My first child was a honeymoon baby. There was no work involved in getting our son, just a little bit of prayer. Even our daughter didn’t require much work, just a few months of charting, a handful of negative pregnancy tests, and then that wonderful plus sign. It felt like a long time to have to wait, especially after our son, but it really wasn’t that long. I never thought I’d struggle to get pregnant. I always assumed that I’d be the fertile friend in my group.
When my husband and I learned we were expecting our first child, one of our initial concerns was about sharing our happy news with some of our friends who were struggling with infertility. We’d only been married for a short two weeks, after all—some of our friends had been married for years. We wanted to share our joy with them, but we also knew our joy would be a punch in the gut for them. They would want to smile and celebrate with us, but it would hurt as well. It was a pain I didn’t really understand then.
I understand it now though.
I assumed I’d always be the fertile friend. I assumed I’d get pregnant as soon as we were ready to welcome another child into our family. We expected to have at least four kids, with two to three years between each. We wanted to be radically open to life by joyfully welcoming what the world would consider a large family. We expected that getting pregnant would be easy, just like it had been the first time. But then it took a few months to get pregnant with our second, and we became acquainted with the process of charting, and waiting, and planning, and testing. It was not a fun experience, but it was blessedly short.
I thought we really struggled to get pregnant that second time. And we did. It was a struggle for me to face that negative test for the third month in a row. It was a struggle to allow myself to hope that this month would be different, only to have those hopes dashed in the end. But that struggle was nothing compared to this time around. We just dabbled with infertility last time. I Googled the definition once, but spent most of my time telling myself it was too soon to tell. And it was. Because soon enough, we had our daughter, and our fear of infertility faded away.
For years, I assumed I would be the fertile friend.
I assumed my biggest struggle would be tamping down my joy when sharing our big news with friends who struggled with infertility. I assumed I would need to practice being happy, but not too happy, because I didn’t want to open a wound. I assumed my friends who couldn’t conceive would appreciate my toned down excitement, my efforts to be sensitive to their pain. But now I know the truth. I had no idea what pain they were enduring. But now I do.
The truth is my wound is going to open regardless of what my friends do. They can tone down their joy and give me the perfect sympathetic smile, but it’s not going to matter. The pain will still be there. But I might not notice it in that moment of joy. My pregnant friend’s excitement is infectious. Her joy can really be shared. My smiles are real. I am happy for her, and I can share in her excitement. Her joy becomes mine. I can share in her pleasure, live vicariously through her joyful expectation.
My grief will come later when I am alone with my thoughts and fears. The pain will come later when there is no joy and excitement to distract me.
I will mourn in secret when the weight of my burden becomes too heavy to bear. The smiles are real, but they are tiring. My joy is real, but it leaves me exhausted. And so, after a day of joyful celebration, I rest. I put my feet up and let go. I ponder Christ’s words, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light” (Matthew 11:28-30). I am burdened. But I will learn from You, Lord. Let me find rest.
I never thought I’d be the infertile friend, but here I am. That has become my burden to bear. But my friends make that burden easier to carry. Their pregnancy announcements bring me joy. Their baby showers give me hope. Their newborns make me smile. Their happiness actually does make me forget the pain of infertility even as the wound reopens. The wound will always reopen during times like those, but my friends make the pain more bearable.
So my dear fertile friends? Don’t tamp down your joy. Be as happy as you need to be. Don’t tone down your excitement. I am happy for you. I am excited with you. Right now is your moment, and I will celebrate with you.
Later I will most likely mourn on my own, but on the off chance I want to nurse my wound with a friend, I know you’ll be there for me. You and that sweet baby of yours. You will mourn with me. You will share my pain. Because that’s what friends do. I feel your joy, and you feel my pain. Your joy becomes mine, and my pain becomes yours. We are friends, and fertile or not, we are there for one another. So thank you. And be happy.