A few days back, I had a lot to say about friends. I think I have less now, but perhaps it's just better distilled. Let me start with a story about my oldest girlfriend, from whom I received an email over the weekend.

When I was twelve and thirteen, High School Girlfriend (HSGF) and I were inseparable. Then came The Cancer. My mother was diagnosed when I was fourteen, and things changed for our family, and for me. Initially, HSGF said she was sorry and gave me a big hug, but after a month or two - around the time of my mother's surgery - she started complaining that I wasn't fun anymore. I didn't want to giggle about boys, I wasn't available for much extra-curricular socialising, and after a long period of suffering in silence I snapped and told her I didn't want to hear about the latest fight she'd had with her mum, because she should be bloody grateful her mum was alive and well. Shortly afterwards, she took up with a new friend, and when a teacher found me locked inside the girls' toilets crying when I should have been in class, HSGF was happily ensconsed in her own world somewhere, and hadn't even noticed I was gone. I knew it was over then. Something had been permanently lost. Years later, I think it must have been tough to know what to do at fourteen, and I hold nothing against her. We still keep in touch. But since that day in the toilet she's never been... how shall I put it? She's no longer a Category One friend.

Some months after that Mr Bea came along. He was fourteen too, and male to boot, but despite these considerable disadvantages he knew what to do. And it turned out to be surprisingly simple - apparently what I wanted was for someone to ask me, from time to time, how I was really, and then stand awkwardly by, occasionally mumbling, "Um..." In short, I needed someone who was prepared to put themselves aside to care about me*.

I know - I can get really self-involved sometimes.

Earlier this year, when I was... well let's just go ahead and use the word pregnant - with Jester, I started a private blog to give factual updates to family and friends. And I asked University Friend (UF) to read the blog, but she declined to do so despite several requests - an act which culminated in her announcing her pregnancy to Mr Bea on the same day we received the pathology report from the D&C. I heard a lot during the next few days about how stressed she'd been over telling me and blah blah blah which was all very sweet but here's the thing: it was absolutely no fucking good to me. She gets no points at all for being so wrapped up in her own Announcement Dread that she neglected to care for me, despite clear and specific written instructions on how to do so.

Mr Bea suggested she mightn't want to hear about a pregnancy gone wrong in the middle of her own, and I guess that's true, but let's compare: she fell pregnant the first month off the pill, has no previous personal or family history of pregnancy complications or loss, and at the time I contacted her was already weeks ahead of me and into the second trimester in perfect, textbook fashion. I had an assisted pregnancy after years of trying, a history of biochemical losses, an unpromising initial beta, sub-par ultrasound results... Other than reminding her in some vague and general way that things don't always work out, I can't see how my situation affects her. Call me harsh, but that's not an excuse.

Despite this, I was forced to concede that I, too, am only human, and possibly I wouldn't have fared any better had the roles been reversed. I arranged to call her to clear the air. She said some good things in the fifteen minutes of conversation before she rushed me off the phone, telling me she was going to "let me go" now, even as I tried to keep her on the line. I told her I was coping badly, and wanted a friend to check in on me - her, anyone - and email or text was fine. She wrote me one email two days later. She promised to pass my news around. I have heard nothing since, from anyone. I wonder if they think I tell them these things for their own entertainment.

Very few people know about our infertility, and the truth is at this moment I feel closer to those who don't. For the last few weeks I've been regretting my decision to tell - it hurts so much to feel so let down by someone you trusted so much. My battered heart has been trodden further into the ground. I ask: is it me? Are my standards so high no-one can reach them? Am I just too damned self-involved? I want to know: should I write off the whole "telling" experience and just keep infertility to myself from now on, holding everyone at arm's length, even though at times that's not enough?

Today I realised it's like asking a friend on a date. You can go on as you are, which is comfortable enough, or you can take the risk and put your heart on the line. If they say yes - what wonder, what joy. If they say no - what devastation.

But if you never ever ask anyone at all - what loneliness, what emptiness. What tragic incompleteness.

And the truth, so far as I experienced it when I was just fourteen, is that you may break the relationships you thought would never fail, but someone else will come along. People you never thought of or imagined will be the ones who stick by you. If you ask. If you let them know. If you're prepared to put your heart out on the line.

(Final thoughts coming soon, after your feedback.)

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*There were other friends and supporters, too. Age and wanting to get into my pants didn't seem to be the sole factors. Some of the people who let me down were adults who were old enough to know better, and some of the people who stuck by were, well, people who had no interest in copping a feel.


20 Comments

Baby Blues said...

True friends are so hard to find. I know what you mean. Opening up about infertility is like opening up your heart. It puts our heart out there, vulnerable and easily hurt. And when you don't get the reaction that you're expecting, it hurts the most!

One time, I was opening our ART journey to a family member and she knows about my blog but apparently doesn'tread it. Just a quick glimpse in my sidebar you'll know our history right? I guess not. When I told her we would be needing to do IVF because we have both male and female factors, she goes "You mean to say there's also something wrong with him?" On top of this, while I was explaining the process, must she have to suppress a YAWN! Argh. I give up. I'll just stick to my blog friends, those I trust who just "get" it.

carrie said...

