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Thursday, January 11, 2007

Some Kinds of Friends are the Kinds of Friends We All Can Do Without...(Children Mentioned)

This is an idea I have been kicking around for a while, trying to make it fit into a puzzle. It feels like every piece is slightly off, unable to click together to reveal the broken picture. I can’t make sense of this AND I can't either connect or untangle these two ideas. Perhaps I just need another set of eyes on this idea to help me shape it into something manageable and useable.

At least, I think there is something useable in here. I feel like there is a bridge inside of this idea that would help me over a chasm.

I had this friend--let's call her Courtney just because it's a name I like and I've never gotten a chance to use it--and we were growing apart. But we had so much history that we also couldn't really let go of the friendship. Courtney told me that she wanted to be there for me if anything truly terrible happened or if anything wonderful happened--she just couldn't be there for the day-to-day. And that, frankly, isn't a friendship. Or maybe it's a friendship-once-removed or some other strange family-tree-like relationship. But one shouldn't have to weigh what they wanted to discuss--is this truly awful enough to lean on Courtney for support? Is this news good enough to ask Courtney along for a celebration? I mean, how does one weigh something like infertility? A miscarriage, yes, I could see her placing that in the "awful enough" category. But how would she weigh the rest of the feelings? And is there any point in continuing this relationship if she can't even see how much infertility inandof itself is my "awful thing"?

We drifted. September 11th brought us back together as September 11th had the ability to do. I held her hand through a terrible late miscarriage a few years later. That's the sort of thing a strong friendship can weather--moving from a discussion on weighing our news to just jumping into action when you pick up the phone and hear a voice wavering as she says your name. And your heart just knows.

There is a part of me--and I want to preface this by repeating the words "a part of me"--that believes that if you are going to ask people to celebrate with you, you should include them also in the difficult moments of your life. There were certain people that I wanted to jump straight into celebrating with me when we finally achieved a positive so I told them about our losses as well. Not necessarily all the details. And not always every loss. But they were informed of the problems as well as the successes. They were part of my inner circle and I felt as if I owed them the full story. I don't know why. This is one of those pieces of the puzzle that doesn't seem to fit correctly.

Because I also think it is incredibly valid to not share your losses with others. I understand the desire to cocoon. Especially in the face of comments or advice. And looking at the facts, I didn't share every loss or every failed cycle. I shared some. And I can't even say why I didn't share what I didn't share. There is a miscarriage story that I have shared with some people when they have told me theirs, and I have typed it and erased it many times on this blog. And I don't know why. I can't put my finger on why that particular loss feels so much more personal and so much more private than another. It was just another early miscarriage--a chemical pregnancy. But for whatever reason, it didn't make it to most people's ears even though I included them in the celebration of the twins later on.

But here is what I have been tossing around in my mind--the other end of this idea. There were the people who I told about the losses because I felt I owed them if I was asking for them to celebrate with me later on. Meaning, I wanted them to know what they were celebrating. I wanted them to know the real story and the big picture. If I loved them enough to ask them to be in my children's life from point one, I felt they needed to know all of the details. And on that end, these are the people who again will hear every loss, every step in the adoption process if we go that route, every difficult choice because I will also ask them to celebrate with me later. And a real friendship is about giving everything and taking everything. It's not the picking and choosing. It's not the weighing and hiding. It's leaving it all out there and giving them all--the good and the bad.

Mixed in with the people who heard about the losses and cried with me and heard about the positives and celebrated with me were people who heard about the losses and offered no support. And heard about the positives and only wanted to celebrate. And I'm having a hard time with this. This is a puzzle piece that I keep trying to jam in there and it isn't working.

I think I came to this realization a few weeks ago. I was working on the pregnancy loss chapter and out of all of the chapters, it is the one that is giving me the most trouble. And it's not the subject matter. I mean, the interviews are emotionally difficult to read and I feel a huge responsibility to care for your words because...well...because they are your children. Without your children here, these words are your children. And you shared them with me and I will always be grateful. But that's not what is making this chapter the hardest one to write.

I realized that I was yelling at the reader. I was snarling and spitting and accusing the reader. While other chapters have been more of the oh-sweetie-you-really-put-your-foot-in-it-let-me-help-you-repair-your-relationship variety, this pregnancy loss chapter has read more along the lines of you-mother-fucker-you-always-let-me-down-and-I-will-never-get-over-that. A little heavy to put on a reader that I don't actually know...

