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.
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.
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