There has been increasing evidence over the past 20 years that friendships and social support are vital to good health, both physical and emotional. One study showed that people who have low levels of social support (usually defined as trusting someone enough to confide in them) are as likely to die early as are people who smoke cigarettes or who have high cholesterol levels.
Another study came out this month* and once again showed an association between friendship and good health. So clearly being able to be in healthy friendships is a good thing. But what do you do about friendships when you are struggling with infertility?
A little-discussed challenge about the crisis of infertility is how hard it is to cope when friends conceive. It doesn’t seem to matter how close a friend they are, or how much you love and appreciate them; the announcement of their happy news can cause a lot of misery. Thus, sometimes individuals and couples who are experiencing infertility start to withdraw from their friends, since it can be so painful to be surrounded by pregnancies, stories of childbirth, baby news, and toddler birthday parties.
A possible solution to this is to seek out others who are also struggling to get pregnant. It can be such a relief to share experiences with someone who knows all too well the disappointment of menstruation, the infertility language of IUI’s and IVF, and the challenges faced by pregnancy announcements. It is important to remember, however, that it is likely that one of you will get pregnant before the other, so it is advisable to discuss beforehand how you will handle the situation. It is also important to recognize that your two situations are not the same and to try to refrain from comparing notes.
Another source of friendships can be women who went through infertility in the past; they can offer support, advice, and the benefit of wisdom. Your single friends might also be good sources of support. I had a patient once who said that she and her best friend, who was single, went though cycles together. Just as my patient had the optimism of ovulation followed by the disappointment of getting her period, her friend had similar cycles of the optimism following meeting a nice guy, followed by the disappointment of realizing he was most definitely not Mr. Right.
Online chat rooms can be a valuable source of support but make sure to only visit ones which are moderated, such as at www. Resolve.org.
Try to make sure you don’t isolate yourself during this crisis, and remember that good friends will be there for you during and after any crisis. Someone who hasn’t gone through infertility might not know the right thing to say, but that doesn’t mean she/he can’t be a good source of support with a bit of coaching.
*Mukerjee S. An empirical analysis of the association between social interaction and self-rated health. Am J Health Promotion, March/April 2013.
ABOUT ALICE DOMAR, PhD
Alice D. Domar, PhD is a pioneer in the application of mind/body medicine to men’s and women’s health issues. She not only established the first Mind/Body Center for Women’s Health, but also conducts ongoing ground-breaking research in the field. Her research focuses on the relationship between stress and different women’s health conditions, and creating innovative programs to help women decrease physical and psychological symptoms.
Dr. Domar received her M.A. and Ph.D. in Health Psychology from Albert Einstein College of Medicine/Ferkauf School of Professional Psychology of Yeshiva University. Her post-doctoral training was at Beth Israel Hospital, Deaconess Hospital, and Children’s Hospital, all in Boston.
She has conducted research on infertility, breast cancer, menopausal symptoms, ovarian cancer, and premenstrual syndrome. Dr. Domar has earned an international reputation as one of the country’s top women’s health experts.
She is currently the Executive Director of the Domar Center for Mind/Body Health, and the Director of Mind/Body Services at Boston IVF. She is an assistant professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Biology at Harvard Medical School, and a senior staff psychologist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
Dr. Domar has compiled an impressive list of accomplishments as a best-selling author, media authority and sought-after public speaker. She is the author of numerous books, on the advisory board for Parents Magazine, Health Magazine, Conceive Magazine, and Resolve, and on the Board of Experts for LLuminari. Two of her books have been finalists for the Books for a Better Life Award. She was also the Series Editor for a series of mind/body books by Harvard Medical Publications/Simon and Schuster. She is the narrator of the DVD’s “Stress and Relaxation Explained” and “Infertility Explained”, both of which won silver Telly Awards. Dr. Domar has appeared on the Today Show, Good Morning America, CBS This Morning, Dateline NBC, CNN, PBS, and the CBS and NBC Evening News, to name a few. She presents lectures and conducts workshops throughout the US and around the world and went on tour with Oprah in the spring of 2004 and 2005 with the LLuminari team. Dr. Domar was named to the prestigious list of 15 “Women to Watch in 2004″ by Lifetime TV. Her newest book is “Be Happy Without Being Perfect” (Three Rivers Press, March, 2009) and she is currently working on a new book, co-authored with Dr. Susan Love, called “Live a Little” (Crown, December, 2009). She is also a featured expert on the new online social health network BeWell.com.