I have two friends going through two very different experiences right now, experiences that I myself have already been through. I always appreciate when I can understand what someone is going through because I’ve been through it myself; I rely heavily on my past experiences when I relate to others. Except what happens when my past experiences don’t help me to understand what someone else is going through, because they are clearly processing things in very different ways than I did?
One of my friends is pregnant. She’s in the middle of her second trimester. She didn’t really tell anyone until she was almost 20 weeks. I saw her two times after she was 12 weeks (we don’t see each other very frequently) and she didn’t tell me about it because she didn’t feel ready. She is feeling a lot of ambivalence about being pregnant and having kids though she is clearly really excited (I think–she always told me she didn’t want kids so I was really surprised to hear she was pregnant, I didn’t even realize they were trying).
She is obviously experiencing pregnancy and impending motherhood very differently than I did. When she brings it up I always feel like I say exactly the opposite of what she expects. I know she appreciates hearing about my how I experienced certain aspects of my pregnancies, but I get the feeling what I went through has little relevance to what she is going through. I’m trying to reach out and be there for her in whatever ways she needs me, but I’m increasingly unsure of what those ways are.
My other friend (actually, she is a mutual friend) is trying to get pregnant. From what I understand it’s been about a year, though she wasn’t “really trying” (as she put it) for the first six months. She has been using OPKs since June and had one chemical pregnancy in August (the same month our other friend got pregnant–they were evidently both trying at the same time and had been talking to each other about how it was going).
I have tried to reach out, sending open-ended messages and bringing it up gently when we’re together, but dropping it quickly when she chooses not to pursue the subject. She doesn’t seem upset about any of it. I know she feels some ambivalence about pregnancy and delivery and her overall attitude about having a baby is very different than mine was when I was trying. She seems genuinely okay with the fact that she isn’t pregnant yet; I’m assuming she’s not worried that it hasn’t happened yet but I haven’t asked her about that specifically. I’m never quite sure how to proceed when I talk to her, so usually I just don’t bring it up. She doesn’t seem upset that our friend’s pregnancy started at the same time as hers ended; a situation that would have been really hard for me to handle seems to be a non-issue for her. I know when I was failing to get pregnant it was all I wanted to talk about and I felt nobody understood. I was desperate for someone to recognize my struggle and validate my feelings. It’s hard not to approach her experience with my own in mind, even when it seems clear she is processing it in totally different ways than I did.
I want to be there for my friends, and they are dealing with situations that I have intimate knowledge of, and yet I never seem to know what to say. I never considered the possibility that my friends and I could experience the same things so differently; I feel like my own experiences are actually hindering my ability to relate to them.
Maybe I am over thinking this. Maybe I’m doing a fine job of being there for my friends. I just want to make sure that I’m giving them what they need. I know how hard it was for me when I was trying to get pregnant and then (ironically) when I finally was pregnant–I would hate to find out later that my friends needed support that I wasn’t providing. Even if our shared experiences don’t help me relate to what they are going through, I hope it will at least ensure that I reach out in the ways I wished others had reached out to me (even when I had no idea what I needed or how to ask for it).
So how to proceed? Do I tell them how I’m feeling, assure them I want to support them in any way I can and ask them what they need? Or do I just try to push my own experiences to the background and attempt to intuit their needs based on the cues they give? I want to be a good friend, and I’m kind of flabbergasted that, in these two situations, I really don’t know how.
Have shared experiences ever hindered your ability to relate to those you wanted to support? How did you handle it?