Last week, Mel wrote about how to tell someone you are pregnant, prompted by a question raised in the Washington Post. I started writing a long (looooong) comment, and realised it would be better as a blog post. Jess beat me to it, and wrote her perspective here. It’s worth reading them both.
The question posed was how to tell someone who has struggled
with infertility that you are pregnant. Obviously not a problem we have had,
but the lack of understanding* of others has sometimes caused us a problem. The answer
suggested giving the person space by telling them by text or email, and
telling them it was okay to take time to process. It was really nice to read
that advice in such a wide-reaching forum as the WP. I hope a lot of people gained a new understanding of how to announce their pregnancies to their infertile friends and family.
The thing that bothers me with this issue is that so often it is the person on the receiving end of the news (the one struggling with infertility or childlessness) who is criticised and judged for being upset, for potentially being upset, or for simply struggling with the news. People who should know better judge us, even if we react perfectly decently. (See Jess’s post for an example of this.) We judge ourselves too, sometimes even more harshly.
The reality is that pregnancy announcements can be very difficult to hear for anyone who has suffered infertility, loss, or childlessness. They are a reminder that everyone else (or so it seems) manages to do something so easily, and we can't. They bring up all those feelings of "what's wrong with me?" or "maybe I never deserved it" or "maybe I did something wrong" etc. The feelings aren't about the friend who has the good news. We are happy for them. But we want (or wanted) their good news too. And that good news prompts all those feelings of self-worth and failure, which we might still battle with daily (especially in the days of active infertility, or in the first years of childlessness), but usually silently. We then have to deal with those sad feelings, and on top of that, we feel bad and guilty about having them, even though a) we are happy for our friends, but we are unhappy for ourselves, and b) it's a perfectly natural reaction.
So I agree that, as suggested in the WaPo, having time to process is really important. It gives us time to prepare ourselves for being around/seeing the reaction of others too. Because the outpouring of excitement, ooh-ing and aah-ing, and gushing (there’s no other way to describe it) from others is hard to take. If you want to listen to pronatalism run riot, listen to the comments at a pregnancy announcement! So when a friend told me she was pregnant, and would be announcing it at a small gathering I would be at a week later, I was very grateful. She herself never made me feel bad – but the sometimes over-the-top reactions of others were not as easy to deal with.
It's a two-way issue too. The pregnant person doesn’t always realise this, but inevitably it may signal a change in the relationship, and the potential loss of the relationship too, depending on both parties in the relationship. We see that coming, often from bitter experience. I saw a comment online the other day, when someone with children said that, “motherhood means lost friendships.” She should try it in the other direction, I thought! But it was evidence that both parties hurt over friendship changes. The truth is that frequently friendships change when children arrive, whether infertility is involved or not.
I will say this again though. Struggling with a pregnancy announcement is a normal reaction. We should not beat ourselves up for it. Ideally, our friends will understand and give us a little time to deal with this. If they don’t, it's out of ignorance, not malice. So taking a little time for ourselves is perfectly acceptable, and oftentimes, very important. I don’t recommend ghosting a person, as I read somewhere recently! I think that’s an appalling way to deal with the situation. But sending a card, or email, congratulating them, and then gradually talking to the pregnant person individually, on our own, can sometimes be easier. I would avoid groups if you can! That way we can let them know we’re happy for them, but at the same time might struggle with the news and need time to process. They can understand better that we might struggle, but that we’re still delighted for them and love them. Besides, the reality is that they are going to be surrounded by people congratulating them, and fussing over their announcement. That leaves room for us to take a little more time.
* my worst experience of a pregnancy announcement was, however, by email. "Sorry to hear of your ectopic pregnancy," emailed a (male) friend I'd emailed to tell about it. "But guess what, we're pregnant, and attached is our scan photo!!!"