Conversations with Insensitive Friends with Regards to IF

I just read an excellent post and it spurred a super long comment from me (what is new) and I wanted to share my thoughts here. It is a topic that I think we might all have different opinions on, and I am genuinely interested in hearing your thoughts/experiences.

Basically the topic was about folks (friends or family) being insensitive by going on and on about something that is hurtful to us as IFers.  The author asked, honestly, if it was too much to ask for someone not to go on and on about something so obviously hurtful to someone they knew was IF.  In this case that was blessings of being a mother.  That isn't the whole story, but the point here is about those encounters with people being insensitive to those with IF.

As always, I have some opinions on the general subject, and I thought I would share and get your thoughts as it is clearly relevant to all of us.  Here is, in a nutshell, are my thoughts on the topic.

I think it is reasonable to be upset with someone for being rude and insensitive.  Personally, I want to say I don't think it is too much to ask for someone to be sensitive to an known IFer friend; however, life/experience has told me that maybe it is. I mean, I don't think in most cases the folks are trying to be idiots. But they are insensitive quite frequently.  I am appalled at all the stories I hear over and over again on blogs re: friends being insensitive.  And I hate to see how much it hurts the girls I care about. So I have come to conclude that they just can't step into someone else's shoes very well. 

Additionally, I have learned something else from the blogs. Some things that bother other IFers would not necessarily bother me and vice versa. I have heard people say they want pregnancy announcements done in a specific way (ahead of time or whatever) or maybe they don't want someone to act toward them any differently.  In some cases "special treatment" can be hurtful.  There isn't 100% consensus.

Of course, it makes sense all IFers aren't the same. And we have different things that bug us like anyone else. And I can't expect someone else to know that. Of course, I can be known for giving someone too much the benefit of the doubt.  However, here is the thing, if you set parameters and someone still doesn't respect them, then I think you have every right to be frustrated and they should be confronted about that in an appropriate way. But I think we all have rules in our mind that others just don't know, even if the rules are perfectly reasonable.

So here is my solution.  If it is someone that it is worth it to you (you will see repeatedly, you are close to, etc) share what expectations you have with her (kindly of course and not when you are upset) so that she can follow what would work best for you.  I know that is what I would want if I were friends with someone with a sensitive issue-just to be told some parameters if I didn't already intuitively know them.  I go back to a favorite phrase: those that matter won't mind and those that mind don't matter!

Honestly, the first thing I thought of reading others' stories of insensitive remarks is would I have known that?  Would I have made that same mistake?  I certainly have put a few "foot in mouth" before not knowing things I should have.  I mean, I have learned a ton from you girls, but still there isn't a consensus and everyone is unique.  I wonder, is someone wanting the same things I would want to hear/know after a miscarriage, or is her situation specific to her?  I worry and wonder and agonize over wording of cards.  And then there are the situations I am much less familiar with (IVF, divorce, terminal illness...)  these are things I have little experience with and am much more likely to step my foot in it with a true friend during a long conversation.

So those are my thoughts and I am curious what yours are on this subject.  Have you had good luck outlining expectations with folks?  Is it just too awkward?  I mean, I have a very upfront honest personality.  I am not shy, and so I tend to error on the other side and be too blunt.  I may be suggesting something that is unreasonable to those that tend to avoid confrontation etc.  Or what are your suggestions for dealing with this situation.  IFers want to know :)


Brenda @ Life As We Know It said...

You managed to say what I can never quite get out: That we have "rules" in our head but the rest of the world doesn't know what they are:)

And you would think a lot of it is common sense. But if you have never dealth with IF personally or through a friend/loved one, people just don't understand. Their ignorance is an opportunity to gently let them know that it bothers you.

But this is probably the exception. Some people are just nosy, rude, and self absorbed:)

Chasing said...

Here's my 2 cents. I think a lot of times people try to make others feel "better" by telling them that they don't have it as bad as so-and-so or the speaker (this always backfires) or they want the person to run the show and won't ask or check in unless it is initiated by the IFer. I don't think either is a great idea (although some my differ from me). I have always found that when someone shares a difficult experience or cross the best thing I can say is, "I am so sorry________ (that you are going through that, for your loss, etc.)." Most women don't want you to solve their problems or understand that their problems are a "quick fix" anyway. I think the simple acknowledgment that they are going through something extra-ordinary is the best way to be a friend.

