RELATING WELL WITH OTHERS THROUGH ONE OF THE MOST DIFFICULT SEASONS OF YOUR LIFE CAN BE INCREDIBLY CHALLENGING.
WHICH IS WHY WE CREATED THIS SERIES TO EQUIP YOU WITH PRACTICAL WAYS TO RELATE WELL WITH YOUR FAMILY, SPOUSE AND FRIENDS. WE HOPE YOU CAN DO MORE THAN SIMPLY SURVIVE YOUR DEAREST RELATIONSHIPS.
I remember one of my earliest moments of feeling left out of the baby club.
As the only non-mom at a friend’s baby shower, I stuck out like a sore thumb. Everyone else there had a story to share about some weird pregnancy side effect or an embarrassing parenting mishap or the thrill of hearing their babies’ first heartbeats.
My mama friends were smiling and laughing, and I wanted to join them. But I couldn’t relate to what they were talking about. It wasn’t like they were trying to hurt me; it was that they were celebrating something I wanted, but didn’t have yet. Because of that difference between us, and the soreness it brought upon me, I counted down the minutes until I could run away from them and go cry alone in my car.
This is a common reaction when suffering infertility. Grief can give us tunnel vision, narrowing our focus to only our own needs and desires, shutting out the needs and desires of others. Our self-preservation instinct kicks in and motivates us to block whatever might be triggering our pain.
This impulse isn’t completely wrong. Taking time to grieve and process our emotions can facilitate healing and direct our eyes to our loving Father, as we cry out like David: “Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing; heal me, O Lord, for my bones are troubled” (Psalm 6:2). The downside is we don’t or can’t pay attention to other people.
When I was in the thick of our struggle, I mainly thought about myself. I viewed every experience from my perspective, and didn’t take the time to consider what others might be going through – especially my mama friends. It seemed as though they’d moved on and dismissed me, so I, in turn, dismissed them.
Friends, this attitude isn’t OK. As Christians, we’re not called to merely be “nice” to others. We’re to love them and treat them as important: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3).
When interacting with our friends who are pregnant or already have living children, we can love them well, even in the midst of our sadness and unfulfilled longing. Though our emotions try to convince us that’s a nearly impossible feat, we can, through the power of the Holy Spirit, approach this hard calling by looking at specific areas that affect how we treat friends who are mothers: mind and heart (attitude); mouth and hands (action).
It’s difficult to view our mama friends accurately when we’re facing infertility. We need to keep in mind a few truths about them, about us, and about the Lord, while praying for a renewed heart of love toward them.
We get frustrated with friends who are moms because “they don’t get us.” The truth is, they don’t! How could they? Unless they’ve also experienced the heartbreak of infertility, they can’t completely understand what we’re going through or how we’re feeling. Getting mad at them for this is wrong and unhelpful. Let’s acknowledge that their inability to relate isn’t their fault.
Try to empathize
On the flip side, we don’t “get them.” Because we don’t have living children and/or haven’t been pregnant, we can’t understand their pain, worries, and frustrations. We need to recognize that our mama friends might be experiencing a range of difficulties similar to ours, but in a different context: fear, loneliness, and hormonal upheaval. Just as we want our mama friends to be supportive, we should also offer support to them.
Most people act and comment out of ignorance, not malice. Because they haven’t walked in our specific type of suffering, friends who are moms do and say things that hurt us. Or, they don’t do or say things because they’re afraid they’ll make things worse. We need to remember that these words and actions are almost always unintentional, and that we also have been in situations where we said and did things that hurt others because we were ignorant and didn’t know how to help.
The sharp pain of hearing a pregnancy announcement or seeing a baby bump is undeniable when you’ve never conceived or lost your baby. The prick to our hearts isn’t sinful; it’s the poisonous root we let grow that destroys us from within: “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled” (Hebrews 12:15). Because the Spirit lives in us, we can pray and ask Him to lead us. Instead of letting sin rule our hearts and ruin our relationships, we can commit our pain to our Comforter and bear His good fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Set hope in the right place
We all tend to set expectations for others that only Jesus can meet. It’s human nature to feel disappointed and wounded by others because we’re emotional beings, and because humans aren’t perfect. We sin against each other, and lack the all-knowing understanding to do the right thing at the right time. Rather than hold our mama friends (or anyone else) to an impossible standard of encouragement, let’s remember that Christ is the anchor of our souls, our refuge and strength, and our ultimate comforter.
One of the best ways we can soften our hearts toward someone is to pray for them. I don’t mean pray that God will convict your mama friend of being a jerk to you and motivate her to be more supportive. Instead, pray that He’ll continue working in her life in ways that glorify Him and grow her in faith. And pray that God will move you with compassion to seek a restored and mutually uplifting friendship with her.
As we shift our attitude toward our friends who are mothers, we can take practical steps to break down barriers that infertility might have introduced between us and rebuild our relationships with the goal of better communication and greater unity.
Be assured – awkward and painful moments will come when interacting with friends who are expecting or already have kids. Though we can’t predict every possible scenario, we can be wise and plan what to say in certain situations so that we’re not blindsided by the shock of a hurtful comment or query. Write out an elevator pitch for how you and your spouse will respond to common questions people ask (for example, “When are you going to start a family?”) and pray that God will give you strength and peace when entering a situation that could present triggers.
Call or invite your mama friend over to talk privately about your infertility struggles and your relationship with her. Tell her you’re reaching out because you value her friendship and, despite the hard reality of your suffering, want to continue investing in her and enjoying time together. Then, share openly about your perspective and the emotions you’re experiencing.
Advise and listen
Once you’ve opened up about how you’re feeling – including some things your friend might have said or did that made you sad or angry – tell her how she can help. Be as specific as possible, because those who go through infertility have different preferences about what encourages them and what upsets them. For example, explain:
When and how you want to hear about their pregnancy.
What makes you sad – not getting invited to a baby shower, feeling excluded from conversations that are only about children and motherhood, etc.
When/how/if you want her advice.
Once you’ve had your say, give her time to process your suggestions, ask questions, and share her feelings about your relationship with one another.
Set healthy boundaries
Saying “no” in a loving manner can be a good, healthy, and godly habit. Depending on the timing and circumstance, it might be wise for you to decline invitations to baby showers, dedications, birthdays, etc. if sorrow threatens to overwhelm you in those contexts. Decline graciously, and if beneficial, explain to your friend why it’s hard for you to come, and that you love her and will still encourage her from afar.
Remember that you’re walking through grief and are more sensitive right now. You don’t need to feel guilty about this, but rather acknowledge that it’s hard to interact with others while feeling such deep ache. Also remember that your friend who is a mom is a human and will disappoint you, either intentionally or not. We’re all imperfect; we all face trials and would be lost without the saving grace of our Savior. He doesn’t abandon us in our suffering or our failures trying to help our friends. He invites us to draw near to the throne of grace, so we receive mercy and find grace to help in our needs, and in our friend’s needs.
God created us to live in community, to build each other up, and to love our neighbors – including our friends who seem to get pregnant easily while we’re left desperate for a positive test. By looking to Jesus as our greatest friend and burden-bearer, we can live like Him and embrace our mama friends “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2).
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Jenn Hesse - Content Developer - Jenn@waitinginhopeinfertility.com
Jenn Hesse is a writer/content developer at Waiting in Hope Ministries and leads a local infertility and infant loss support group called Graceful Wait, in the Northwest. She and has a passion for equipping women to know Christ through His Word. When she’s not teasing her husband or chasing after her two sons, she writes at her blog, www.jenhesse.com.