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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Barren Advice: Eighteen

This is the eighteenth installment of Barren Advice. You can ask questions that are fertility or non-fertility related.

Barren Advice is posted each Tuesday-ish. If you have your own question for Barren Advice, click here to learn how to submit. Please weigh in with your own thoughts in the comment section and indicate which question you're addressing if there are multiple questions in the post.

Dear Mel:

I have a friend going through IVF right now, she's done one cycle without success and is probably going to do it again. She told everyone we knew that she was doing it, and I heard through the grapevine that it didn't take. My heart fell for her. I know she was devastated. I didn't want to call her that weekend and be another person saying “I’m so sorry…” When she called me earlier this week I didn’t know what to say to her. What’s the ‘etiquette’ in a situation like this? I felt like a schmuck.


I know the instinct is to not say anything but silence is ten times worse than hearing one more "I'm sorry." While it depends on the person and there are certainly people who would rather not have anyone bring up failed cycles (and have a lot of fear that the words come from pity rather than a desire to support), many more would rather have the acknowledgment and empathy. Talking about it will not make them think about something they've forgotten about; regardless of whether or not they're bringing it up, they are most certainly thinking about it. Those grieving don't forget to grieve.

There are ways to offer support that help more than others. Calling them and asking for a play-by-play of the low-beta phone call isn't helpful. Getting a vibe that they don't want to talk about it because they're giving you single-word answers and still picking at the subject isn't helpful. Offering sympathetic words about the cycle while you're in the middle of a large group of people isn't helpful.

But sending a short email that they can open and read when they are ready can go a long way. Showing up on their doorstep with a pint of ice cream if you're a good friend says that you recognize the emotional pain that goes with a failed cycle. Send a card, make a phone call, leave a message on their answering machine, or take them out for drinks to commiserate.

The point is that silence is usually equated with something shameful and a failed cycle is not shameful--it's sad. In the same vein, the loss of a child is not shameful and a broken adoption match is not shameful. These are all sad events that need to be spoken about lest the person feel like a pariah rather than a member of a community who is undergoing a type of loss.

There was a Twilight Zone episode where the criminals were marked with a scar on their forehead and people in society knew never to speak to them or interact with them. The criminal scoffed at this punishment at first and thought life would go on as usual. He would still get to go to restaurants, see movies, relax in his home. But what he didn't count on is how much we need human contact. How much we need hugs and kind words and empathy.

By the end of the episode, he's running through the streets, grabbing people by their jacket lapels and screaming at them to look at him. And that's how people sometimes feel when they are undergoing a loss (whether it is a failed cycle, divorce, death of a spouse or child, etc). They are obviously there--still part of society--but suddenly, people are avoiding them. Or interacting with them while uncomfortably avoiding this huge topic in their life. It makes you want to grab someone by the lapels and shake them until they address the elephant in the room.

Next time she calls, admit that you know that her cycle failed and how sorry you are. Ask if you can make her dinner the next time she cycles or if you can take her out for drinks so she can vent. Let her know that your shoulder is a safe shoulder to cry on and you won't jerk it away no matter how uncomfortable it can be to see another person in emotional pain.

No really, the beauty of a blog advice column is that you get to weigh in with your two cents too. Let the questioner know if you support the advice, add to the response, or dispute it completely.

Leave a comment in the reaction box below--only keep in mind that conflicting advice is embraced and rudeness is not. Want to ask your own question? Click here to see what you need to send in order to be included in a future Tuesday's installment of Barren Advice


MrsSpock said...

I'm a big fan of sending the email. It acknowledges the disappointment or loss, but gives them the control over when they open and read it.

Dora said...

That is such an awesome answer. Nothing I can add to that, 'cept brava!

Anonymous said...

I agree that silence and denying are much more hurtful than an "extra" I'm sorry could ever be.

A note, an email, a message all allow the recipient to control when they want to hear from you, but let them know you're thinking of them.

Anonymous said...

Agree with the email and/or a card. Both are something that can be opened up and read again at 2 in the morning when things are feeling extraordinarily yucky.

And I'm a huge fan of going out for drinks if the friend is up for it. My failed IVF culminated with a negative beta on my birthday... Long story short, I look back on that day with a whole lot of love in my heart for the friends who were willing to be there when it really, truly counted.

Baby Smiling In Back Seat said...

I second the comments that unless you are a close friend, email or card is better than phone call or in-person visit. Easier to modulate emotions that way.

Mel, only you would bring up that Twilight Zone episode! I love it.

Happy Anniversary to you and Josh!

luna said...

just call me scarlet. you know, with a letter branding me.

also a big fan of email.

Brenda said...

I third, or fourth the email/note advice. I've also found that pregnancy announcements are easier to take in an email. Great advice as always Mel.

chicklet said...

My preference is always the email or text, so I can deal with it in my own way/time. Sometimes even a phonecall with a mention of it - although well-intentioned - makes me want to get off the phone and shoot something. Not shoot them, but something, anything, because I personally get so tired of people being sorry for me, that I'm the one people are sorry for. It's not their fault I feel this way, these are my own issues with it, but sometimes I really REALLY don't want to talk about it, even with my bestest friend, so for me, the email or text is perfect. It shows me they know, they cared enough to acknowledge it, but they gave me my space and did it in a way I like.

nonlineargirl said...

For me, I would always prefer "I am so sorry" than silence. I was pretty open about the process I went through, so a fair number of people knew.

Someone who doesn't tell a lot of people may not want to hear sympathy comments, but if she was open about going through it, I say tell her you are sorry it didn't work.

Smiling said...

what a great post.. It is spurring me to write a post on an example of what your employer SHOULD NOT ever every do.

"Those grieving don't forget to grieve."

So true.

As for support, I have really appreciated text messages (outside of office hours). It is short and sweet, easy to respond to, and I can I can glance through the little bite sized support where ever I go on my phone. If I tear up, I don't try to be strong in front of someone.

KandiB said...

So true...silence is the worst. The only thing I'd add is to just listen. Don't offer advice or stories of people who "tried for years and it finally happened." This is her story and her life and she's lucky to have a friend who cares and who will be there for her.

Anonymous said...

Silence and denial are the worst. I think people want to help make the hurt go away that they try to add a bunch of comments to focus on the future or the positive. For example, as someone mentioned, a friend might say "This stinks but I know someone who got pregnant after she stopped trying"

Just don't. Just say That sucks. Leave it at that. All that focus on future stuff hurts so much. It just piles on more shame. Don't feel like you need to add any more. Let your friend own the suckiness, don't take it away from them. You can't. Just the simplicity of you being there, feeling the depth of just how much it sucks, means everything.

Jamie said...

I agree - email is the best option.

It hit me like a ton of bricks to read this.

"The point is that silence is usually equated with something shameful and a failed cycle is not shameful--it's sad."

It rings so true and I have never been able to give it a word but that is exactly it. It makes it feel shameful. I'm not the kind of person that wants sympathy and I sure as hell don't want advice but I desperatly needed someone to acknowledge my losses.

astral said...

We do need human contact. I used to worry too about what to say. Now I just say what my heart feels usually in a card if it's not someone I know or an email. A close friend I will visit.

Bea said...

Another good answer. Sometimes I would have just died for even a text message acknowledgement. At the same time, I didn't need to be made to go over it and over it with people, but to know that they were thinking of me and prepared to talk if I wanted... priceless.