When It Doesn’t Help

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?

6 Comments

  1. I’ve had that happen, and I never quite know what to do. One friend took a year to get pregnant and was totally laid-back about the whole thing, despite being almost 40. She wasn’t a close friend, so it wasn’t a big issue, although it felt strange. Another (close) friend was struggling with infertility and didn’t want to talk about it at all, which was strange for me because I would’ve loved to talk to someone who got it. I tried to just follow her lead and not bring it up unless she did, and remind my nosy sister that it was none of her business.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experiences with this. It really helps to know that I’m not the only one has found myself in this situation. I think part of my issue is that I’m kind of disappointed that my experiences aren’t helping me in these cases. These are close friends and I want to be there for them and I hate that my similar experiences are actually hindering my ability to support them. Ugh. Life is so complicated sometimes.

  2. A very good friend of mine, who had 4 IVF’s…and finally, the last and final one took…tell me, and honestly, I appreciated it…”this is my journey, not yours. I know your experience may help me with loss and infertility but until I ask you, just be there. It’s not about you. You’re not a Dr. It’s not about what you went through…just be there for me”

    And I listened. It was hard to listen to but I swallowed that piece of advice and just told her, Hey Linds – I’m here for you. You know that.” We were already connected before she started trying to get pregnant…so we didn’t NEED this to connect us more.

    What did help? When people would offer her advice and I’d just roll my eyes and she’d laugh. Because she knew what I knew…people sometimes are dumb.

    I would just offer to be there. I have a terrible time remembering that people deal with things totally differently than I do. If a friend of mine got pregnant when I miscarried, I would have flipped out. You are being a good friend by just mentioning the topic. And an even better friend to not stop mentioning it. Hang in there, one of them will need you soon.

    1. Thank you for this. It’s a good reminder, both in how I approach my friendships and how I process my friends’ experiences myself. I have definitely had to deal with some residual personal issues surrounding how I feel about TTC and pregnancy and I’m sure that is making all this harder for me. I absolutely need to remember that their journeys are not about me and mine. That will be my mantra moving forward.

  3. I discovered this the hard way with my sister, then two of my best friends, then my sister-in-law. All of them handled their issues differently, and it pointed out in sharp relief how bad of a listener I was. So many of the issues were mine – just me trying to work out whether or not I did the right things when we were trying and just processing my experience. Which is really not helpful to a person who is struggling – or not – on their own journey, you know? I can’t project my feelings and emotions onto someone who may or may not be feeling the same way as me.

    Best you can do is tell them, “I’m here if you want to talk about it,” and then wait until they talk about it… and then listen. I found that the most true thing I could give them was empathy. “Wow, that must be hard,” rather than advice – unless they specifically asked about my experience and what we decided.

    It helped. I think, anyway. 🙂

    1. Thank you so much for sharing this. It really helps to know that other people have had this experience too, and to know what helped. I have been really good about not offering any advice, even thought sometimes I want to tell my friend who is trying what we did. Luckily I’ve had the presence of mind to recognize that she is approaching it all VERY differently than I did, and that my choices have no relevance to her situation. I am pretty sure I can remember than moving forward.
      Showing empathy is something I can do, for both my friends. Thanks for that advice. I appreciate it.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *