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I Lost My Best Friend To Infertility
By Elyse Ash
The only time I cried on my wedding day was during my best friend Hailey’s Maid of Honor speech. The way she summarized our friendship was just so meaningful, so beautiful…it had me choked up for the first time all day.
Hailey (name changed for privacy) and I met in middle school and became best friends fast. We weren’t the subtle quiet kind of best friends, either. We were the kind who announced our best friendom loudly and proudly, with matching shirts and a secret language, tied together with inside jokes and Weezer lyrics. We walked the halls of high school with our arms linked, like our own micro girl gang.
She knew all of my secrets, spreading far beyond who I had a crush on that week. She knew all of my body insecurities. My fears. My dreams. She knew about my crazy family. And she knew which notes I couldn’t hit while belting out Sheryl Crow songs in the car.
Hailey is an integral part of 95% of my middle and high school memories, both the glue and a pillar. A thread that stitches together moments from my most formative years. She made me feel safe and seen during a time when I felt invisible and unlovable.
And now, we haven’t talked in four years.
Stupid f*&king infertility.
To be fair, our friendship was never perfect. We had gone through phases of not talking before…long phases. There was a full year in college when we didn’t talk at all (I think it was because of a shitty boyfriend she had, though who can remember at this point). But we always found a way back to one another. One of us eventually would call the other. We would have a tough conversation over pumpkin scones at Starbucks. We would ugly-cry into those brown recycled napkins and then pick up right where we left off, getting Slurpees and driving around in her parents’ convertible.
Fast forward 10 years from that college fight. She was living in Chicago and I was living in Minneapolis. We would see each other in real life a couple of times a year but mostly stayed in touch via text and silly Snapchat filters. We were both married professionals with busy schedules and responsibilities, ready to have kiddos of our own.
My husband Brad and I had been trying to get pregnant for about a year, with no success and a lot of tears and frustration. I would sometimes call and vent to Hailey, telling her how anxious and angry I was feeling. And while she was a good enough listener, she didn’t really get it. Looking back, it wasn’t fair to fault her for this. But at the moment, I totally faulted her for it. I stopped sharing candidly. I took a step back emotionally from the friendship, bracing for the inevitable.
Then one summer day, I got The Call from Hailey.
“So I actually have some news…” She started slowly, choosing her words carefully.
“I’m 10 weeks pregnant. I didn’t want to tell you earlier because I’ve had so much anxiety. You know my mom had a few miscarriages, and I was just so scared of something bad happening…”
And that’s when I stopped listening to her and started listening to the angry, small person inside of me screaming about how unfair this all was. Why her? Why not me? Why them? Why not us? What was I doing wrong? Did I not deserve to be a mom? Why was this happening? Why was everything so easy for everyone else and so hard for me? I took a nosedive and started spiraling.
This was not my first rodeo. I had been fielding pregnancy announcements from so many other friends during that first year of trying to conceive that it became a running joke with Brad. My other childhood best friend was pregnant with her second daughter. My cousin was pregnant, even though we had been trying longer than she and her husband had been engaged. But Hailey? This one stung. This was the straw that broke the camel’s back (and that camel was also probably pregnant).
I delivered my usual templatized spiel in an unnaturally high-pitched voice, “I’m so happy for you. Truly. What amazing news! When is the due date? How are you feeling?” But I knew this wouldn’t fly with Hailey. Her social worker training would kick in and she would make me talk about how I was actually feeling. So when she pressed me, I gave in. And I had a complete and total breakdown.
I don’t remember what I said. I think the part of your brain that is supposed to protect you from shame and trauma is doing me a solid with this and that I would probably die of humiliation if I could somehow watch the game tape. All I know is that I was not my best self. I had no empathy for Hailey, only pity and shame for myself. And my feelings trumped hers because, at this time in my life, my feelings trumped everyone's. Infertility had taken the strong, confident young woman I had been, chewed her up, and was digesting her slowly and violently.
That phone call was the last time Hailey and I spoke. I woke up the next day with a shame hangover and sent her a long rambling email apologizing for my behavior and all of the hurtful, immature stuff I said. I told her I loved her and would love her baby and I hoped to be there for her despite all of this infertility crap. She never replied. And I never reached out again.
That was four years ago, and it was worse than every breakup I had ever been through. But I also believe it was probably for the best. I couldn’t support her wholeheartedly through her pregnancy. I was in such a dark, self-loathing place, and deep down, I knew that she couldn’t really support me going through infertility and the subsequent two rounds of IVF that were in my future.
Looking back, it would be easy to blame my petulant behavior on infertility. And as much as I would like to believe I was simply possessed by an infertility demon, it’s a load of crap. I know so many amazing, strong, mature women who didn’t choose to burn every bridge they ever built when they were struggling or grieving. Who chose to stay emotionally present in their friendships and support others even when it was really, really hard for them.
Infertility brought out the ugliest parts of myself, but those parts already existed: jealousy, insecurity, and fear. So much fear. But what infertility forced me to do was make peace with these conflicting, complicated parts. It taught me how to organize, process, and work through them. How to acknowledge the imperfect parts of myself without falling into a self-loathing death spiral.
So while I lost Hailey (and a couple of other not-super-strong friendships), I learned so much about how to best care for, love, and support myself. How to be my own best friend.
Elyse Ash and her husband Brad went through three years of infertility, two rounds of IVF, and one frozen embryo transfer before seeing their first positive pregnancy test, which brought them their daughter, born in March 2018. Elyse lives in Minneapolis and loves poetry, hockey, social justice, Beyonce, and pretending she’s into yoga.