Dear Doula -
My husband and I have been trying for a second child for five years with no luck. Our friends have said some cruel things to us, teasing us for not giving our son a sibling. They don't know we are trying - and failing. Their words hurt so we are just not spending as much time with them as we normally would. How do we tell them why we've been so distant lately?
Sincerely, Secretly Infertile
Dear Secretly Infertile -
I am so sorry you've struggled with infertility for so long; I cannot imagine how difficult your journey has been. While I haven't walked that path myself, I do have close family and friends who have struggled with infertility firsthand. It's gut-wrenching and can destabilize even the most level-headed people. Perhaps the hardest part is walking around with infertility hanging over you, while the rest of the world goes on glibly unaware. And that's what I want to address first before we talk about your friends.
That's where you are right now. Wearing an invisible cloak of infertility and pain. I completely understand why you've chosen to keep this journey secret. Explaining every high and low to someone else means reliving that moment, tearing the scab off of a fresh wound. And while I can appreciate your need to protect yourself from unnecessary trauma, I would caution you against this kind of avoidance.
Here's why: when we're walking through a hard moment in our life, we need help. Everyone does. Needing help from others is not a sign of weakness. And yes, I've had to give myself this exact pep talk so many times! But admitting we need help puts us in a vulnerable position. And vulnerability can often feel like weakness - but it isn't.
Being vulnerable allows you to be hopeful, to share your true self with others, to be an inspiration to others. It also prevents you from getting trapped up in the space between two different lives, two different realities. While you haven't been lying to your friends, you have been deceiving them. And by deceiving them, you've made it impossible to have this conversation with them without "outing yourself".
So, here we come to your friends. They've said some things - you don't specify what, exactly - that has hurt and alienated you. If you want them to show a little more sensitivity, your best bet is just asking them outright. You've got two ways to broach the subject with your friends, really. The first is by leading with your secondary infertility. Tell people you've been struggling, let them know that it's been a secret you've kept for a while. A true friend will be able to put two and two together and show a bit of tact around the topic. In doula-talk, we might call this "holding space" for those with infertility.
RELATED: Holding Space During Infertility
Your second option, as I see it, is to wait for the opportunity to present itself. If, or when, they misspeak be prepared to speak up. "Hey, that kind of hurts a little. Could we maybe not joke about that?" If they press you on it, be honest. Coming clean about five years of secret pain is going to feel a lot better than holding on to it, I promise.
These friends of yours will sort themselves out. As you continue with this infertility journey, you'll notice them either step up or step out of your life. It's okay. Their presence is not an indication of your worthiness. While you ultimately have to be the one going through infertility, you don't have to go through it alone. It's okay to tell your friends that you'd rather not talk about your fertility treatments. It's also okay to document every moment and put it all on YouTube! Regardless of how your friends react to the news, I encourage you to find a support group for those struggling with infertility or secondary infertility. Meeting people who have lived through what you're living can give you hope and provide a safe space to be truly vulnerable. After all - no parent is an island.