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Infertility: Announcing Pregnancy When Friends are Struggling

Not everyone gets pregnant easily.

Some of us do (see yesterday’s post on natural family planning for some ideas, especially if you’re new to the “trying to conceive” scene).  But some don’t.  I have friends who — in their early to mid-20s! — tried for 1 or 2 or 3 years before they were able to conceive.  And honestly, it took us 8 months after we thought we were ready to conceive this baby (meanwhile, about 20 of my friends announced they were pregnant — no joke!).

It’s not easy to know what to say when you’re bursting with the wonderful news that you’re expecting and you have a friend (or multiple friends) who are still struggling with infertility.  Having been, to some extent, on both sides of this equation, I wanted to share some ideas with you.

Now, I should qualify.  *We* did not really have fertility problems, I was just breastfeeding too frequently to be able to conceive.  It’s normal.  It’s natural.  It’s supposed to work that way.  But knowing it when I really wanted another baby didn’t make it any easier, especially several months into it, and especially when all of my friends were getting pregnant — many quite unexpectedly.  (Why them?  They weren’t even ready yet!  Why not me?)  It was still hard.

But, on the other hand…I remember mentioning my frustration after three or four months to one friend, who just rolled her eyes and said, “That’s nothing, try waiting 2.5 years!!”  (To be fair…her daughter was then over a year old, she wasn’t currently experiencing infertility.)

Increasing numbers of women — even young women — are in this boat.  So while it seems half the population gets pregnant just by looking at their partner, the other half struggles.  They cry, they go through fertility treatments, they take negative tests or see their periods every single month…when they want nothing more than to know they’re carrying a child.  Since it’s so prevalent now (and a lot of women don’t talk about it, so we may not even know who is struggling), how can we talk about it?  How do we share our good news when a friend is struggling?  And how do we receive this news when we feel terrible jealousy?

If you’re sharing good news:

1) Share it privately.  There’s nothing worse than seeing someone — especially a close friend — announce her pregnancy on Facebook or some other very public medium, and watching 40 or 50 people congratulate her when you are struggling.  Especially if you had no idea the announcement was coming.  You’re expected to say something too, and be positive even if you don’t feel it.  It’s so much gentler to call your friend privately and say, “We just found out…”

2) Share very gently. When you make that phone call, think about your friend’s feelings.  Don’t burst out with, “We’re having a baby!” and proceed to chatter on about your due date and symptoms and so forth.  Ask her how she’s feeling first, then gently say, “We just got some good news,” and share very calmly.

3) Don’t expect her to jump for joy.  No matter how much she loves you, it will hurt hearing that you got the very thing she wants most.  Accept her reaction — or lack thereof — for what it is.  She’s struggling, she’s in pain, and while she loves you and is thrilled for you, she can’t stop from feeling hurt.

4) Don’t focus heavily on your pregnancy.  When you spend time with her, don’t go on and on about your pregnancy.  Save that for friends who aren’t struggling, or even call your mom!  (My mom and I have had lots of great pregnancy talks!)  If she asks, sure, tell her.  But she may not be ready to talk, especially if she’s trying for her first baby.  (Yes…it’s still very hard if you’re struggling with your second, or third, and so on…but at least you’ve had a baby and can relate!)  Instead, talk about neutral topics, or ask how she’s doing.

5) Don’t let her pull away.  She *may* try to pull back from you because of how she is feeling.  This happened to me with a close friend, actually not over infertility, but over our birth experiences (I was able to have a home birth and she wasn’t).  But I recognized that it was because she was hurting and made sure to keep talking to her and asking her how she was doing, and letting her vent to me.  It’s been over a year and things are fine now.  Don’t let your friend do this, either.  Call her, visit her, ask her to talk to you, let her vent to you.  She needs that right now.

6) Ask her to be a part of your pregnancy (if she wants to).  Once she has gotten used to the idea that you are expecting, she may be very excited for you.  And she may feel honored if you ask her to help throw a shower, or decorate your baby’s room, or talk about names.  This is very individual.  Some friends will want no part of this (because it all serves as a reminder of what they don’t have), but some will want to be included.  Phrase it carefully: “Because I love you so much, I really want you to help me with this one special thing.”  This tip, by the way, comes from a friend of mine who is struggling with infertility.  She mentioned how wonderful she feels when her expectant friends include her.

7) Introduce your new baby carefully.  Especially if she’s still not expecting, she may not be the first to visit you or try to help you at this time.  She may not want to hold your baby or hear all about your birth.  But — maybe she does.  This, too, depends entirely on your friend.  Tell her about the birth and let her take the lead.

What if you’re the one suffering from infertility?  These are some things that helped me:

1) Remember how much you love your friend.  If you focus first on how much you love her and how happy you are for her, instead of how upset you are, you’ll be able to react better.  Congratulate her and mean it (as much as you can).

2) Vent to your husband or another friend.  It’s undeniably tough when friends announce they’re expecting, and you’re not.  After you’ve talked to your friend, go find your husband and tell him how you feel (that you’re happy for her but still frustrated and upset and jealous and whatever else you’re feeling).  Don’t deny your feelings.

3) Avoid social media.  Okay, you can’t avoid it entirely.  But try not to spend all day scouring your friends’ Facebook pages for their latest announcements and belly pictures and such.  You don’t need to see that right now.

4) Steer conversations and activities towards neutral things.  Your friend may really want to go baby shopping right now (even if she’s only 6 weeks along), but you don’t have to be the one who goes with her.  Perhaps you can suggest having dinner together, or painting pottery, or shopping for grown-up things.  If you’re old friends, try reminising when you’re together instead of talking about the baby all the time.  And if she does, it’s okay to say, “I’m sorry, but I’m really struggling right now, so if we could talk about something else I’d be so grateful.”  Hopefully she’s in tune enough to understand!  Most women are.

Infertility is never easy, and pregnancy announcements are one of the hardest things during infertility.  But if handled with grace and tact, it can be fine and good for everyone involved. :)

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