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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Barren Advice: Nineteen

This is the nineteenth installment of Barren Advice. You can ask questions that are fertility or non-fertility related.

Barren Advice is posted each Tuesday-ish. If you have your own question for Barren Advice, click here to learn how to submit. Please weigh in with your own thoughts in the comment section and indicate which question you're addressing if there are multiple questions in the post.

Dear Mel:

I've got a strong hunch that my best friend and coworker is pregnant. I know I should be happy for her but I am not. Of course I want her to have a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby. Of course I know that she deserves to be pregnant whether or not she's had to suffer through agonizing monthly disappointments and painful and expensive procedures. Of course I wouldn't wish infertility on my worst enemy but I still find it hard not to be a little jealous of people who get pregnant right away - especially when they did it the fun way and it didn't cost them a dime.
Am I normal to feel this way?

When I read about similar situations it seems like everybody makes a point of saying that they are happy for their friends. Do you think they really mean it or are they just trying their best to convince themselves? I'm only one year into my infertility nightmare - is being happy for pregnant friends a point of arrival that I can look forward to later? Am I just a selfish and petty person? I'm hoping its a point of arrival because I really DO want to be happy for my friend. If she is pregnant, she deserves a friend who is genuinely happy for her and who will enjoy talking about her pregnancy. I know that I can't do that right now and I don't want to try to fake it. Its already too hard to think about seeing her get bigger and bigger every day at work for nine more months. Can I expect her to understand this and how do I tell her in a way that won't hurt her feelings?

Lucie B.

Think about it this way: it is possible for you to have sunny weather and for your friend to be in the same country and be in the middle of a huge storm. Her weather doesn't really affect your weather. Your sky is still sunny. You may appreciate your sunny day a bit more knowing that it's raining elsewhere. You may spend time not appreciating your sunny day because you're worried about a weather change. But, regardless of how you react to your weather, what is happening over someone else's house does not change what is happening over your house.

You are, by the way, currently in the middle of a downpour.

When you're in sunny weather, you can hear about someone else's rain and while it concerns you, your reality is actually quite good. A light breeze. Warm sun. Flowers blooming. It's very different when you're in shitty weather. You're cold and wet and miserable. You have to consider so many things just to move from Point A to Point B. You can't forget weather because it's always there--affecting everything you do and everything you can't do.

Now extend this analogy to infertility and pregnancy. It's very easy to be sympathetic to someone who has had a failed cycle when you are rubbing your own baby bump. You can give them a hug and wish them well and cluck at their situation. And then, you can go back to your happy, sunny world. It is much harder to move in the other direction: to stand in the figurative rain with your empty womb and jump for glee over someone else's good news. Can it be done? Sure. But there are also people who don't mind the rain and run around outside in the middle of a downpour happily. And then there are the rest of us who carry around a soggy umbrella. So it's important to remember that there are different types of people who are capable of very different reactions.

Do I think people truly are happy for their friends? Sure--I can be happy that they have sun and aren't struck in this storm while still feeling rather miserable for myself. My happiness for them doesn't occupy my whole world--it's simply part of my whole. I am cognizant of their happiness and I acknowledge it and even jump around with glee at their house for a bit. But then I have to return to my own rainy world and I soon forget about their happiness while I try to navigate my own weather.

I am the sort who doesn't like the rain; who doesn't see the silver lining and remind myself that rain makes the flowers grow. I'm the sort who wants to get out of the rain and spend the afternoon mapping a plan to move to sunnier climes. And I have to be true to who I am while also balancing out the type of friend I want to be. I always acknowledge the other person's happiness and sunny weather (especially if they return the favour by acknowledging my rain). But it would be out of character to gaily announce that I love the rain because it gives me a chance to wear my cool rainboots. And it sounds like you need to feel what you're going to feel: a little jealousy; a little "why not me?"; and a little happiness that your friend has managed to find a sunny space.

How to tell her? I would recommend by not telling her. You can make it about you without telling her that you're making it about you. Discreetly take the space you need, bow out of events you can't bear to attend, and treat your friend the way you would want to be treated if the situation were reversed. It will be emotionally painful to stare at a dry person bathed in sun while you are beside her with your soggy umbrella. So give yourself the space and permission to cry and set some firm boundaries in your mind (eg. "I can go to her shower, but I sure as hell can't throw it).

I hope your weather changes soon--it almost always does unless you live in Seattle or San Diego.

No really, the beauty of a blog advice column is that you get to weigh in with your two cents too. Let the questioner know if you support the advice, add to the response, or dispute it completely.

Leave a comment in the reaction box below--only keep in mind that conflicting advice is embraced and rudeness is not. Want to ask your own question? Click here to see what you need to send in order to be included in a future Tuesday's installment of Barren Advice


Michelle said...

This is great advice and I love the analogy. Brilliant as always Mel.

Cassandra said...

You are completely normal. Depending on the friend and my own state of mind, my reactions vary from ambivalent to 100% bitter. Even when I am genuinely happy for friends (which happens more for friends who also struggled to have a baby) I still roll my eyes behind their back when they complain about pregnancy symptoms, and dread the showers, and leave encounters with their babies visibly shaken.