WheelbarrowRider said...

Chasing, that is so true. My mom's way of "helping" the situation used to make it worse, simply due to our different styles of coping. Like what she said when I got one of my dx from dr. h about not ovulating ever, "maybe they are wrong." I didn't want them to be wrong. I wanted Dr. H to know exactly what he was talking about including his ability to FIX things. I clung to that belief and I didn't need her shaking it. Of course, she was well-meaning, and my mom!, so I had to just say, hey that actually isn't what i need to hear right now and this is why and then she understood. Your advice about others is true to me, just someone acknowldeging is helpful, as is someone checking in to see how I am doing. Brenda, I completely agree with your comment as well-well put!

Olya said...

I soooo agree with you. For some reason people (all people, not just IFs) think that their friends can read their mind and get upset when they don't follow their rules. Well, most people WILL follow the rules if we tell them what the rules ARE. If you never tell me about the difficulties you are having how on earth will I ever know? Most people really do want to be polite, I think.

simone said...

Personally I just want others to show some compassion for IF women. I have had some really nice coworkers come up to me and tell me privately that they got pg and that they did not want to hurt me or brag etc. We had a nice chat and everything was fine. My younger sister was the worst bc she kept TTC a secret from me and then called me up to tell me she was 3 ms pregnant and was going to announce it at a family event the next week. I was in total shock and said "that's nice" which I thought was fine since I was about to cry. She was the one who got really mad at me bc I did not follow her rules. She then went on to tell me that I should be glad that she is not having the same problem bc she got PG right away. She never mentioned anything about being sorry for me. Then I sent her a link to a website about being sensitive to IF and she got even more mad....so now I wondering if there are rules that preg women expect others to follow?

Complicated Life said...

I don't even think I have "rules." I would just like people to make an attempt at being sensitive to my situation.For example, if a friend gets pregnant and doesn't tell me right away, I don't get upset, or if they tell me to my face right when they find out, that's ok too. I don't expect them to know what I would "prefer" (though, truthfully, I have no preference). I often give people the benefit of the doubt, I know they don't mean things maliciously. I often just end up feeling like people don't think of it at all and are generally more self-absorbed. That sounds harsh, but I'm not sure how else to explain it. Referring to my post that spurred all this, I had just told that friend I was IF and then she starts spiritualizing pregnancy and breastfeeding. I think that is just plain inconsiderate.

Frankly, I don't like calling these protocols "rules." I don't think we can expect to control people (which isn't what I think you mean, but what it kind of sounds like). I tend to just think that when someone does something that really hurts us, or does little things repeatedly, we should just plainly tell them that it hurt. I did that with a friend who would always try to relate my IF to her waiting to get engaged and ended up talking more about engagement than letting me say anything about our struggle. I told her that it was important to me that she recognize they are different. We walked away from that conversation much better off; I wasn't angry with her and she knew how I felt.

WheelbarrowRider said...

I appreciate you giving me the benefit of the doubt b/c you are right, rules isn't what I meant and sounds harsh, like IFers are prescriptive. See, I am often the one that needs the compassion and explaining, lol. I do agree in your situation that the person was clearly so self-absorbed that she totally didn't get it. And I love your example about how you were honest with your friend and it helped.
I can imagine how hurtful that must have been with your sister, especially when you tried to talk to her about what would have helped and she got hurt. It is hard to work with people that put a wall up and I agree, she def had her own set of "rules". :(

Olya said...

oh, I am sorry, I didn't mean control when I said rules, what I meant to say is tell us about your struggles so that we don't offend you. Tell us what hurt your feelings because different people are sensitive to different words. And ABSOLUTELY tell people when their words offend you.
CL, what your friend did was insensitive on so many levels, like parading her ability to have children in front of you after you TOLD her about your problem and boasting about her spirituality. If I were you I would tell her how you felt, but then again, I am blunt and would rather tell people when they sin against me. Hope you don't feel judged by my post, it wasn't at all what I was saying and was unrelated to your situation.

Complicated Life said...

Oh no, I haven't felt judged at all. I think this has been a great discussion! And I know people didn't mean "rules" in the controlling sense, but I just wanted to point out that maybe a different word could be better suited. I totally understand what you mean though. And on another note, sometimes I wish I could be more blunt! :)

Suzie-Q T-Pie said...

