Infertility Is Wrecking Our Friendship
I can't even mention my kids to my friend who is having trouble conceiving without her crying. What should I do?
Dear Friend or Foe,
My very close friend "Janette" is desperate to have a biological child with her husband. Because her husband has a genetic disorder, they're doing IVF and testing to ensure that any potential child doesn't get the same disorder, which would result in severe retardation. So far, Janette has gone through seven unsuccessful rounds of IVF. While she has the financial resources to try as many times as she's physically capable, lately she seems to have reached a breaking point. She insists she doesn't want to adopt but also insists that she can't bear the strain of continuing with IVF—yet she continues.
Janette has shared her fertility struggles with only a few close friends, including me. And we've tried to be there for her through the roller coaster. The problem is: I have young children, as do many of our mutual friends. Whenever the topic of conversation turns to anything regarding others' pregnancies, babies, etc., Janette becomes emotional to the point of tears. So we avoid mention of our kids at all costs. If we try to empathize, she says she doesn't want any "advice" because "no one understands." This leaves us listening to her agonize in silence. My friends and I have also tried to point Janette to online groups where she might be able to meet people in similar situations. But she still insists that no one can comprehend what she's going through. As a result, we've ceased to invite her to hang out as frequently as we once did.
Now I'm conflicted. On the one hand, I feel I should be there for my friend in her time of need. On the other hand, I don't feel it's much of a friendship if I'm walking on eggshells every time we talk. Please advise.
Want To Be a Good Friend but …
Dear WTBAGFB …,
There's something intrinsic to infertility that leads some of its sufferers to believe that nothing else in the world matters but their empty wombs. Every human being under the age of 18—an unavoidable sight on every street corner—is a painful reminder of a perceived failure. In short, I suggest cutting Janelle as much slack as you can muster. If you and the girl gang are going to get together and share potty-training horror stories, by all means leave her out of the loop—no guilt attached. But instead of completely cutting off joyless Janette, why not propose that the two of you do something fun together that has nothing to do with pouring her heart out? Invite her to play miniature golf—or to go see some semi-watchable Jennifer Aniston romantic comedy involving mistaken identities. (Though you might want to avoid the recent one about the turkey baster.)
All this said, I suspect that Janette's misery (and also yours) will be over sooner than you think. If Janette's doctors are even halfway respectable and the IVF isn't taking, they'll steer her in a new direction before she hits her tenth try. At which point Janette will either give up trying to conceive and throw herself into the adoption process. Or—if money is no object—she and the hubbie will hire a surrogate. Or maybe someday soon (i.e., Round 8?), she'll "miraculously" get pregnant.
To be honest, I'm a bit surprised that, assuming the main motivation for IVF is so the docs can "select" undamaged sperm, the process hasn't worked already. (If Janette had fertility challenges of her own—perhaps she's already over 40?—I assume you would have mentioned them.) I'm also somewhat baffled as to why a couple facing that kind of risk would insist on using their own genetic material. But then, the desire to create mini-mes and the concept of reason occupy wholly separate plains of existence.
Friend or Foe
Dear Friend or Foe,
My friend "Michelle" and I have known each other since we were little children. Now that we're in our 30s, we both live in the same city again. She used to be thoughtful, kind, and a good friend. But lately, whenever we get together, she rambles for an hour straight about the difficulties of being a professional singer in the theater and of being single. This is less a conversation than a worry dump, as I rarely get a chance to talk. We have also fallen into a pattern where I always pay (because I have a steady income), and she doesn't even say thank you. When it's my "turn" to speak finally, she starts BlackBerry-ing.
What's more, when Michelle comes over, it always feels as if she's there because she wants to use my kitchen to cook for some party with other friends, or because she needs to use my computer, or because she needs a place to stay (she regularly sublets her place to save on rent)—not because she wants to spend time together. I've certainly played a role in this, giving her designer purses that I no longer wear and expensive appliances because I received multiples as wedding gifts and, until recently, letting her stay over. How do I now tell her this dynamic has to change without ruining my oldest friendship?
I've tried being subtle and telling her, for example, after hours of listening to her complain, that deciding between a gig singing with a prestigious company in Europe vs. taking a great full-time office job here in the United States is a good problem to have. But my comments don't even seem to register with her.
Lucinda Rosenfeld is the author of four novels, including I'm So Happy for You and The Pretty One, which will be published in early 2013.
Illustration by Jason Raish.