One the one hand, friends not pulling through when you need them most SUCKS beyond belief. But on the other hand, it's like that old adage about knowing who your true friends are.

One of my closest friends was one of the most insensitive about our fertility problems - you know, saying things like "are you sure you want one of these?" while cooing at her 4 month old. And now I feel like I know what her friendship limitations are, and that's great, because I know not to rely on her too much.

Some people are just so incredibly self-involved that they have no idea how to relate, and others are so afraid of saying the wrong thing that they just disappear. And then there are those golden friends who may not know exactly what to do, but they are there for you anyway, even if awkwardly.

Caro said...

I'm beginning to put myself out there and the friends I have told are getting better at checking on me every so often. There are disappointments but I'm trying to shrug them off.

Mary Ellen and Steve said...

True friends are hard to find. We have definitely put ourselves out there, and to be honest sometimes we regret telling family more than anything...

Somewhat Ordinary said...

I don't regret being up front about our IF, but that isn't to say that we haven't had our share of a$$holes in all of this. The one friendship that I've actually dissovled is a very self-absorbed person that has been told on a number of occassions we are going through IF. She is so wrapped up in herself and her son that over the last 2 years she continues to ask when we plan on having kids. On 3 different occassions I've told her that we have been TTC for 6 months, 1 year, 2 years and we will need the help of a doctor. It is her total lack of caring to even remember what I tell her that has forced me to stop returning her calls and e-mails.

KarenO said...

Don't ever lower your standards and always be true to yourself. If this means you have fewer friends, so be it! They would be friends that will stick by you through thick and thin, would read your blog without feeling uncomfortable, would be there for you rain or shine, because they would love you for who you are, NOT because you make them feel good.

If having high standards mean fewer friends, it also means there wouldn't be a lot of drop-out friends, those that just aren't up to scratch or hurt you without even knowing it, or worse, knowing it well enough! They are worth their weight in gold, and you'll be rich beyond words :)

Beagle said...

I have so many thoughts on this topic, but so few words to express them well. I think a true friend is a rare find. I also think that when life is running along smoothly, we never find out who they are becasue most people can be a friend in good times. It's tough times like losing a parent or a pregnancy that has the not so true friends running for the hills.

I have to agree also that for me, the who fell into which category was a bit of a shock in some cases, in both directions (some let me down, some amazed me by being up for the task.)

In short, it's not you. It's just one of life's harder facts that not all relationships can weather a storm.

serenity said...

You're so right. Coming out with your friends IS like asking them on a date, with your entire heart on the line.

True friends - the ones who can actually step outside their own life to be there for you - are very very rare.

This is going to sound tremendously insensitive and egocentric, but over the years I've found that people are mostly self-absorbed. And they rarely realize that other people's problems are bigger than themselves.

Beagle said it best- it's only until you hit a rough patch where you find the people who will be there for you.

The way you deserve.

Because no, you are not being sensitive. You deserve more than what UF has delivered. And you shouldn't feel bad for asking for more from her.

I'm just sorry she wasn't able to deliver.

Samantha said...

Your story of HSGF sounded eerily like my experience in high school. My brother committed suicide when I was 15. Sometime after that I got into a fight with a close friend of mine, and she said something very hurtful that related to my brother and my reaction to his death. After a long time, I forgave her, but our friendship was never the same. Like you too, I increasingly turned to D for support (who was in high school with me), and always listened but never judged my grief.

I think having this experience of loss earlier in life, and watching friends turn away makes it that much harder when a similar thing happens to you in the present. I know it is that way for me.

Sarah said...

it's weird what i've found about my friends. just like you said, some who i expected to be my best supporters completely let me down, and others i never expected really stepped up. at times it has made me wonder if all my friendships are far more fickle than i had thought, but then someone always seems to come along to restore my faith.

it seems to take a very special person, maybe one who knows a little about loss or who has had someone else really be there for them? i don't know, except i think i will be much better able to support others through something difficult as a result of my infertility experience than i ever was before.

megan said...

Category One friends are so hard to find, and sometimes the pop up so unexpectedly. a dear friend of mine is on my "avoid at all costs" list at the moment, though I'm not even sure she knows it because i haven't been able to talk to her about WHY i need some distance from her right now. she has just never had anything good to say other than the old annoying cliches about taking vacations and relaxing...she is currently endlessly complaining about morning sickness and asking me if i'm sure i want to go through this. argh. please. go. away.

i had a surprising experience last friday with a friend i know through my profession. he knew that we were trying and asked how things were going. as i'm not in a place right now where i can say anything about that without breaking down...i just went ahead and let it go. he couldn't have reacted more perfectly. he said all of the right things at all of the right times. it was really great, and a bit surprising too.

having just experienced a loss, i'm finding that i'm telling all of my friends about it. it's almost like a weeding process. there are those who haven't been exactly super, but i expected that. i just grew so tired of the secrets. missing much work for doctors appointments, being tired and sad. . . it has almost become a relief to let it all out there. this bitch of IF has become a monster in our lives, and i'm starting to feel that people can't really know me unless they know what we're going through. they don't all have to be category one friends, and i'm not applying this logic to EVERYONE i meet, not broadcasting it at work, but to friends who have been kept in the dark. it's very liberating and eye opening at the same time. also, the not asking and the loneliness associated with that is harder for me to bear than the devastation of the rejection. so i'm with you about putting your heart out there. your heart is a huge part of you, and one that needs to be nurtured and accepted, not stomped on -- whether they realize they've stomped on it or not, and if they do...perhaps they aren't supposed to be your friend in the first place.

