How Infertility Has Affected One Couple’s Friendships

  • Friendships change with grief, and infertility came with a lot of grief for me.
  • Even close friendships needed space, and now I know that’s OK.
  • It’s possible to maintain friendships even when you can’t share life changes, such as parenthood.

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It’s undeniable that infertility can hurt marriages, but I never expected it to challenge the friendships in our lives, too. I wondered if our friends would now want to seek out only other couples with children. Around our friends with kids, suddenly I felt irrelevant.

In the first three years of our infertility journey, I was angry and jealous, and I felt guilty. I witnessed my relationships start to shift quickly. Friends with one baby turned into multiple. Going to baby showers was like a funeral — a death of our dreams.

When our first IVF failed, I hardly attended baby-related events. For close friends, I went, but I wasn’t present. My pain felt selfish. 

I distanced myself from my closest friends because I could no longer be who I was — honest and loyal. I couldn’t say, “Hey, I would love to celebrate you when I’m able. I am happy for you, and I am also hurting.” I didn’t initiate, and my friends didn’t inquire. Around my husband, I didn’t have to speak a word to be understood. 

Friendships feel fragile

Friends became acquaintances — not addressing the elephant in the room. We can’t have kids, but neither of us spoke about it. Perhaps no one asked because they didn’t know what to say. Some complained about how they wished they hadn’t had another child right away, or every word was like walking on eggshells around us.

Conversations were either too much or not enough. Looking back, I knew we were all sorting out our own emotions around this new grief.

Groups I was once part of evolved into mom groups that I wasn’t part of anymore. I didn’t know where I belonged, as a friend and as a woman. There was also a big part of me that genuinely wanted to be part of my friends’ and their children’s lives. I didn’t have the words to express these seemingly competing emotions and realities.

Time passed, and some asked how we were doing, and surprisingly, I wanted to protect my vulnerability. I wanted to talk to those who were in it. Strangers with the familiar pain felt closer to the heart.

At every baby shower, I grieve

In recent years, I learned something new about grief. Each baby shower, birthday party, and dinner party where talks of parenthood dominated conversations, my husband and I sat in silence. We were grieving for the first time. 

Our kids won’t be friends with theirs, and we can’t share in parenthood. These intimate, yet exclusive, spaces became an invisible barrier between us and our friends with kids. Acceptance was both freedom and punishment. 

I try to be honest with my friends and myself. And I allow myself to be loved. This has taken us into a new territory — experiencing our friends as parents and having their wonderful children in our lives — met with both great sorrow and great joy. 

I often wonder about the kinds of friendships that might have evolved if I was honest with my grief and trusted that they would receive me with compassion from the start, or if my friends voiced their care without fear of saying the wrong thing — how that might have reassured me of my place in their lives.

But that’s not what happened. What did happen was something honest, painful, and imperfect, just like real friendships.