Lisa has over thirty years of experience in the fertility field. After her personal infertility journey, she felt dissatisfied with the lack of comprehensive services available to support her and was determined to help others undergoing fertility treatment. Lisa has served as Illume Fertility's dedicated Patient Advocate and Strategic Content Lead for many years and is the founder of Fertile Yoga, a program designed to support patients through gentle movement and meditation. Her experience also includes working with RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association and The American Fertility Association (now Path2Parenthood), where she was Educational Coordinator, Conference Director and Assistant Executive Director.
Infertility can seriously screw with friendships and family relationships.
It can erect walls where there weren’t any before. It can cause big awkward pauses where previously there would have been free-flowing chatter. It can cause rifts without either participant in the relationship knowing how to fix it.
People with infertility explain that they often feel that people who haven’t experienced infertility do not get it. They do not get the scope of infertility and fertility treatment- how much time, effort, and financial resources it takes to achieve what their friends and family seem to do effortlessly.
For us infertiles, acknowledging the stress that conception puts on existing friendships and the isolation that comes from not having your usual support systems in place is just the start. Moving ahead and forging new friendships with others that are also facing infertility can become a lifeline at just the right moment.
An added bonus- it’s through new relationships with others affected by infertility that you can also find ways to talk to your fertile friends and family. The end result? Those relationships can remain intact, even becoming stronger.
Infertility is Not That Bad, Right?
Scientific fact: procreating is broadly considered a human instinct, not simply a lifestyle choice.
Many people start dreaming of having children well before they’re ready to start, often when they are still children themselves. For most people, when that urge to have children arrives, the feeling is more powerful than almost anything else they’ve experienced.
Infertility is a disease of the reproductive system.
Infertility affects 1 in 8 couples. Several factors make infertility more likely; age, ethnicity, and medical history.
What’s unique about infertility is the guilt and shame associated with it, typically not felt about other diseases.
There is often misdirected guilt and shame associated with infertility, partly based on how society sees family building and conception. Common reasons for guilt, illogical as they are, include having a career path, furthering education goals, waiting for an appropriate and loving partner, or having had a sexually transmitted disease prior to trying to conceive.
Connecting with others faced with infertility lessens the feelings of guilt and shame and brings a sense of relief.
Women Share How Infertility Affected Their Friendships and Family Relationships
Hear from women who connected through infertility, through Ladies Night In, Couples Night In and on the Ladies Night In Online Facebook pages. They opened their hearts about their fertile friends and family, and their friends found through infertility.
My Friends Don’t Get Infertility
“I'm sad that I've lost friendships because of this, but I've gained more than I ever thought I could have. I've learned that those friendships I've lost weren't built on a true and solid foundation like these are.
That leads me to think that the other friendships wouldn't have lasted anyway; another difficult or uncomfortable situation would've exposed the cracks and like would've led to the same result.”
Finding New Friends
Infertility and fertility treatment are bad enough, why do I need new friends?
Here are a few comments from those who do get it, because they’re experiencing it too. (Thanks, as always, to Ladies Night In/Couples Night In folks who share their thoughts and feelings.)
“None of my friends understand what I’ve been through, either because they got pregnant very quickly or haven’t started trying yet. Finding these ladies has helped me more than I ever could have imagined. They were there for me at my darkest points and never judged... because they understood exactly what it’s like.” K. L.
“My best friend actually said to me, “I understand how you feel. It took me 3 months to get pregnant with baby #2.” Total fail. I’m in my 2nd year of fertility treatment. Does that seem like the same thing?????" B.T.
“The first time I came to the groups and you said we would make some lifelong friends I didn’t believe you... I thought I’d come to the groups, maybe find some common ground with the infertility then go home and that be it... but you were right. I made some amazing friends here.” H.T.
What An Infertility Friend Can Offer
“I guess the one word I would say about the friends that I made through fertility treatments and the support groups I was a part of would be: validation.” Y.M.
“I never had to explain or edit myself to the friends I made on this journey. I never once apologized for the things that I was feeling, I never had to make up excuses or pretend like everything was okay, I came as I was, and I was validated. My fertility sisters saw me at some of my lowest points whether it was physical or emotional and even if it was just to sit in the same room as them, I felt validated. I knew they were the one group of people that could understand what I needed without me even having to say it with words.” C.J.
“The group of friends I've made and continue to make through this community is truly incredible and I know they're built to last.”
“The sounding board of women that just understand something bigger and deeper than those that don't experience infertility has been one of the biggest blessings in what could be described as some of the darkest and hardest part of my life. There is a deep fulfillment to be that person to other women in their journey as well, to share common struggles and heartaches, but also the sweet miracle and joyous moments that come in one way or another to those that I wished and prayed for. I never once felt jaded or depressed or envious of any of my fellow infertility warriors.”
“During treatments it was most helpful to just hear "yeah, this sucks" and have someone to sit in that place with. And then be there to stand up with me and push me forward. That validation and motivation was the most supportive for me.” T.G.