I completly agree! I am shocked sometimes at other IF'rs sensitivity to some things, things that would not get me that upset. I have a pretty high tolerance to PG announcments and baby showers. But I do have problem with people who KNOW that I am struggling and still want to shove it in my face about them being pg or not wanting kids. I just recently posted on this... I just think that people should use their heads and if they know that someone is having a hard time with something, then you don't bring it up with them. But I am not very outspoken when it comes to telling people that they have hurt my feelings. I usually brew about it at home and then let it go. I do wish I could be more outspoken about my feelings, but I don't want people to have to feel like they are walking on egg shells around me. I just want them to use their heads!

Cathy said...

Boy, this has really been an excellent, eye-opening discussion. Thanks, ladies!

We can't expect the world to know our problems, and we can't fault people who say the wrong thing if they don't know it's a cross for us.
We can only expect a modicum of common sense from folks who DO know our particular crosses.
Regarding family size, I'd like an old-fashioned return to not asking about it unless the person brings it up and asks for advice.
No more, "When are we gonna hear the pitter patter of little feet?" and "Soooo, two? Is that all you're going to have?"

I know that's way too much to ask. Society has already moved towards a level of "openness" or "prying" that it has never seen before, and we can't go back.
That horse is out of the barn.

Still, I wish people besides IFers would stop and think about IF every once in a while.
(Again, I know it's probably not going to happen.)

Awaiting a Child of God:) said...

I always try to remind myself that people don't really understand what others are going through unless they have experienced it on some level themselves. For example, as horrible as this sounds, I have never really reached out and made dinner or wrote a letter, to those I know who have had miscarriages. I have prayed for them and let them know that I am thinking of them, but haven't gone beyond that. Then, when it came to me losing my baby, I was overwhelmed with love from friends and family. I received letters, meals, flowers, books, etc. Having gone through this experience, I realize how important it is to reach out and comfort those who experience this. I now will change the way I handle these situations when other people go through them. So, my point comes down to this...Although we don't understand what people might be going through, it is so important to stop and put yourself in that situation. If we don't do this, then we can easily hurt others without even realizing it.

I know that this makes so much sense but honestly, people these days are so consumed with their own lives that they don't take the time to really think about others. Even with stating this though, it is still really important to express your feelings to those important to you. Some of my friends and coworkers still carry on in conversations about babies ALL THE TIME! The other night at supper club I just broke down and had to go into the other room. Finally, i came back out and just had to tell my girls how sensitive of an issue this was. Of course they were sorry, but I don't think they realized it until they saw me broken down. I guess before that, they thought I was over it or that I could handle it.

I think it is perfectly fine to stand up to yourself in this situation. If you are uncomfortable or unsatisfied with how people are handling this topic, to me there is nothing wrong with stepping up and expressing your feelings.

Last thing, I rarely hear of people in my community struggling with IF. I think that people are embarrassed or uncomfortable about sharing this information with others. Therefore, I think that people don't realize how much of an issue IF really is. I don't think people realize how many people really struggle with it. Because it isn't something that is "common", although it is, people don't realize just how widespread it really is.

Megan said...

This is a great post, and just having experienced a miscarriage, I posted about the insensitive comments, which unfortunately were from my mother, but she is overly practical and just can't seem to understand despite my attempts at explanation.
As for IF, I personally have never experienced this, but I have a good friend who has and a SIL who has experienced 3 miscarriages. I am the type of person that agonizes over what to say because I am hyper aware of possibly putting my foot in my mouth, and I desperately want to be sensitive to the feelings of others.
I think that if you feel comfortable, it would be nice to discuss parameters or your feelings with the person. My IF friend discussed it with a few of us friends, and it really helped us monitor ourselves so that we could be sensitive to her. After all, there is more to our lives than just being mothers, and we can grow closer in other areas of our lives. And now, this friend, just adopted a baby girl, and we could not be happier for her! She has waited 10 years for this, and knowing her struggle has made my heart burst with an even greater joy for her!
Also, I agree that family size is something that shouldn't be judged. As faithful Catholics who accept the Church's teaching on contraception, I think it is all too easy to wonder, but my friend's sister also struggled with IF, and she was able to have 2 children after surgery to remove her endo, but then for medical reasons, she had to have a hysterectomy. She says that she she gets looks at mass all the time from people who assume she is using birth control. It is stories like these that force me to give people the benefit of the doubt unless they offer information that shows otherwise.
God has a different plan for all of us, and when we keep this in mind, I think we have the best shot at being sensitive to the feelings of others.

stacym88 said...

