Adventures in making and raising our test-tube babies

Monday, September 8, 2008

How to Tell Your Infertile Friends You're Pregnant

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.

17 comments:

Laughing4Heir said...

Here's the nail. Here's the hammer. Here's you slamming it into the board with one swift pound.

Totally.

Lisa Clarke said...

Great advice. I would go so far as to say that it applies when telling any woman whose last pregnancy-related experience was one of loss. Even if she appears to have moved on.

Despite a pregnancy that did not end well 18 months ago, I generally feel ok these days. I've gotten over it (as much as one can truly get over such a thing), and feel relatively content with where my life/family is now. Yet when I found out about a friend's pregnancy last month, it took me the better part of a week to stop feeling like I'd been kicked in the gut.

I'm ok now. I'm no longer actively trying to avoid running into her around town ;-)

I guess my point is, tread lightly. Even those of us not actively seeking babies may still have occasion to mourn that decision when blindsided by someone else's joy. This is sensitive stuff to so many people, and your advice fits perfectly into many situations.

Anonymous said...

Right on.

Starleneg

Not Your Aunt Bea said...

Great advice.

And when you send emails, title it honestly and put in a lot of blank lines so they have to scroll down to see info/photos/etc. That way they can decide when they're ready to read the email and if they accidentally open it, they're not forced to see the photos right away. Once a friend opened an email from a photo studio before my email explaining what the photos were of and I felt like shit.

You're right that the key is to let them guide you. And trust that your friendship will come out stronger having gone through infertility, pregnancy, whatever life throws at you together.

DAVs said...

Kay
You should write a book. Really.

I just got an email from someone who tried so hard to shield me from her pregnancy that she JUST NOW told me and the baby is three months old! I mean, we were in each others' weddings but obviously hadn't seen each other in a while and only communicated with email occasionally. But I felt so bad for her and also bad for me--I missed everything...the shower, the announcement, the whole she-bang.

Complicated shit this infertility thing.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for this post- I found it by googling "telling an infertile person about pregnancy" and you gave me just the advice I need. I just found out I'm pregnant with my second, and a dear friend of mine has been trying for years to have her first, so I know my news is not going to be easy for her. I'll put your tips to use though, thanks for them.

Anonymous said...

Great piece. and everyone who needs to tell people with fertility issues about a pregnancy should read it.

We've been iving through it. My wife had surgery to address some fertility complications, and we've had one round of IVF which was unsuccessful. We're quite upset and fertility concerns have pretty much consumed our lives these days.

This summer we ran headlong into a family crisis. On a Friday afternoon we got some bad news - wife would require more surgery. We were invited to a weekend getaway at sister and BIL's cottage. We said, "let's just take the weekend to relax and get away from these issues." Fine. We drive the four hours, get in cramped two-room cabin, and kick our feet up. That's when sis and BIL say, "we're pregnant, and tomorrow morning both sets of parents and siblings are arriving to hear the great news!" It was a true meltdown. She didn't sleep at all that night - she just stewed about how the next day would affect her. In the morning we made an excuse about being sick and we left. Unfortunately we met sister's in-laws pulling in the driveway, and not able to ruin the surprise, I had to jump out and make up some crazy story about having to leave right away, saying my wife was so sick she couldn't even raise her head above the dashboard to say hello. How humiliating. Sister and BIL still accuse us of not being happy for them, and of course, they're quite focused on "being right", insisting they did nothing wrong. they even went as far as to accuse us of trying to ruin their moment. it's a disaster, I tell you.

So, thanks for your post. I'm glad I found it, and glad to hear we're not alone.

Anonymous said...

Thank you! Great sensitive post! My brother and SIL are having trouble conceiving their second baby and I was wondering how to tell them our news. I'll be 13 weeks at Christmas and the last thing I wanted was to make a big announcement in front of everyone without considering their feelings. I know they will be happy for us, but like you said they will probably need their own space and time to grieve a little. I was also wondering if an email was too impersonal, but lovingly written it could be a good way to let them know. Thanks again and congratulations!!

Anonymous said...

I sure wish I had found this about 5 weeks ago when I was telling my brother and sister in law about my pregnancy. As it turns out, I did almost exactly as you stated anyway. From the other side, I have to say that this is extremely difficult to do and there is much conflicting advice out there, from "tell your infertile family members and friends first, in person, be proud and happy when you do it and don't pretend you think they can't take it" to advice like this.


Now if only you could write a post on how to deal with it on an ongoing basis, because although the "reveal" went well enough, I am finding the ongoing relationship difficult. My SIL won't acknowledge that I am pregnant and I find it hard to deal with....

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post. My colleague is going through fertility treatments, and I just found out I am pregnant. I don't want to blindside her, and am trying to figure out how to best go about breaking the news to her.

I think I will mention to her first that we are "trying" so that it doesn't come completely out of the blue.

It sucks that good people have to suffer through infertility. Thank you for sharing your stories, so that we can learn from you.

Anonymous said...

I lost my baby at 14 weeks. My best friend lost hers at 29 weeks. We work together. I am 20 weeks pregnant now and she was the first person to know. I knew what she could have felt when I told her. But I felt it would be much better than if she found out by accident from somebody else. She knew I was having trouble conceiving after the loss. I almost lost this pregnancy too. When I went for the scan to find out if baby look good and we found out it was a girl I send a short email update without any pictures attached. I wanted her to know and I wanted her to have some time for herself with the news. We both lost girls and I felt that that would be the best. We see each other every day at work and I know how hard can it be for her to look at me growing. We do not talk about the pregnancy much. I tried not to bring it up unlees somebody else present asks me something about it. I am not upset that she does not want to talk about it or even acknowledge it. I was there just a few months ago...then the infertility issues made it even harder...I pray that when she is ready to try again, she gets pregnant easily and carries the baby to term.

Kerri said...

This was great advice, thank you. My friend is still taking some time to come to terms with it, but I hope she will be ok in the end. I'm just not sure how much of my pregnancy I should share with her? We are best friends, and I would love to share this time of my life with her.

Anonymous said...

thanks for this. I also found it with google after telling my brother on the phone. I think he and the SIL are having fertility problems based on the reaction. I wish I'd known so I could have been more careful. Now what do I do?

Anonymous said...

Thank you

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for your advice. I have to tell my Best friend tonight I'm pregnant with my seccond. She has been trying since I got pregnant with my first over two years ago.

Anonymous said...

Thank you. I only wish my friends had read this before announcing their pregnancies as they made all the classic mistakes. And it hurts. In my group of friends I am now the second-to-last to conceive so I have to break the news to my special friend who would love to have children but can't. Thank you for your help with how to do this sensitively, and to everyone's comments too. Best wishes

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your advice. I've been struggling to tell my sil. I'll be 12 weeks next tuesday. When I first found out I was nervous because they were trying too. When I got the news that she was expecting I was relieved, unfortunately she had a tubal pregnancy and with complications had to have part of her tube cut out. The other side is 99% blocked. I thank you for your information, it really shows how to tell some one in a sensitive way.