(Just in case my agent is reading this, I feel like I must write in this space that I am currently reworking this chapter and it will not be nearly as angry when I am finished)

And my anger stems from the people who want to be in the lives of my current children when they were never in the lives of my other children. The ones that aren't here. And I'm talking about a wide range from actual losses to the children that weren't just because it was the cycle that wasn't. The ones who could never be sensitive about infertility and the ones who never were there for me when I was depressed. And who still aren't there for me now.

And it all goes back to what do we owe one another? I've asked this question before, but I'm asking it again because...well...I need to get over this anger. Now that I've identified the emotion, I feel like I can deal with it. If I just find the key out of this room. Perhaps I'm wrong. Perhaps it is fine to just jump in for the celebration without being there for the misery. Maybe I should just accept those friends. Not even pretend to accept it, but actually accept it. all goes back to Courtney. I wasn't willing to take a relationship that was halfway to somewhere. Or, more accurately, I wasn't willing to have a friend who was in my inner circle who wasn't fully inside the circle. Who was standing on the fringes, waiting to run to the party table even though I was collapsed in a heap in the center of the circle. Who allowed others to gather around and help me--even just be there for me as a sounding board when I needed to cry--but did nothing themselves. What do we do with these friendships? What do we do with these family members? How do we fit this puzzle together? I'm missing something--a way out of this idea--and I don't really know how to reconcile what I was willing to do in other passages of my life versus what I am willing to do now that there are children involved and other people affected by the idea of holding someone close or letting them go.


Anonymous said...

I think it all goes back to what we expect from a friendship or a relationship with a family member. Is it enough that they're there only for the joy, being too selfish to let their shirts be soaked with our tears? Some people are missing that part of themselves - the part that allows them to truly be there for others - and they can never give in the hard times, the bad times. Joining the joy is easy.

Is there something else that you get from the relationship that makes you overlook the empathy black hole, or does it suck in all of your light? The resentment - "why are you here now enjoying my two blessings when you couldn't be bothered to call after any of my miscarriages" - has got to be monumentally strong. That "something else" that you get from the relationship would have to be equally strong. I don't know what would qualify, actually. Maybe nothing.

And maybe that's when you let a relationship fade.

Kath said...

Dear Melissa, this is such a very good question. It's so complex, too, that I think my answer could change from one day to the next... but here's my gut reaction right now:

Some friends will let you down in the worst moments. For some, it's a matter of character; for others, it's a function of where they are in their lives right now. Looking back on my worst crises, I was so wrapped up in my own pain that I'm sure I wasn't hearing distress signals sent by others, so I wonder if I was the best kind of friend myself. Also, some friends who disappointed me greatly during one miscarriage were absolutely wonderful during another. So what I'm trying to say, I think, is that it's worth just waiting and seeing how things develop. Accepting the friend, acknowledging the hurt, and just giving the friend the benefit of the doubt -- until you're sure things are not getting any better. Then those sorts of friendships tend to dissolve of their own accord.

The thing with Courtney sounds familiar. I have a friendship like that. I just don't think it's helpful at all to spell it out the way she has...

I think infertility is a huge, huge challenge for friends. It's sort of a permanent crisis, isn't it? And someone who is in a permanent crisis -- without a debilitating disease or other "visible" manifestation -- can be hard to do justice to as a friend, I imagine. We hurt constantly, we need constantly, and we feel slighted easily. We tend to pay great attention to wording; we need comfort, but many varieties of comfort make us upset... I'm getting a bit agitated just typing this, and wonder if some friends just don't get tired of their thankless job.

Anonymous said...

It's not fine to just jump in for the celebration. Everyone has these fair weather friends - and it's not that they're bad people, necessarily but they're not *your* people. They might be true friends to someone else but they're not true friends *to you*.

You don't owe them what you owe your true friends, and they can't expect it of you. You can give, sure, but they can't expect.

One of the things you don't owe them is the opportunity to celebrate fully in your moments of joy. Sure, they can come to the party and make small talk around the chips and dip, but they'd better leave at a polite hour and they'd better make all the right comments about the food and the decorations. They won't be staying for the after-party. They're not allowed.


They are, as you put it, friendships-once-removed. Pickers and choosers of the moments in your life they want to be a part of.

Now, this isn't to say friendships can't wax and wane, and go through phases, and be true friendships one year and friendships-once-removed the next and then true friendships again at some point in the future. But I think when a friendship is true it's making some effort to catch up for those times lost in between.

Being here, now, isn't enough. It's being here, now, trying to find out what I missed.


Anonymous said...

