Thursday, November 13, 2014

friendship and infertility

Here's the second half of the two-part series about supporting friends through infertility. Enjoy this guest post from my treasured friend Ashlee, one of the dear ones who walked the road of infertility with me. Here's the story from her point of view.

On September 12, 2013 at 12:03pm, I got a text from Em.

I know you are at work. Call when you have a minute.

Em & Andrew had started on the path to pregnancy several months prior, and a text like this does something in the heart of a friend who has felt the ups and downs of infertility. My first thought was strangely hope filled: she’s pregnant. But instead of letting the excited anticipation bubble up in my heart, I held it in with control, excused myself from work, and called her immediately. Keep your voice steady, I tell myself, be ready for whatever the news.

She’s pregnant. And it’s twins.

Even as I write those words, my throat tightens and my heart so quickly goes back to that day of release. When, again, our prayers were answered. I am tempted to say we fought hard for this day, but I think the real fight was within ourselves to find patience and peace in the waiting, and to learn that love is not about commonality as much as it is about commitment. 

That’s why I am writing this piece - to talk about friendship and infertility. Em has taught us all so much about the very intimate, personal experience of infertility, but this story is being told from one supporter to another. To all the friends and sisters who love and hope and cry and feel so helpless right alongside the ones who are waiting and fighting. It can be a tough path to navigate, and I messed up plenty of times. Hopefully my mess ups can somehow translate into encouragement and support for you.

Em and I have been friends for over a decade, meeting our very first year of college. We bonded over the usual topics - shopping, boys and our big dreams for the future. But what really solidified us as friends was our unique ability to process thoughts and life together. We talked about our faith, our families, our trials and the things that got us excited about entering real life. We walked forward on our own unique paths to adulthood, taking different routes but always staying near to one another. 

Graduation brought new experiences. Em and Andrew got married, I went to work. We each found new places to call home and new opportunities for learning and discovery. I remember the day Em told me she was pregnant with Ethan. I’ll admit - it felt strange. She had already been experiencing the mercilessness of infertility and this pregnancy came as a pretty big surprise to all of us. For me it was mostly because I couldn’t understand her determination to have a baby. I would open her car door and watch her push stacks of parenting and pregnancy books into the backseat so I could sit down. We were focusing on such different things at this time in our lives and I had a hard time relating. This is where our story got hard, and where I learned the most about love. I really had to learn how to be a good friend in the midst of the doubt, disappointment, financial stress, and physical pain brought on by infertility. I had to learn that my expectations for those years were not going to be the same as Em’s, and that they didn’t have to be in order for us to love one another.

The day we lost Ethan, I remember the phone call, the tears, the confusion and the pain. I also remember that this once slowly approaching disconnectedness was suddenly coming at us at full speed. It felt like huge wall had come between us. I thought of her constantly, wanting to be with her so badly, but being completely frozen on the other side of that wall. I slowly began to realize that my own fear is what put and kept the wall there. What if I say the wrong thing? She asked about my job, but when I start talking I can see in her face that she wants to talk about Ethan. Should I ask? Or does she want me to distract her? I don’t know how to anticipate her needs. Does she even know what she needs? These insecurities and feelings filled my mind for several months, and if there is anything I can say to the friends who are affected by infertility or loss, it is this: don’t let the wall win. It will come at some point, but you have to be stronger than it is. Some people are able to march right around it, hardly even acknowledging that it is there. I watched some of Em’s strongest supporters do that, but at first I just couldn’t. I felt too afraid. I didn’t want to mess up, say or do the wrong thing, and I ended up dropping the ball for a time. If you need to take time to process, go ahead, but make sure you are always moving forward.

What does moving forward look like exactly? Read Em’s post about secondary infertility. I didn’t have access to such a great resource, so for me it was born of mercy and a lot of trial and error. After one of Em’s miscarriages, we had gone to her in-law’s cabin for the weekend and on Sunday we stood on the driveway saying our goodbyes. She started to cry and I just stood there, totally frozen. In that moment, I let the fear win. (Don’t worry, I eventually hugged her, but it took me WAY too long). A few weeks after Ethan died, I remember Em telling me she was so afraid that no one would remember him. I cleared out a spot in my heart for Ethan at that very moment and he will never leave it. And with that, a part of the wall was gone. There really is a choice in these moments. Choose to be close. And if you are afraid, be honest with your friend. Maybe you are both feeling the same thing.

