People like to talk a lot. People yammer on on Twitter. People share everything on Facebook. People talk your ear off at the office watercooler. Whether it is about the weather, sports, a trip, a TV show, or what they ate for lunch, the conversation stream just keeps churning.
What people aren't so good at doing is listening and responding when people share something gut-wrenching with them. Cancer. Death. Divorce. Miscarriage. Infertility. What these experiences all have in common is that they make people clam up. People often don't know how to respond, what to say, what to do or how to react.
So often, people don't respond. They don't say anything. They don't do anything. They don't react. And that is wrong.
Some would argue that everyone is dealing with their own stuff and don't have the bandwidth to take on other people's problems. Fair comment. But if everyone's head is down and people are only worried about themselves, that is a sad and cynical statement about society. Are people really that busy that they can't be supportive of others?
When someone shares something that they are struggling with -- they are opening up to you, not trying to make you uncomfortable. But because they need to talk to someone. They need support and understanding. Whether it is an acknowledgement, a hug, a pep talk, or simply making eye contact and showing them that you are listening and you are there for them.
Depending on what people are going through, the support they require may vary. But what doesn't vary is the need to be heard and seen.
Suffering in silence is painful and unnecessary. You can do better. We can all do better, myself included.
The reason this topic is close to my heart is because I struggled with secondary infertility for several years. Co-workers didn't know. Acquaintances didn't know. Some friends didn't know. I did rounds and rounds and rounds of fertility treatments. I was at the fertility clinic every morning before work and countless evenings I'd hustle out of work to go to an acupuncture appointment.
Month after month, we weren't successful in conceiving. I mostly suffered in silence. I confided in a few people about what was going on. I battled depression and was emotionally and physically exhausted. There were so many needles, checkups, appointments, fertility meds and shots in my derriere. There were no positive results, there were no answers. It was all "unexplained infertility." A friend who also struggled with the same battle perfectly described it as running a marathon where we had no clue where the finish line was.
Those were some of my darkest and loneliest days. What made the experience even more painful was that for the few people I did confide in, there were some that didn't know how to acknowledge what I was going through. Some would stare at me blankly not knowing what to say. Some would tell me how to fix things. Some would tell me how easy it was for them to get pregnant. Some would awkwardly change the subject. And some flat out wouldn't bring it up ever, again.
It was like I had crossed a friendship line and shared too much. My intention wasn't to make them feel awkward or uncomfortable. My intention was to be transparent about what I was struggling with because I needed support and encouragement. My mind was racing and my heart was aching with disappointment.
Some friendships suffered as a result. At the time it felt like those friends didn't care. But I know now that they simply didn't know how to respond.
What I have learned is that there is no way to understand what infertility is like unless you've been down that frustrating and lonely road. Just like I don't know what it is like to go through divorce or to lose a parent. Unless you've been through those experiences, you don't know. You can't know. And you can't expect others to know.
What I do know is that some of my dark days would have been more bearable if people were better equipped to listen and acknowledge. I wasn't looking for family or friends to solve my problems. What I needed was emotional support and to know that I wasn't alone.
I know many people that have yearned for that when going through difficult times. I know a woman that was going through a bad divorce and upon seeing her family at Christmas, not one person acknowledged it. Not one. Twenty people were carrying on like nothing was happening. Meanwhile, this woman's life was falling apart. There was no "I'm sorry to hear about what happened," "How are you doing?" or "I am here if you ever need to talk."
Looking back, I am thankful for the family members and close friends that helped to lift me up when I was down. That acknowledged my struggle, listened to my frustrations, hugged me when I wept and helped to encourage me to keep trying. I am forever grateful that I had their support. They helped me get through a difficult time -- one that at some points, felt like it would never end. Their warmth, love and encouragement helped more than they will ever know.
My wish is that as you all move forward in your busy lives, you are always in tune with what is going on with those around you. And if you know that someone is struggling, please listen and acknowledge. Don't be silent and dismissive. You don't need to solve their problems, just be there for them. Don't try to avoid an awkward situation or conversation because you worry about saying or doing the wrong thing. It is better than the alternative -- doing nothing and letting someone suffer in silence.
They are human. And you need to show that you are human too. Who knows what is around the corner, and when you will need their support in difficult times.
Note: Amy, her husband and their six-year old daughter, welcomed a baby boy to their family in August 2014.
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