When you are having difficulty becoming or staying pregnant, it often seems as if everyone around you –– friends, family, colleagues –– is pregnant. How can you navigate your world and maintain your relationships while coping with the pain and isolation infertility so often brings?
Support for navigating other people’s pregnancies
In my experience, solid relationships survive infertility. It can be excruciatingly painful when you learn that a friend is pregnant. But if your relationship is based on mutual respect and caring, you will get through it. Trust this, while considering the suggestions below to help you take care of yourself.
- Mean thoughts do not make you a bad person. Most of us consider ourselves good people who care about our friends and share in their happiness. So it’s jolting to encounter mean thoughts that so often accompany infertility. Please don’t be harsh to yourself if you envy your friend or wish her pregnancy would vanish. Thoughts like these are common. I have often seen great relief on the faces of clients when I say, “It’s okay. You’d be happy for your friend if she won the lottery or got a great new house or job. But how can you be happy for her when you long for pregnancy and you have just learned she is pregnant?”
- It gets easier. Learning that your friend is pregnant is often the most difficult time in your experience of her pregnancy. It can help a lot if your friend is sensitive to how and when she tells you. Ideally, this would happen early on. You’d be alone together and she’d use words that acknowledge how hard it is for you. But there is no good way to get this news. I think you will find the sting will subside as her pregnancy progresses and you are no longer feeling bewildered by how she has become pregnant while you have not.
- Navigate baby showers with care. Baby showers are the worst place to be if you are trying to avoid painful reminders that your friend is pregnant and you are not. After all, showers celebrate pregnancy. Lots of oohing and ahhing about cute little baby clothes and baby paraphernalia is likely.“But can I skip my friend’s shower?” you ask. My answer is a resounding yes. Assuming your friend is aware of your pain, she will understand. She will accept and support your decision if you are straight with her and acknowledge that being at the shower would be really difficult for you. I suggest that you offer to take her to lunch or create some other enjoyable time together. You can give her a shower gift then, offer abundant good wishes, but not have to do so among pregnancy chatter.
- Choose two, rather than a group. Generally, steer clear of group settings. When it’s just the two of you, you have some control of the conversation. You can focus on things other than pregnancy or, if you choose, talk about her pregnancy in ways that feel okay enough to you. In a group, control vanishes. Without warning, women prattle about past pregnancies, or worse still, complain about pregnancy symptoms they are having now.
Handling news of a birth
The news that a friend has given birth is as challenging as learning she is pregnant. Again, my best advice is to look for one-on-one opportunities. Plan a time when you can bring dinner to her and her family. Or plan to have a meal together, since others are unlikely to be visiting at the same time. And remember that you have all sorts of plausible reasons for staying only a short time — you know she is sleep-deprived, you know they are being flooded by visitors, you know that she will be much more up for visiting in a month or so.
A few words on mutual support
Your ability to maintain important relationships when friends are pregnant is not one-sided. It relies also on your friend’s ability to support you in the ways you want and need to be supported during infertility. This is a complex subject, best explored in a future blog, but I’ll share a few parting thoughts on mutuality. Your friend can’t support you if she doesn’t know the basics of what you are going through. That said, if she has conceived and carried with ease, she is unlikely to really “get it.” You will probably do best if you resolve to accept that she doesn’t get it. She may be struggling to know what to say and how to say it. In many ways, knowing this — that she really cares and is trying — may be what matters most to sustain the friendship.