fake pretendy thing where we all act like nothing’s going on. She told me she understood if I needed distance, and she wouldn’t take it personally, but she wasn’t giving up on this friendship. I appreciated that.
She was also a bastion of hope and positivity, bowling me over with her enthusiasm and certainty that I WILL have children. Part of me feels glad that somebody feels that way, because I certainly don’t feel it anymore, but part of me just wants to say, “Here’s the thing – just because it worked for you doesn’t mean it must work for me – that the score has to be evened out somehow. We might need to live with this dissonance.”
I didn’t say that though, and then she told me my least favorite story – the one about the friend who went to go adopt a baby and suddenly got pregnant. (EVERYBODY has a friend who has that story…don’t even get me started on that story…) I ended up telling her that sometimes closure is kinder than hope.
I realized while speaking with her that I’m not giving up on hope, but my hope cannot be that I will be able to have a child. Because when it comes down to it, the universe does not owe me a child. Neither does God. My hope has to be that no matter what happens, I will be able to embrace my life. Whether I have my own kids, somebody else’s kids or no kids, I have to believe – even to swear to myself – that I will be ok. And even though there’s some bitterness now, I have to believe I will be able to adjust and not live in the shadow of what “should” have been.
This transference of hope is, I think, wise. But I also know there’s an element of self-protection in there. Hope makes everything so much harder. But now as I find myself in my fourth (and quite possibly last) round of IUI, I feel a little like a robot walking through the steps. I’ve promised myself I’d take the holidays off if this doesn’t work, so I’m almost just gritting my teeth and holding my breath until I can get a break for a couple of months. But I’m remembering the innocence of that first IUI attempt, how I was wanting to make my soul and my body a welcoming place to host a new life. And I miss that. I want to engage. But I’m so beat up right now.
And the people who have helped carry me in the past are not able to walk this with me now. I’m finding myself praying more, hoping that God will be able to pick up where they left off. Hoping that this works, hoping that I’ll be ok if it doesn’t. Hoping that of all the things that are lost in this process, I am not one.