"I understand what you're going through."
"That happened to a friend of mine."
"Everything happens for a reason."
"It wasn't meant to be."
On the rare occasion that I open up about our experience with family expansion losses, disappointments and tragedies, I almost always find myself faced with a loving person who has no idea what to say or do. Reactions typically range from awkwardness to avoidance. And while it certainly hurts to watch friends fumble, I get it.
The reality is, there is no perfect way to respond. It is tricky terrain. But here are some thoughts I encourage you to consider before sharing your words of support.
No, you probably can't relate. We all have different experiences in life.
Not all failed pregnancies are the same. My husband and I have had a failed pregnancy when the stakes were low—early in our efforts when we were younger. We've had a failed pregnancy when the stakes were high—after countless cycles of crushingly expensive, time-consuming, emotionally draining IVF with the last healthy embryo we'd (likely) ever create. They weren't the same.
Not all failed adoptions are the same. We've had a failed adoption that cost us zero dollars. We've had a failed adoption that cost us 40 grand. We've had a failed adoption that happened within a week. We've had a failed adoption that happened after 6 months of dreaming and planning. We've had a failed adoption in which we never met the child. We've had a failed adoption in which we held, fed, changed and photographed ourselves with the child.
Thankfully, we've never experienced a failed adoption where the child was removed from our home after a year. But this has happened to families we know.
Even if you've had an experience related to the same topic, please don't assume you can understand the experience. It's highly likely that you can't, and that's okay.
You don't need to tiptoe around the topic like you're on eggshells.
If you treat a person like they're broken, they may start to feel as if they are. They're in pain. They're hurting. Their dreams may have been shattered. But they are not broken.
There have been times when friends haven't included us in their joyful moments because we weren't experiencing ours at the same time. I'm sure they thought it was kinder to do so as they likely deemed the events not "relevant to us" and being present might cause us pain. But the reality is that blessings in their lives are not things we want to avoid. If someone I know is pregnant while I'm not, nothing they do will make me forget my reality.
Assume the best.
I believe that most people can be happy for others even if they haven't received the same gifts. I know I can. For instance, I don't fly first class to exotic locations around the world, but one of my best friends does. When she returns from her adventures, I love to hear her stories and look through her pictures.
I do wish that someday I can join her on an adventure, but for now, I am simply happy for her. She's living her best life, and that's exactly what I'd wish for her.
I have a big heart, and it has space for the joys of my loved ones. If you're bringing another child into your family, that's a blessing. Might I sit in envy for a little while? Maybe. Might I shed some tears wishing I could have what you do? Possibly. But that's human. A true friend will work to carry themselves through those feelings. Assume they will.
Please don't judge. It isn't about anyone else but those going through it.
Along this journey, I'm sure there have been times we haven't been "ourselves." All we needed from those around us was a little patience until we were feeling better again. Sometimes that can take longer than usual. Trauma can do that to a person. Repeated trauma certainly can.
I had a tendency to drown myself in work. Sometimes we distanced ourselves from friends. Occasionally we didn't leave the house for an entire weekend. As long as people kept inviting us out, even when we repeatedly declined, we felt supported. Eventually, we rejoined them.
The last thing we ever needed while going through those hard moments in our lives was to feel guilty for the things we weren't doing with our friends. It was a period of grief or us, and getting through it took every ounce of our energy.
We have anniversaries that no one else may know about. We can't and won't forget about them because they've been part of our journey. We haven't needed others to know about them or remember them if they were told. All we continue to need is the grace to let us handle those times in our own way, and be kept in their hearts.
As for where we are right now…
Are we through our pain? To some degree.
Do our hearts continue to heal daily? They do.
Will we always need our friends and their loving hearts? We will. We always will.