When you're trying – and failing – to conceive, there's great comfort in having someone in your life, apart from your partner, who knows what you're going through. Who understands the rituals you develop as, month after month, you wait for the results of a pregnancy test.
If I stand here staring at it, I won't be pregnant. If I go downstairs and casually make a coffee, I definitely will be. If I'm pregnant now, the baby will be born in June. I've always wanted a summer baby!
Then there's always that sharp slap of disappointment when it's negative again, and the voice in your head says: "I'd be really happy to have a baby at any time of year, just please let it happen."
So it was that, four years ago, I found myself trying to get pregnant at the same time as Bethany. We'd first met a few years earlier through a mutual friend, and it was one of those friendships you form in your thirties that's lovely and surprising and life-affirming. I liked her instantly. She was warm, fun, generous – a positive force. We shared a lot of interests (cosy knitwear, red nail polish, '90s R&B) and soon we were at the same life stage: both a few years into our marriages and ready to have a child.
When my husband and I went to our GP after 18 months of trying without success, Bethany was one of the first friends I confided in. Things weren't happening for her either, so it was a relief to share what we'd heard on how to maximise our chances of conceiving, swapping eye rolls over misjudged comments like "no doubt you'll want to start a family soon".
After initial tests, we were advised we would need fertility treatment and so, in November 2015, we braced ourselves for the emotional and hormonal see-saw of IVF. In the meantime, Bethany and her husband were on a similar track, but a bit earlier on in the process.
When I became pregnant in the December, I was overjoyed. It was like winning the lottery. We were incredibly lucky that it worked first time, given that the average chance of a birth from IVF is 23 per cent for women aged 35-36 (the age I was then). If we'd conceived naturally, and it hadn't been such a test of endurance, I might have been more cautious about revealing I was pregnant that early on, but I wanted to shout it from the rooftops.
I told Bethany on the day I tested positive, partly because she had been on the journey with me, and partly because I knew that my news might also be hard for her, so I'd rather she heard it from me.
She was thrilled for us, but I knew from my own experience how tough it can be to share other people's happiness. When my husband and I were struggling, it felt like every other friend was announcing news of incoming offspring. You whoop with delight, you envelop your friend in a big hug and tell her how wonderful this is. And it is wonderful, but it also highlights your own sense of inadequacy.
Throughout my pregnancy, I saw Bethany regularly, but when my son was born in summer 2016, there was a shift.
As the visitors armed with soft toys and baby onesies trickled away after a couple of months, Bethany stayed away and, gradually, the gaps between the texts and calls got longer. It's now a year since I last heard from her – dozens of my messages and calls have gone unanswered. She has never said: "I can't see you because you have a child and I don't," but that's the only conclusion I can come to for being ghosted by her.
I know I should understand, but it hurts. It's embarrassing, losing a friend. It feels like something that should only happen when you're 10. It's like the end of a relationship, where the other person just disappears from your life without explanation. For months, I'd go back into the last messages I sent Bethany to double- check I hadn't somehow missed her replies.
But the truth is complicated. If the roles were reversed, would I have behaved the same? I think I might have, for self- preservation. I don't know if she and her husband are still going through IVF, but I do know that it is punishing, horrible, expensive and something that is hard to share with people who've become parents. There's probably little joy in listening to your friend banging on about Duplo while you're still navigating the sorrow of the single horizontal line on a pregnancy test.
Female friendships can be intense. There was a time when mine and Bethany's circumstances were so very similar. Maybe when that thread of commonality was cut, there was nothing left to keep the two of us going. But I'd like to think there was.
I've reached a stage of semi-acceptance now. Any hurt and loss I feel can't be on the same level as she feels at not becoming a mother yet. I just hope that when it does happen – and I really hope it does – she can find room in her life again for me.
*Not her real name
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