Posted by: katedaphne | November 13, 2008

Ready, willing, and able

This is a post I’ve been meaning to write for a while. I’ve written it a few times in my head but I really ought to get it down in writing. Y’all are good at reading my mind and all, but it IS a lot to ask.

It’s about getting what we need from others — or, how often we infertiles suffer b/c we AREN’T getting what we need from others. I have said before how IF is so especially difficult because it is so isolating. No one brings you a casserole when you can’t have a baby, or when another cycle fails, or when you suffer a miscarriage. There’s not a section in the Hallmark store with a few hearts-and-flowers Sorry You’re Infertile cards and a few wry and knowing ones with cocky old ladies on the cover. No, infertiles suffer alone, for the most part.

So we find ourselves depending on family and friends to support us, or to understand us, or to at the least leave us alone to suffer in peace. But often this is an exercise in frustration or even futility. But why? Our friends and family love and care for us, right? Of course they do. So why can’t they HELP us?

The problem is that what we need is not always what they have to give. While they’re bringing over X by the bucketload, we are starving for just a little Y.

And the more lost and needy we look, the more X they deliver. They’re giving and giving — and we’re drowning in X. And getting more and more bitter and hurt and angry and sad that these people who are supposed to be on our side are WITHHOLDING THEIR Y. How dare they? Don’t they know what a little Y would do for us right now?

Well. That’s the thing. They may not. They may not have a clue what Y is. Or, they may simply not have any Y to give. It’s like going up to a fishmonger and saying you’re hungry — and when he hands you a fresh fish, being mad that he didn’t whip up a nice potato salad. He gave you what he had to give, and it wasn’t regifted and it wasn’t worthless, and a lot of people would be greatful for the fish and even enjoy the fish. It is easy to get annoyed about the fish. We may not like fish, or we may have eaten fish for a month straight — we’re sick of fish. Maybe we need a little variety in our diet. So we get upset. Couldn’t he SEE we need more than a fish? Would it be that hard to just chop up a few potatos and throw them in bowl? Heck, skip the salad he could just give us a raw, unpeeled, unchopped, still-a-little-dirt-clinging-to-the-eyes potato and we’d be happy. But NO, he just keeps handing us FISH.

So. I think, in order to truly relate to other people, we need to understand what they are capable of when we set our expectations. The fishmonger isn’t capable of giving me potato salad. So I have two choices: Ask the fishmonger for a fish, or ask someone else for the potatoes. Actually, I can even do both.

What’s all this have to do with IF? I have found myself angry with people at times for not meeting my needs. But then I realize, they are giving me what they are ABLE to give me. Just because I WANT more doesn’t mean they have it to give. Yes true, sometimes people are holding back or playing games with us. Those people suck. But we can usually identify those people. I’m talking here about the people we can believe really do give a crap about us, and want good things for us, and mean well even if they don’t always (or ever) know the right thing to say.

If we are very lucky, we do have one person in our lives who is like the Mall of America: He or she can give us everything we need, even if we on’t know we need it. But people like that are few and far between. And it’s ok if most people in our lives aren’t the mall. We can stop by several markets to get a little of this here, a little of that there.

It’s pointless to hold bitterness and anger against people for what they aren’t giving us.

I don’t mean we are unreasonable in our wants or needs. I just mean — we are most likely to get our needs met if we shop in the right stores. I used to get so angry at, say, my mom, for not understanding how I felt. But how could she? My very existence prevented her from doing so. She has a child, I don’t. So, no matter how much she loves me and tries to support me, she’ll never completely understand. But why give up on her love and support just because she can’t also relate? She doesn’t need to relate in order to love. I can take what she has to give, and not hate her for what she hasn’t.

Another, sort of opposite example. I’ve cut ties, broken up with, describe it how you will — no longer talk to, a person I used to be friends with, and the break-up was because of IF. We’d been friends for a while and supported each other through some difficult times. But when IF became an issue in my life (ok, THE issue, the defining issue) she wasn’t being supportive. Her experience and world view and opinions didn’t leave her any space to support me. And so everything that came out of her mouth was all wrong. And it hurt. Over and over, it hurt me and it hurt me and it hurt me. And I came to realize, she did care about me but she was not ABLE to give me the kind of support I need at this time in my life. I do think she wanted to. But she wasn’t/couldn’t/didn’t. So I ended the relationship.

