Do I Have to Make Another Casserole?: Facing Long-Term Stress Together

I sat with Margaret and Larry through years of fertility challenges. Initially it was a curiosity as to why they weren’t getting pregnant like their friends, then enduring invasive medical tests and procedures. Next we dove into discussions about adoption while Margaret took time with her own therapist to process her own history. Finally it became clear that the only feasible way for them to have a child was through surrogacy.

In the beginning Larry and Margaret shared openly with all of their friends and family. People were enthusiastic and supportive offering to listen, drive to doctors appointments, send articles and brainstorm ideas. But as time went on they noticed some friends stopped calling. As their own frustration and hopeless increased their friends’ did too and well-meaning people began sharing hurtful ideas such as, “Maybe subconsciously you don’t want to be parents,” or offering strong opinions on overpopulation. By the time they were in the surrogacy process they limited the flow of information so severely that only a couple of people knew.

I’ve seen this phenomenon experienced by people struggling with a variety of long-term challenging situations, from cancer diagnosis to a disability. If not addressed, people can end up isolated, alone and depleted of resources. So how do we combat this?

First, have a diverse circle of support. We all have friends with their soapbox issues so it’s important to make sure that it’s one voice we’re hearing in many. Second, intentionally choose who receives varying amounts of information. Create three groups: closest (anything goes), middle (limited), and highlights (rarely share). Move people in-between groups as needed. Third, speak up for yourself and your family. “It is hurtful to imply I’m causing infertility. I need to surround myself with supportive people, not people who blame me.” Usually the relationship can be repaired, however it might be time to move them into the highlight group.

In times of long-term stress and crisis, it might seem simpler to disconnect. As a community, it can feel easier to stop reaching out. Instead let’s take the time this week to intentionally connect with people in our circles struggling with long-term challenges.