Oh, and I was going to go out on a limb and comment on the kids involved aspect, even though I have none (because damnit, I think I've got as much chance of saying something relevant or at least thought-provoking as half the parents I know and I'm sick of being told otherwise). (I'm happy to be told I've missed the mark on this one, just not that my opinion should never be expressed.)

I guess my first comment was aimed at the idea that you don't have to keep these people out of your life (and therefore your kid's lives). It's a matter of accepting, without anger or resentment, the limits of your friendship with these people and the fact they're not where you hoped they'd be. And trying to allow their relationship with your children to develop independantly of their relationship with you.

Am I getting anywhere near what you're trying to say?


lunarmagic said...

This speaks to me. I had a friend, let's call her Megan. Megan and I were best friends once upon a time, and yet we drifted. And I felt angry but didn't know why.... but you just clarified it for me: she wasn't there for me for the ups and downs of life, the day to day, and yet when something major happened she jumped in as if she were my best friend. I don't work like that. I'm able to reconnect to people whom I don't have a day to day relationship with... that's fine... but don't *expect* to be in the inner circle. (And all that wasn't during my infertility time, so I wasn't dealing with all of this, thank goodness.)

But I totally agree with you... you can't just jump in and only share in the good things. My best friends know the good and the bad. And THEY will be the ones really celebrating with me.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Kath. No one understood me when I was going through infertility and very few people really came through for me when I had my miscarriage (at 13 weeks). I think many people just didn't know what to say. Shortly thereafter, I went through a really difficult divorce (police, court orders, the works) and there too I had limited support, even from people who should have been there for me.

I guess I've learned to accept that people do what they can and that some people aren't as strong, able, caring or sensitive as I wish they were.

Maybe instead of feeling anger toward those who didn't support me, I feel particularly close to those who did.

I'm sure there have been times when I let other people down too - times I'm not even aware of.

Frances said...

I've learned that some people just have no idea how to react to another's loss and pain...especially people how haven't experienced it themselves. And there's also guilt; many friends who've had a nice run in the babymaking department know deep down how sweet they've had it; perhaps to a degree they feel like "who am I to comfort her when I know nothing of her pain?"

I'm not liking your friend Courtney. To put boundaries on a friendship like that - to arbitrarily decide you're just not going to make a better effort - that's just weird. I don't think Courtney deserves the good or the bad. But as you alluded, your other friends do. Because they deserve to know the whole picture; they deserve to know the nuances of your happiness or sadness.

Anonymous said...

I learned after my miscarriages that there are some people who I thought were friends, and others who are simply casual acquaintances. I THOUGHT we were friends, but really, if someone isn't willing to be there for the good and the bad, then what is the point of the friendship?
Basically, now, if I see someone who ignored me or never bothered to call when I had losses, I am polite to them, but we're not close anymore. And I don't want them to be close to my kids, because I don't want my kids to learn lousy values.

People who ignore the losses of infertile couples and grieving parents simply have poor character. I used to make excuses, "It's uncomfortable." "It's part of N.American culture." "It's rare, so they're unprepared, and don't know how to react."
But really, that's the BS I used to tell myself, so I wouldn't have to face the horrible truth that my "friends" were shitty human beings.
The cemetary where my son is buried is 300 years old. It has many graves of stillborn and miscarried children, all named and honoured in the family plots. But there is a gap, from 50 years ago to about 10 years ago, no babies, at least none with markers.
Years ago, our society had mourning rituals and everyone knew they had to do the right thing, even if it made them uncomfortable. So they did. Now---we seem to have no idea what to do, and we don't even want to try to be kind to others.

You are angry because you should be angry. You have been dismissed, and so have we.

I don't think your chapter should be changed. The world needs to know that we are angry, that we are unwilling to be the "good girls" who suffer silently anymore.

Anonymous said...

I think every infertile or person struggling with RPL has those friends who stop calling when you miscarry or get yet another BFN from an IVF cycle. Who just aren't there when you're at your lowest point, but who are more than willing to celebrate when there's good news to share.

Perhaps they're being selfish. But maybe they just don't know how to bring it up. Maybe their hearts are broken for us, and don't want to mention it because they don't want to be the person that reminds us of the hurt.

Perhaps they're not strong enough to stand in that circle with us and have their shirts soaked by our tears; because they don't know how to hold us up when we need them to.

It takes a really strong person to truly help someone through a crisis like a miscarriage and/or infertility.

And it's just reality that there are people who can't handle that kind of pain. It's THEIR coping mechanism - denial, the "we'll only speak of happy things" and the pain just goes away - that drives it.