Most relationships, I think, are somewhere between those two extremes. I’m not advocating thinking the worst of people so that we’ll never be disappointed in them.  I’m just trying to remember to ask myself, Are they doing all they can? Are they giving all they are ABLE to give? Do they have something to give someone besides me? Do they have something to give that I’ve been overlooking?

I’m going to down here awhile and enjoy this fish. Then I’m going shopping for some potato salad. I know it’s gotta be around here somewhere.



  1. This was really insightful and I’m glad you wrote it. It feels good to get it out, doesn’t it?

    I know exactly what you mean. Sometimes I want to scream, but, you’re right, people what they can give at that moment in time – both fertiles and infertiles. We are all in a different place and our issues belong to us and even if someone is going through something similar, they aren’t in our heads and can’t understand completely what we’re going through.

    Here’s to accepting what people have to give and not getting upset when it’s not exactly what we need!

  2. A) I hate most fish unless it’s sushi
    B) I love potato salad
    C) This is an awesome post. And it sounds like your friend wasn’t just trying to give you fish, she was trying to force you to eat it.

  3. This is a great post and I’m so glad you wrote it. It is something that has actually come to mind lately for me too.

    We have a small church group of couples that has met for about 3 years. During that time all but one couple had a baby and it was horribly hard for me to keep going because I felt like no one understood what was happening for us. I constantly complained to dh about their insensitivity, etc., but hung in there. In the last year, one of the couples has been going through an extremely difficult couple of events in their marriage that they have only shared with me and dh and the rest of the group does not know except for a few basic things. Just this week the dh in that couple was telling my dh how horribly difficult it is for them right now since there are a lot of exciting things happening for everyone else in the group and they feel like they are the Debbie Downers who can’t talk. When dh told me all this, I let out a big, “HOW can they expect the group to support them when they aren’t sharing what is going on and what they need?!” And it was like a cosmic wake up call…”oh wait, that was me for the last 3 years”. Now we are on the “other side”, expecting our babies in about 3 more weeks. But as I look back, I realize that:

    1) infertility is something that is very hard to understand if you haven’t been through it, and people have no idea what to ask, when to ask it, or if to ask it at all; as you point out, if they knew what to do and didn’t, they would suck, but those aren’t your friends.

    2) there are different sadness triggers for different people suffering from IF, so we can’t even expect friends to “educate” themselves on it, it’s a personal thing

    3) to at least some degree, we are in a little control of the situation with our close friends if we are able and willing to take the step forward to share with them how we WANT and NEED to be treated. Even my most clueless friend of all could have changed probably 80% of what was hurting me if I had simply been willing to email her and explain how I needed to be supported and what was hurting me. Instead of addressing it with her, I complained constantly to dh. In retrospect, she is a great person who just hasn’t been through any difficulties in life to know what to do. Amazingly, she seems like a great person again now. But she never changed; I did. My perspective glasses have changed.

  4. What a great analogy. I think it’s true that we need to accept what people give, and accept when they are truly doing their best.

  5. Oh, I hear you. You’re exactly right. I’ve found the best way to cope is to spread it around – I can’t expect to get what I’m looking for from one person alone, especially when what I need can change like quicksilver. I also try to remember that I can only expect from people what they are prepared to give – and not to be upset if it’s not what I need at the time. How on earth are they supposed to know what to do when I have no idea myself?

    IF is very isolating, and very hard. I don’t quite know where I’d be if I hadn’t found all these blogs – it’s nice to not feel quite so alone….

  6. I agree. My frustration (not that I don’t get frustrated with the fish vendor either) is when you try and try and try to educate and it falls on deaf ears. Or when it should be common sense like when my mother asked me why I was so sad just 4 months after Ernest died. I still can’t believe that one.

    I also think that people don’t try as hard to understand because they don’t think it will ever happen to them.

  7. This is the first time I have read your blog…….I LOVE THIS POST. It is AMAZING. You said it so well……..I never knew how to put it into words but you did it. thanks.

  8. Incredible post. Sometimes even those who have been there can’t give you the Y you need, because their Y is different than yours.

    I don’t like potato salad. You can have my share.

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