“I couldn’t get through this roller coaster without these ladies!”
Jennifer Palumbo, also known as Jay Palumbo, or CEO of WonderWoman, found her way through infertility by laughing. Sound impossible? Not if you’ve ever listened or read anything she’s written!
“Laughing was the last thing I thought I would ever do, but it’s exactly what I did at the very first Ladies Night In Group.” O.B.
Why Can’t My Friends and Family Understand?
The most common advice coming from infertility patients, thought leaders and advocates- listen more than you talk. If you take that simple advice, you will hear what your friend or family member struggling with infertility needs. Some want to be asked questions, some don’t. some want to hear suggestions, most don’t!
One common refrain from fertility patients, “we all want to be heard, seen, and not pitied.”
“Unless you've been in this, you just have no idea what this feels like. So, it's hard for people who haven't gone through this to understand or empathize in a way that's helpful. It's not impossible, especially if friends take a real interest in wanting to be there for you and do their research to see what they can do or say (and not do and not say) to be of comfort and support.” A.Q.
“In some ways I feel closer with my friends I made on this journey. They get it. They were in it with me. We have a bond my other friends don’t understand and not because they don’t care...just because they haven’t been here/there.” F.T.
Finding My Own Voice- Explaining to My Family What Infertility Really Feels Like
Sue Johnston, The Infertility Advocate, found her voice through infertility and has been working to support all people trying to build their families. She explains beautifully how she turned her “pain into purpose.”
More patients from Illume Fertility share their experiences:
“I've really found my voice through this journey, and my tolerance for bulls*** has lowered accordingly. (I'm also proud to say that my partner no longer feels the need or desire to hide much anymore either. He's not afraid to speak up about the impacts of infertility, though we still aren't totally "out" to other people except for those we've chosen to tell.) We've had to deal with a lot, particularly over the past couple of weeks. We just don't have the energy to hold space for people who 1) don't hold space for us and 2) really don't seem to care about us as much as we care about them. My energy is so precious at this point that I don't want to waste it on a one-sided friendship or uneven relationships with my family.” D.R.
“The infertility warrior bond is fierce! Being on the other side I also feel like being able to help another woman going through infertility is healing for me.” K.S.
“I think understanding you have the right to complain is important for infertility, pregnancy and being a mama. I’m learning no matter what is going on with my friends, my struggles are mine and I have a right to feel them out loud!” H.L.
What was helpful to hear:
“I love you so much, I hate that you are going through this, and WTF! (I’m a fan of swear words).” G.M.
“Want to get ice cream? Want to get a pedicure? Go for a drive and just listen to music? Or nothing at all? No matter what, I’m here for you.” V.O.
“During treatments I would say, “it ain’t over till the red lady shows!” J.L.
Best Ways to Explain to My Fertile Friends
Fertility Tribe shared a blog, written by Jaimie Selwa, who wrote a poignant “I’m sorry” letter to her friends and family about her responses, due to her fertility journey, that might have caused them pain.
The other side of that is the pain that our friends and family cause us, even without meaning to.
It’s the insensitive questions, that pierce our hearts. It’s the stories that they share that we wish we were able to share too. It’s the suggestions that we don’t really need to hear and in fact, that remind us that we’re “damaged.”
“I did my best, explaining to friends, family, and fertile friends that sometimes infertility robs you from experiencing life events. It can be paralyzing and that best thing you can do is to let me be. Try to be patient and know that I want with every bit of my being to feel what I would feel before infertility. My best friend and I were pregnant with baby girls at the same time. I lost mine at 5 months and it was so hard for us to be the best friends we always were. The best thing she did for me was tell me she loved me and not to come to her baby shower. I didn’t need to say I couldn’t go; she just knew.” P.A.
“I definitely found myself consciously not bringing up what I was going through to some fertile friends or friends who haven’t started having kids yet. I guess I didn’t want to make it seem like I was making the conversation about me if that makes sense. My fellow Illume mamas understood everything completely! It’s a special bond between us that our fertile friends don’t understand. I do have a handful of friends who made babies the ol’ natural way who were incredibly supportive in my journey, but I could also see they just didn’t know what to say sometimes. Having friends going through all the physical and emotional and mental struggle that go along with infertility is incredibly special!” W.G.
What we would like friends and family to know is that we’re hurting.And that we’re hoping.
We’re hoping, but we’re hurting too. We’re also afraid that we’re not going to be able to conceive and carry and hold our babies the way that our fertile friends and family members do. We want them to know that we try to be happy for them, and often are, but we can’t always come to the hospital or come see the baby because it hurts too much.
We’re looking forward to being part of the parent’s club and reuniting with you, re-finding ourselves if we’ve felt lost, and enjoying our newfound strength and clarity.
Meanwhile, thank you to our friends and family, new and old, for hanging in there with us.
Laugh and Cry With Us. We Get It. Click here to Connect With Other Infertility Warriors.