Although I've never commented (at least I don't think), it just so happens that I received a relevant email from a fellow IF friend today. One of the things she wrote made me sad, and I'm not sure how to respond. Here's what she wrote:

"I’ve thought about writing you several times in the last couple of months. I am hopeful that we can both end up with good news at some point (maybe at the same time), but it’s likely that one of us may have good news sooner than the other. And when I thought about writing you, I would always think that I didn’t want to process _________ and ___________ good news that day and lose another ally. That’s pretty terrible of me, but maybe you understand a little"

I do understand. It is painful to hear the pregnancy and birth announcements. I too struggle with these announcements at times. However, there is something comforting in hearing the announcement from someone who I know has struggled. As if it makes that person more "deserving" or something. When I had this thought, it kind of made me sick with myself a little. Who am I to say that one person is more deserving than another? All of the announcements are sharing the good news of our Lord's great miracle and I really want to try to see that in every one of the births and announcements. It is hard though.

Back to the announcements. What happens when a person who has carried the cross of IF does get pregnant? I wonder how they tell fellow IF friends, the "ally" as my friend's email put it. The announcement should be joyous, but it brings to light just one more thing that IF takes away from us. The ability to joyfully shout a pregnancy announcement from the rooftops. I don't know the answer, but I'm sure praying God shows me the way when I need to know.

Brenda @ Life As We Know It said...

I read through all the comments and now I've forgotten who said it but they asked if pregnant women had "rules">

I have no idea. I am pregnant with my 2nd after dealing with IF, then subfertility the second time around (can't really say I"m IF if I have a child:)). I think the kind of pregnant person you are depends on the kind of person you are anyway.

Iknow a huge weight for me was being SO close to my sister (she literally lives around the corner) who has 3 children but has lost her two most recent and is having subfertility issues. I just did NOT want to tell her I was pg. I felt GUILTY that it was me, and not her. I cried and cried when I told her and she was very graceful about it.

But even still, I can tell she is not in a place to sit and discuss details with me. She does not ask about my appts or my health/how I feel. And I don't offer that info. I only bring up very practical things like "hey, can I borrow your baby tub" or "can you watch Maggie while I go to the OB".

It really hurts me in a way that I have to hold back with my sister, my best friend. I think "why isn't she happy for me knowing how much I struggled?" it's really selfish of me in my opinion.

As hard as it is to NOT have her ask about my pregnancy, it would be even harder to know I was upsetting her or putting unneccesary strain on our relationship.

Okay, I don't know why I wrote all that. Just talking about "rules" for pregnant women made me think of all that.

But I guess I was trying give an example of the kind of person you are pre pregnancy dictates the kind of pregnant person you are:) I'm a highly guilt laden, overly worrisome, afraid to offend anyone kind of gal, so I'm a million times worse when pregnant!

Chasing said...

When it came time to tell my co-workers (one who is a friend and is also struggling with IF), I bought a card and told her that way before I told the others. I wanted to give her the opportunity to learn the news privately and not feel like she needed to act or feign happiness if I was right in front of her face. That's not saying that she wouldn't be happy, I just wanted to giver her the opportunity to react in a way that was natural for her. I guess that is the way I would have liked to hear the 32 or so pregnancy announcements of people I know IRL before we conceived.

mrsblondies said...

We all stick our foot in our mouth sometimes, but I do think that people should at least realize AFTER that their comment was insensitive and say so.

It's really frustrating to hear people who know we are dealing with IF talk about how they don't want any more kids, their BC methods, etc.

I definitely think that letting your friends know what your preferred way of hearing pregnancy announcements, etc is a great idea (I need to remember this).

Danya said...

I remember shopping with a pregnant "friend" at the time we were dealing with IF (she knew it well) and she decided that we should troll the maternity store for clothes for her. I walked through the store like a zombie in total disbelief of her insensitivity and grief over our IF. I could barely see or speak I was so overwhelmed with sadness. She is not my friend anymore (for many other selfish maneuvers since then). I think that if friends can not share your heart, and behave sensitively toward your pain, they are not worthy. After that, I actively prayed for God to send me good friends and HE most certainly has. My opinion is...ditch the" frenemies" ladies, they're the worst.