I will say, there are times when you, the friend, will do a lot of heavy lifting. Every text or happy hour will be about pregnancy, or the lack of it. It might feel draining. You might feel ignored. You might be dying to talk about a terrible first date, or a weird conversation with your boss and you go to your friend and leave feeling discouraged or unheard. You will see the worst side of your friend when the fight gets really hard, but isn’t this exactly when our love should kick into high gear? Don’t jump ship in the face of pain. Stay. Sacrifice. And then do it a hundred more times because one day she will look at you and say, “how are things at work?” with a genuine look in her eyes. It will happen.

And let’s not forget, there will inevitably be times when you need your friend to do the heavy lifting for you. While Em & Andrew were pursuing parenthood, I began to long for a life partner. We found a connection in that and began to pray for each other. There were times when I just couldn’t pray for myself one more time - the burden of loneliness seemed too heavy. So Em prayed for me. And when she felt weary, I prayed for her. To support one another in prayer invested us in each other’s hopes in a such a real way. Being able to pray for each of Em’s children, and then HOLD them as brand new babies in my arms, have been some of the holiest experiences of my life. 

I was able to meet Harriet at the hospital the day after she was born. I didn’t know it then, but I was going to meet my goddaughter! Her mouth was a perfect little rosebud and her skin soft and red with newness. What seemed like a regular moment - holding a baby was something everyone on that hospital unit was doing that night - was supercharged for me. I remember thinking, this is so special and so … normal. It was right and it was a miracle. I suppose that is what redemption is: bringing the things that always should have been back to us in a miraculous way.

Here is a picture of Em, Harriet, and me on my wedding day. Our smiles are looking a little off because as soon as we stepped in front of my photographer, Em & I both started crying. There we were, Harriet between us, me in my wedding dress. The six years leading up to that moment had been complicated and challenging but suddenly all we felt was happiness. Beautiful, gracious, undeserving happiness. I will cherish the gift of this photo, and the beautiful, messy story of friendship that it tells, forever.

c/o Cara Lemmage Photography


  1. This is a great post!! It reminds me that no matter what is going on in my life I should invest time in what's going on in other peoples lives also. We all can use prayers and should ask for them when we need them too :)

  2. Stunningly beautiful. This is just so good. Thank you for sharing this, Emily!

    And thank you Ashlee for literally being the hands and feet. There are so many people who love Emily and have desperately wanted to see her create the family of her dreams, but we life across the country and can't ACTUALLY give hugs. So thank you, for being the one on the ground and in the trenches. You could have walked away 10,000 times, but we're forever thankful you stayed.

  3. So beautiful... The words, the story, the women, the friendship!

  4. Such a beautiful story of love, friendship and life. Hardships, grace, mercy and selflessness. Thank you for sharing with honesty and transparency.

  5. This is beautiful and deeply insightful. I would add that these thoughts about walking with a friend through the trial of infertility can be applied to other situations as well. A few years ago I had a friend whose marriage began falling apart. Her world was upended and she was in the pit of despair. Walking with her during that trial was extremely difficult. It wasn't easy to navigate her emotions and ever-changing needs. And of course my struggles could never compare to her current situation so I felt like I had no right to speak of my own troubles let alone invite her into walking through them with me. But remaining faithful to our friendship and being whatever she needed whenever she needed it was the most rewarding thing for both of us. Our friendship is stronger now than it ever was before, and she has definitely reciprocated being there for me when I've needed it. So, all that to say, walking through the muck and the mire with people is one of the hardest things we'll be asked to do, but it's also one of the most loving and most rewarding because of the potential it has to shape and strengthen relationships over time. Thanks for sharing this post.

  6. Thank you so much for sharing your friendship with us! Such a beautiful picture of love, friendship, and God's blessings.


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