I think I’ve been lucky that I’ve never really been surrounded by lots of friends/family who were pregnant or had young children at the same time. As I've said before, my family and friends have, very considerately, stretched out their child-bearing years across for over twenty years (oldest niece is 32, youngest is 4), and so I’ve never felt too bombarded by pregnant bellies or newborn babies. I read this morning about a woman who has just been through a pregnancy loss and who complained that she had a grand total of twelve pregnancies in her immediate circle. I cannot imagine having to deal with that. Because the truth is that infertile women can find it difficult being surrounded by pregnancies, newborn babies, and children.
This is accentuated now by the arrival of Facebook. It’s a great place for women to brag about their kids or pregnancies without leaving the house. In the past infertile women may have been able to cope with the occasional interactions with friends or family with children, because we would be able to plan these interactions, prepare ourselves, brace for the emotions that might come, and have a time limit on the encounters if we found them difficult. But with Facebook, we never know when we go into the site what we will see. We are suddenly shocked by scan or baby photos, or – in my case these days – the fortunately so-far-occasional grandchildren photos. I emphasise photos, because these are hard to avoid seeing, and because they can elicit an almost instant emotional reaction. Gushing status updates are both easier to avoid. We can stop reading as soon as we realise what they're about. But a photograph can't be unseen. In an instant there is often a visceral punch in the gut from a baby photo or photo of a successful ultrasound (when so many of us only have memories of unsuccessful ultrasounds). So on Facebook, infertile women can either be in a permanent state of bracing ourselves – an emotional state that can be tense and exhausting - or we can be ambushed, suddenly pierced by a painful reminder. And so for some, unless they de-friend their entire circle of Friends, Facebook is doomed to be an inescapable, painful mothers-and-babies party.
Understandably therefore, I read a lot of complaints about Facebook. I’m lucky. I don’t have too many people with babies on Facebook, though as I mentioned the grandchildren are starting to arrive, and my friends with kids rarely post about them (have I told you how much I love my friends?), or simply aren’t on Facebook. But I’ve taken certain precautions to protect myself too. This goes beyond just infertility protection. I do it for privacy reasons, and to make Facebook work for me, rather than the other way round. My tips for avoiding annoying encounters on Facebook are probably obvious. But this is what works for me.
I hide the profuse posters, block those Farmville etc apps, and don’t receive email notifications of posts. This allows me to access Facebook when I want to, and how I want to. If I want to check up on a profuse poster – or someone who is going to post a lot of baby pics – I’ll go into their page from time to time, when I feel like it, and will comment or visit then. It means I don’t have to wade through a bunch of shared sayings, photos and chain status updates (that I hate).
I occasionally post something that I will make available only to specific people or groups (the Custom share option). I recently posted something about a strong earthquake here in Wellington (7.0). I deliberately didn’t make it available to my friend in Christchurch, who has experienced probably hundreds of similar earthquakes over the last two years. She didn’t need to hear me moaning about the one that scared me! I also block one particular guy from my more frivolous postings. He’s a friend, but he’s judgemental.
My security and privacy settings are quite rigid. I’ve set that I’m the only one who can see tagged photos of me. I don’t allow (I don’t think at least) others to see what I “like” etc. I want to control what is out there about me, as much as feasibly possible.
I don’t allow “friends of friends” to see what I’m up to, and I really wish others would do this too. I’ve been surprised with the occasional newborn baby or scan photo because of friends of my nieces making everything available to “friends of friends.”
Perhaps the step that has protected me the most is that I have deliberately kept my number of Friends low. I’ve added people I genuinely love and want to stay in touch with. I don’t even have my in-laws. They wouldn’t understand my regular “Chardonnay Time!” updates. I have no-one from my business life on Facebook. I’ll use LinkedIn for that. I really can’t understand people who fill up their friends list with people they don’t really know, or who are colleagues they only know in the most peripheral work terms. A friend of mine has over 600 friends. He is a lobbyist, so this is business for him. I guess it helps him. But he rarely posts anything – varying between the occasional economic comment and his latest golf score. But he probably has no desire to use Facebook in the way that I do. If I had business colleagues as Friends, I’d almost certainly block them from almost all my status updates. I don’t want my business colleagues knowing I’m scared after an earthquake, or where I am on holiday, or seeing photos of me, or watching the jokes I have with some of my (slightly crazy) English friends. And if I want to talk about infertility, I certainly don’t want to share that in my business life, or with casual acquaintances. It’s not relevant to our relationships, and isn’t something I talk about. (Though admittedly, if I talk about infertility, I don’t make it accessible to my full Friends list, and I tend to restrict who can see the post. Though as the years go on, I’m less and less bothered about who sees what I say.)
There’s a lot of negative commentary about Facebook out there. But I love it. I connect with friends who live overseas, friends I no longer chat with regularly as I did perhaps 10 years ago, friends who were exchange students with me 30+ years ago and share a special bond, and family who live far away. I connect with my adult nieces far more over Facebook than I would otherwise, and find it so much easier to maintain relationships with people I care about. It is a wonderful tool for me. But I think that’s because I’ve carefully thought about it, and how I want to use it. I hope you have all been able to find a way to make it work for you too. I hate that the thought that you might feel tortured by it on a daily basis, or feel dread when opening the site rather than eager anticipation. Because we all deserve more than that.