In the last few days, I've found out about two pregnancies. James confessed one evening that he'd been keeping something from me: two friends of his had a baby last year. He didn't tell me. I have to say I was glad. It would have been hard to take back then.
Then yesterday some other friends of ours whom we hadn't seen in a while called to congratulate us on our pregnancy, and tell us that they're expecting again this winter. They hadn't wanted to broach the topic. Again, I have to say I was glad I hadn't found out before, before I got pregnant myself.
The nicest thing the world could do for infertile couples is to stop reproducing. That would be a really kind gesture. Too bad it's insane. And impossible. The next to nicest thing would be for people to wait until the infertile couple is pregnant to break the news, start showing, or have their babies. But the same problems apply here, too.
As I discussed when I first started this blog, infertile people -- particularly infertile women -- are of two minds about other people's pregnancies. On the one hand, they're probably genuinely happy that their friends or family are having a baby. On the other, no matter what, they are at least equally sad to be reminded they they're not having a baby themselves. And while it's easier not to tell the infertile couple about successful pregnancies at all, it's gotta be done eventually. Worse than having to shoulder the bad good news is an infertile woman's feeling left out of her friends' lives. Yeah, it's complicated.
I want to tell you the story of how one couple did everything exactly right. That's my brother and sister-in-law.
They found out they were pregnant this spring, and were ready to tell the world in May, right when James and I were waiting to see if our second IVF had worked. They waited a few days and hoped we would find out good news before they broke theirs. My brother wrote me an email that week, saying he thought I was the "Greatest American Hero," not to be confused with the 1980s series. I thought that was really sweet.
It was a Wednesday when we found out our bad news. We told our families. Everybody was sad, but I felt eerily okay. As a student of my own psyche, I knew I was in a state of denial. I kept saying, "Yeah, of course it was negative: isn't it always?" I knew that a shoe would fall at some point and I would collapse into sobs. Probably in public, because I seem to like public crying.
On Sunday we had plans for a family gathering, a celebration of multiple birthdays. The day before it, I got a call from my brother. He sounded nervous. I listened. "We have some news. It's news about Erin..." I knew what was coming. "And the news is that she's pregnant." He didn't apologize exactly, but it was clear he knew he was telling us bad news. He said he wanted to tell me before we saw each other the next day at my mom's. He wanted to give us time to get used to the idea. I was grateful. Very grateful. I told him genuinely that I was happy they'd had an easy time getting pregnant; they didn't need the kind of drama that we had had. I told him I would take some time and get used to the idea and see them later.
But what happened was that I got off the phone and started crying. I wasn't crying about their pregnancy; I was crying about my own. The shoe had dropped. Boy, did I blubber. The next day, I couldn't go to the birthday party because I couldn't stop crying. It wasn't that I didn't want to see my beautiful pregnant SIL; it was that I knew that my teary waterfall wasn't exactly going to make her feel comfortable. Nobody wanted me to be sad, and they would hate to see it, so I took the time to grieve. My family is wonderful, and they all understood.
From that point, it took only about two more months for me to get pregnant. We had the pregnant couple over once in the meantime. After not talking for a while about the elephant (sorry, Erin) in the room, I asked her some questions about how she was feeling, how the pregnancy was going. I told her I was so sorry that her happy pregnancy came at the same time as pregnancy-related sadness for me. I was sorry it couldn't just be all happy. She said she knew; she was sorry too. And then we rubbed bellies so her baby-dust could rub off on me. It ended up being pretty fun and funny. And I think it might have been just the thing we needed.
Within a month, I was pregnant. And now it's really fun to hang out and compare bellies (see the picture post below). I couldn't have planned it any better at all.
I thank my brother and sister-in-law for caring about me so much, for being so kind and sensitive towards us. I thank them for giving us advance warning before we saw them, and for being brave enough to tell us, and thoughtful enough not to tell us in person. I thank them for understanding when we had to be sad, even in the midst of our happiness for them. And I thank them for letting us set the pace for how much we saw them, and how much talking about baby stuff we did NOT do when it was such a sore subject.
Now if their baby comes a month late and ours come a month and a half early, we could still beat 'em.
So here's a review, for use in your life. When you have to tell an infertile friend that you're pregnant, here are some tips:
- Don't do it in person. Your friend will need to be sad for herself even while she is happy for you. It's hard for her to make her face look happy when she's so conflicted. Let her get her bearings before you see her in person. Email is a very good method.
- Speak directly to her and acknowledge her pain. This means, don't do it in a mass email. Tell her (or email her alone) before you tell the rest of the world en masse. Go ahead and spit out the news, but don't be overly giddy about it. Tell her you won't forget how hard this is for her, and how you'll always support her efforts and be there for her.
- Let her set the pace. Take your cues from her as to how much you should see each other and talk about anything, especially your pregnancy. She might need a leave of absence from you. Trust that she'll come back to you when she's feeling stronger. Please don't take it personally. Her infertility affects everyone, and that means you, too. You're one of many people whose lives are different because of it.
- Don't ignore her and don't forget her. Even as you give her space, send her notes or call occasionally to check on how she's doing, or to let her know you're thinking of her. Invite her to your baby shower, because being excluded sucks, but let her know that she doesn't have to come if it's too hard.
- Ask her before you put her on your mass mailing list. She doesn't need to see the updated ultrasound pictures that you send out... unless she wants to.
That's all. See: nothing to it!
Boy, infertility sucks.