The Town Criers said...

I've written about this a few times. I don't think your standards are too high at all and I do think when people know (and they say they're our friend), they owe us to be there in bad times as well as good. And being there is sometimes as simple as just asking and listening. I was reading a book on m/c and someone who bandies the word "love" a lot with me as she ends conversations (as in, love you Mel!) asked what I was reading. When she saw the cover, she said, "oh" and walked away. If she had just asked the next question: are you reading that because you two are trying to figure out the reason for all the chemical pregnancies? Or even, "oh, Mel, I'm sorry that you're reading that"--ANY recognition of how what I was reading related to my life...well...it would have made the word "love" make a lot more sense.

Can you tell I'm a little bitter about certain people in my life?

I'm sorry, sweetie, that people aren't there right now for the good times and bad. But I would keep trying. Keeping throwing the info out there. It may bring another person--albeit not one you would marry--as thoughtful as Mr. Bea into your life.

Aurelia said...

Well, I hadn't told very many people at first because I was concerned about their reaction. And now of course, everyone knows...some people I told were wonderful and some were absolutely awful.

Strangely enough some of the most awful ones I later discovered were people who had their own fertility problems, which they had never resolved or dealt with emotionally and they viewed me and any discussion of IF and miscarriage as an unwelcome reminder.

I'm not saying this is true for your friends, but there were a lot of them in my circles. Especially among the older generation.

ultimatejourney said...

I've been VERY guarded about who I share our story with. I've probably missed the opportunity to gain closeness with some people, but I've also avoided a lot of the pain. Because we're using donor sperm, I really want to tell my kids their story before I tell everyone else. Sharing has definitely involved putting my heart on the line. Telling a few people has been priceless, though. Good friends are hard to find, and I'm glad to know I have at least a couple of them.

Karaoke Diva said...

I have been in your shoes so many times in the past decade. I have yet to find a real true friend who can handle everything I have to give. I've found that I make for a great sounding board for other people's problems, but they want nothing to do with mine. It sucks. I refuse to keep my IF business a secret. It's such a huge and major part of my life, I don't think I could if I tried. Basically, I put it all out there and if they can't handle it, they are not my friend.

Mel said...

Everyones comments are so true. It is extremely hard to find a true friend. Someone who is there through thick and thin, no matter what. Someone who will worry if they haven't heard from you but can also give you your space. Someone who asks how you are even when you tell them you are sick of people asking how you are(they know you don't really mean it). Someone who will just give you a hug "just because", because sometimes you just need a hug.

My Reality said...

I have been let down by several people in this journey who I thought would never do that to me.

I have no regrets about telling people that we are infertile. I also have no regrets about not telling people about a cycle until after we have gotten through it. I have found that most people have been great in supporting me. There is the one person who I thought would be there through everything who has let me down.

I don't know what the answer is. You have to find your right balance. Your standards are not too high. When you put yourself out there with someone, it takes a lot of emotional effort. It is a let down when that effort is not returned.

Bea said...

Samantha:

And that must have been an awful experience, without the friend problems.

I don't know about your second paragraph. In some ways, the dismay sets in more quickly, but perhaps this time I can "stand on the shoulders of a younger me" and see further towards figuring out a solution. Well, I can hope, right?

Bea

blondie said...

Bea, I feel for you at this time because I am there with you. I have read your posts and noticed myself nodding at many points along the way. Only my man has been there for me too.

My 'friends' are the same - they only want to know the good stuff because it is easy. They never ask how I am really feeling because they are afraid I am going to crack. I have already had a mini-breakdown early this year because no one* was checking in on me and I had to deal with these emotions running around inside me that I couldn't control.

I have stopped really talking to the 'friends' I have about the hard stuff because they don't know how to just stand there and say "Um" occasionally and hug me when I need it.

I guess that's why we got married to the men we got married to. Steve has always been and is willing to be there with me until the end - even when he doesn't know how to act or what to say. So, I think we are lucky in that respect.

Sunny said...

I would say, put your heart on the line, but guard yourself and know that you will get hurt. I have lost many friends but have gained some truly amazing ones. It was worth the loss to find the great.

I expect those who haven't walked any where near my shoes to NOT get it. I hate that but it is true. My family for sure doesn't get it and doesn't even try to. I just expect it now.

I hate that we have to go into life and friendships like that.

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