What do we do with these people? Frankly, I classify my friends into categories. Mostly because I'm an accountant and this comes easy to me.

I have the "oh-my-god I just got really bad news from my doctor and I need to talk with someone now" friends. They're the first who will know when we have good news to share - these are the ones in the inner circle.

Then I have the perimeter friends. The ones in which I give the abriged version of our infertility because I know they just won't be supportive like I need them to be. And instead of being disappointed, I just choose not to share my pain with them. These are the ones who might get an email from us when good things happen, or I might just let my inner circle friends tell these people.

Every person in my life has a role to play. Some I keep closer to me than others. And the key is to know which ones will not give me the support I need. I don't fault them for it, but I do move them further away from me. And surround myself with the cocoon of people of whom I KNOW will be there for me when I am at my most down.

karen m said...

We've had problems before with various family members being less than supportive during the bad times. When we were going through infertility treatments, we got no family support at all. I found out much later that my mother was worried about my health - her grandmother died giving birth, and she was concerned that would be a problem. I wish she could have told me when we were going through everything.

We deliberately deal with both hubby's and my families on the most superficial of levels now. My best friend, on the other hand, has gone through the very same things we did - lots and lots of frustrating infertility treatments, and adoption waits of 2+years. Whenever I'm excited, sad, or in between about something or other, she's the one I call first.

I'm sad that I can't rely on our families, but at least we have *somebody*. There are people who don't even have that.

sarah said...

First of all, why should you shroud your anger for the general public? It's the truth and it isn't some irrational response that should be kept private.

I am a firm believer in the “if you want to know me, you get good and bad and must handle both well,” school of relationships. My feeling is that you don’t really know me unless you know all of me. Keeps the circle small but that’s how I roll. LOL.

DH comes from a family that pretends all is well and completely avoids anything that might not be positive. We struggled mightily with our very divergent styles and reached a compromise. It worked up until the day I realized we planned to see them for mother’s day and I was still struggling with our miscarriage and they never knew I was pg. I couldn’t spend time with them without them knowing or I’d never forgive DH or them for sitting beside me while I was in pain and doing nothing. He told them and it changed our relationship and our relationship to them.

In trying to put together your puzzle is it possible that you are trying to impose the same rules of engagement on everyone, when in fact the back stories mean the rules need to be changed to suit the situation? When you do see Courtney, do either of you spend time catching the other up on the moments in between or does she just care about the big things, with no interest in the smaller everyday moments that make up the rest of life? If the former, I’d make a place for her if your history with her warrants it and if the latter, make a smaller place for her in the back row.

My friend of 20 years isn’t in my life for the day to day – she lives several hours away and has a busy complicated life with lots of travel for work. I know she does her best to just keep her marriage alive, much less keep me afloat. I get that we are in different places right now and I think she does too. And regardless of how much time is passed, she always returns my calls and is always the first person I call when I’m crushed my sorrow or really happy. She knows all my secrets and knows me better than anyone, including my husband. I’ve known her too long to ever cut her loose. No one else in my life would ever be able to fill her shoes.

Karaoke Diva said...

When it comes to close friends and family, I expect a certain amount of involvement in the good and the bad, and I expect a certain amount of sensitivity from them. I have a "friend" with whom I am in a relationship exactly like the one you are describing. We had been friends for 17 years and yet she couldn't fathom what I was going through with IF.

For example: I spoke to her about how painful it can be to talk to "easy breeders" when you are dealing with IF and TTC. So what does she do? She goes on and on about how she went off the pill and instantly got pregnant. She didn't even try to see things from the other side. I've basically stopped talking to her. The only reason I will even call her to tell her my good news is that I need the maternity clothes box back. ;-)

Today I called to make an appointment with a new OBGYN. An OBGYN who does some "light" IF treatment and whose brother is one of the top IF specialists in my area. I'm talking to the receptionist for the OBGYN and the conversation goes like this:

"Are you pregnant?"
"Oh, congratulations! Is this your first child?"
"No, my second."
"I have 5 children."
"Well, we might have considered having more if we didn't have to go through so much to get pregnant."
"Oh, I told my husband all he has to do is wave himself over the bed and I'm pregnant! I have 17 grandkids now so I guess my kids are the same way!"

Um, yeah. Luckily she is a random stranger (however, who really should know better) and not a close friend or family member, or there would have been hell to pay.

Anonymous said...

There are degrees of friendship. You have close friends, friends, and acquaintances. And gradiations between those as well. I have friends who are there for me no matter what, and vice versa. I have friends who are 'fair weather' friends or casual friends. I know I can't count absolutely count on them with no reservations, and vice versa. As long as everyone knows where they stand in relation to one another gradiations of friendship are fine.

