I’ve been infertile for some time now. While it’s not a life I would have wished for myself, I have come to terms with it. I’m determined to be the best aunt anyone ever had. Just ask all my nieces and nephews. I will totally be an adopted aunt to your kids too. Count on it.
But despite my determination to make the most of the life I’ve been given, there are still moments when I can’t stop the hurt. When I have to go take a walk in the middle of a church meeting because a comment hits me hard. Times when I might have to excuse myself from going to see a particular movie with you or decline your baby shower invitation. You might notice too, that I’m never around on Mother’s Day.
I’m not asking for pity or commiserations. I’m bringing this topic up because it needs to be said and I don’t think anyone else is saying it. It hurts even to write about but I’m striving to follow Ernest Hemingway when he said “Write hard and clear about what hurts.” In this instance, I feel that I must write what hurts in order to help. I write for those who are like me, who are outside the common conceptions about the ache of infertile couples- the introverts. The ones who put on the brave face and do not like to share their pain. I write too, for the friends of these introverts who want to help but don’t want to cause more pain.
It seems odd to write a post about Mother’s Day when it’s July. The fact is, I originally wrote down my first thoughts for this post a couple of Mother’s Days ago and it wasn’t until now that the seeds of those thoughts have bloomed into the things I wish to say today. I could have waited until next year to post this at a more ‘appropriate time’ but I’d rather not waste another day to say it.
You see, there are plenty of blogs out there that deal with the subject of infertility. And there are plenty of posts on how to treat your infertile friends on days (like Mother’s Day) when they are hurting. All of them, without fail, touch on three basic subjects.
First, understand that your friend is hurting. This is true. Second, they say you should understand that your friend does not want to be forgotten. Also true. Third, they say you should reach out to your infertile friend on Mother’s Day to let them know you’re are thinking about them. This is not always true.
If you don’t know your friend very well, you may be doing them more harm than good without realizing it.
I am an introvert and a very private person. Some things I will talk about openly but most things I will only share with maybe two or three people (husband, sister, mother). The aforementioned blogs are giving you the exact wrong advice on how to treat me – the introvert. And if it’s wrong for me, I have to believe it’s wrong for others out there too.
Why is it wrong? I’ll give you two of the best examples in my book.
1) Don’t tell me you’re thinking about me. Why? What about you not wanting to feel alone or forgotten? Those things still apply, of course but let’s think this through by way of example. On Valentine’s Day, do you call up your single friends and let them know you’re thinking about them on this day of celebrating not-singlessness? No! Why? That would be cruel! You don’t tell them things like “You are totally loved by everyone, you know” and “There are lots of ways to celebrate love” and “You know you don’t have to be in a relationship to celebrate love right?”. Mother’s Day and the infertile folks have uncanny parallels to Valentine’s Day and single folks when you stop and think it over.
Instead, talk to me. Do things with me. Be a friend, not a reminder of things I can’t have. What would you do to cheer up a lonely friend on Valentine’s Day if you didn’t have any other plans? Do that.
If you know me, you know the last thing I want to do on Mother’s Day is talk about anything related to Mother’s Day. I don’t check social media or my texts for a few days before and after Mother’s Day to avoid being hurt by well-meaning friends and family. I love them all to pieces and I respond to them all but I give myself a couple days first to allow the sting to lessen.
If you want me to not feel forgotten. If you want to reach out to me (or your introverted friends) on Mother’s Day then chat me up about the latest book you read. Convince me that I must go see that one movie you watched. Or come over and play video games with me. I actually thanked my sister for sending me a benign text on Mother’s Day that simply asked my opinion on some artwork she was working on. Because she knows me so well, this was her way of letting me know I wasn’t forgotten and I wasn’t alone.
2) Stop Lying. People like to say that I ‘mother’ their children and that I have developed some excellent mothering skills. They tell me that I play an important role in their children’s lives. This is fine as long as people don’t push these skills as a satisfactory replacement for being a mother. It doesn’t matter how many motherly qualities I possess – it does not make me a mom. It doesn’t matter how much your own children like me- it does not make me a mom. It doesn’t matter that I teach kids and interact with them on a very parental level – it does not make me a mom. Period.
It shocks people when I say this. Perhaps because it seems so harsh but you know what’s more harsh? Knowing that you will never carry children of your own and none of your family or friends can accept that fact and allow you to move forward. I’m not trying to be harsh. Only truthful – which is a quality most introverts highly value. The attempt to get me to deceive myself is disturbing, especially when I’ve accepted the truth of my situation. I understand the temptation to try to help people feel like a mother when their arms are achingly empty. But lies will not fill those arms.
Instead, simply let your compliments be compliments and leave it at that. Don’t try to make someone feel better by telling them how they should be thinking about the situation.
Dealing with infertility is different for everyone but we barren ladies all share similar desires. And it’s all very close and personal. The approach you chose to use makes all the difference in the world. But how are you supposed to know? Some women may very well want you to call them up just to let them know you’re thinking about them. Some, like me, might not.
All I want you moms out there to really get is this: Know your friends well enough to know how to love them best when they are hurting.
P.S. To all my friends and family who may have done exactly as I described in my two examples. Please understand that I know you are all kind, thoughtful, loving, caring, considerate, compassionate, and charitable people (Gee, brown-nosing much?). I know your hearts and intentions are good and true and pure. Please don’t feel bad about the past. Just move forward now armed with more knowledge and understanding.