I think it's fine for some friends to just want to be there for the celebrations, or even ones who are there for the extremes of both high and low. Know who those friends are, and know who you can count on for the everyday support (which is the most important, really). You might differentiate them as 'real' and 'casual' friends or whatever other nomenclature you prefer the important point being to know who is whom.

Where it goes badly is when the communication is poor or one member of the relationship has more expectations than the other is willing to commit to. And it is of course unreasonable for someone to not be willing to be there for your low points but then expect you to be there for theirs. You might be willing to do that, but they have no right to expect it of you.

Anonymous said...

Doh. I'm the anonymous right after KD. Rev Matt (

Celeste said...

i think our ability to be there for people - even the closest of friends - has some flux. there has to be room for that, i think. for example, over the past 5 years, there have been times when i have just not been able to suck it up and share the joy a very close friend had when she found out she was pregnant. i didn't even send a gift for her baby shower. but if she'd had a crisis at that moment, i would have dropped everything for her.

sometimes it's easier to share someone's pain, and there are others when it's easier to share the joy. don't you think?

i've also had the experience of friends bowing out at particularly intense times in my life, and surely, that just wasn't cool.

on the other hand, there are people who can't respond adequately to pain or understnad the true dimensions of my joy. for me, that's my parents. and as a result, i don't share anything with them that i need a particular response for. i will have to share my children with them, but i will not allow myself to be hurt by their inability to share in my grief, and truly, in my joy. unfortunately, they no longer get to see the highs and the lows. those kinds of relationships are emotionally dangerous (to me anyway), and are the ones in which i have had to learn about boundaries.

i don't know that there's a real answer. it probably has something to do with emotional health and maturity, with understanding the range of relationship we can have with people - even with the same person at different times.

i no longer feel like anyone owes me anything. i now usually know who to go to amongst my friends when i NEED something and i know who can provide it. it leaves me feeling more peaceful and less often disappointed by wanting something that someone can't give me. it also allows me to interact with those who can't be there for me in those most intimate ways, now without resentment and bad feelings.

Anonymous Infertile said...

This is a good one! I can talk about the wonderful friends who I do have that have been there for me but the ones who haven't are the ones that started off good friends and now aren't.

I have a friend from high school who still calls me her best friend eventhough she knows nothing about my life right now. She knows that we started trying to have a baby 2 and a 1/2 years ago but does not ask me even if I am ok. We talk every month or so when it is usually me calling her. Never gets back to me in a timely manner so even if I was having a major meltdown and needed her help she has pretty much made the decision not to be there for me. Every once in a while we have a 'partial' chat about my infertility but I have not been able to go to her with any of my tears. But she sometimes asks and is always waiting for me to tell her that I am pregnant. She wants to celebrate with me but she doesn't want to be there for me all the cycles of tears.

Now that I have finally have some good news, I can't share it with her. I have thought about calling her - old habits die hard but then I get mad at myself for even wanting to talk to her. I am almost even more angry at her for her not being there for these past two years and don't want her to just be here to celebrate with us. Those that I will tell right now are the friends that have been by my side through all the crappy stuff.


Anonymous said...

This is an excellent question and one that I am dealing with daily. I have had two pregnancy losses in the past 16 months. Most recently, my son was born prematurely due to PPROM on 10/26 and lived 4 hours. As I lay recovering from my c-section in the hospital, my husband sat beside me and feverishly typed up a note to all of our friends and family explaining what had happened - that we lost Dane and that we would need some time to heal before connecting with them. But several friends immediately contacted me and expressed their sympathy...offering everything from a cassarole to a net flix subscription for the weeks of couch bound recovery.

Almost three months have passed and these amazing friends have been there for me in every way. But others still haven't called, emailed, or stopped by the house. Should I expect that or should I assume that since my husband said "give us a little time" that they are waiting for me to make the first contact? And, can I be upset with them, these friends that I have known for years, because they didn't make the first move?

Then, there is the friend whose four year old daughter just loves me to pieces. But when she asks why I haven't been over to play, she says that "She is just too busy to play with you." She can't tell her why. Is that my job? Am I supposed to explain to her daughter that my baby died and that is why I haven't been over to visit? So, for now, I'm just not going to visit. Is it my responsibility to educate my friend's children about pregnancy loss?

Maybe I'm being ridiculous...or maybe it's just too soon to look at this from a position of sanity.