Contrary to Mel's suggestion, I think it might be a good idea to tell her where you're at emotionally -- that is, if she already knows about your IF. Otherwise there will be an awkward conversation sometime in the next 9 months when she confronts you about your strange behavior and lack of enthusiasm.

Good luck!

areyoukiddingme said...

If she is a good friend, her joy will be tempered by sorrow for your loss as much as your joy for her is affected by your own situation. If she is not that good of friend, then you can just fake it through when you need to, feel good when you do, and avoid her when you know that you're too envious to be around. I think it comes down to knowing your friend and knowing yourself.

Rachel said...

I can't be particularly happy when I see people who are able to get pregnant or have children.

I am glad they don't have to suffer infertility, and I am glad for them that things have worked out for them. But I cannot be happy along with them.

You do not have to be the person that will have happy pregnancy talk with this person. You do have to fake it briefly and say congratulations. Avoid the conversations at all costs.

If you are really close with her and she knows nothing about your if situation or you feel you do need to say something due to your friendship, couch it carefully. If you haven't told her about if, be vague. Tell her that while you are so very happy for her, it is just sometimes difficult for you to talk about it. Don't go into too much detail. But you are so happy things are working out for her. Something like that.

Do not force yourself to go through the pregnancy with her. That is just too much.

Good luck.

luna said...

lucie, I think your reaction is completely normal. I like mel's weather analogy. sometimes you're in a torrential downpour and can't see the light of day, other times you may be in a patch of light rain with the sun trying to shine through.

like cassandra, my reactions range from genuinely happy to depressed, jealous, resentful and jaded (e.g., "of course she is.") to wish it were you too doesn't make you a bad person or friend.

when women who struggled with infertility or loss make announcements, I can feel happy for them knowing what they've been through. but I still feel sad for myself. I still grieve what I never had. "duality" -- the ability to feel conflicting emotions -- is what makes us human.

everyone has their own timeline to work through these issues. some women love seeing babies and children, others can't handle it. some go to showers, others don't. infertility is HARD. you need to take care of yourself.

I suggest giving you both some space. bow out gracefully when you need to. I never liked when people withheld info or invites to "protect" me. I wanted to be the one to opt out. anyone who mattered should have known why. anyone who made it about them didn't understand.

if this is a friend you can talk to who already knows of your struggle, you could try to explain that you're going through a difficult time and wish her well, but sorry you can't be there to share in her joy right now. not that SHE make you upset, but your situation -- an empathetic woman should know the difference. good luck.

luna said...

holy crap I wrote a novel. sorry!

Anonymous said...

Most days, I just don't have it in me to feign happiness for those who are more fortunate. Sure, I'm glad they don't have to walk through fire for children. It sucks like a bitch that I have to. The two do not EVER cancel each other out. As a general rule, I'll hand out a couple happy words for the person/couple in question and then distance myself for a while. That said, some of my best blogosphere friends have been blessed with either healthy pregnancies or placements of healthy babies... I am happy for them. I know they worked like hell to get there. But at the end of the day, it rips the scabs off wounds that may never heal and that will always ALWAYS hurt. No two ways about it.

Most of us know how to be gracious when we are given a gift. It's a whole other art to learn to be gracious of our losses.

Mrs Woggie said...

Lucie you are very very normal. I think infertile people who say that they are ok with their friends who fall pregnant at the drop of a hat are not being honest with you or themselves. It's natural to feel envious, jealous, sad and angry. I try to explain it by saying it is not them I feel that way towards it is me and my situation because it is.

I except my good friends to understand that some days I might not want to see them and there 8 month pregnant bellies, or that I might not want to hold their new born babies.

Good Luck.

Muslimah Bazaar said...

Even though I am pregnant now, I still have a very hard time with pregnancy announcements for those who are the overly flaunt it in your face, of course we weren't trying type...three of my friends who are newlyweds are due at the same time as me, and I know no one was it's very normal to be having mixed feelings. Like Mel said, yes, you are happy for them, but that doesn't change how you feel about where you are right now.

Vintage Mommy said...

As usual this community always brings up memories - not usually happy ones either!

I remember a friend who was always complaining about her pregnancy woes; it was so hard to listen to that!

I think your reaction is normal and usual. I wish I had a magic answer for how to handle it.

Hang in there!

Dr Barreness said...

Of course this jealousy is completely normal and understandable.

Just this weekend I was stuck on a road trip with my sister-in-law as she found out she was pregnant. My heart broke.

I wrote my sob story on my own blog. I find it so much easier to write things down.

Chin up!

WiseGuy said...

Oh Lucie! It is so normal to find it out like this. But the good thing to do is not tear your own heart out, even if it pinches you to see others getting it so easy. Always offer your best wishes and hope that you will go that way too. Life is not fair. But we don't have to let it make us mad! Just hang on!

WiseGuy said...

If she knows you well, she may be sensitive to your woes. So be sensitive to her joy, as she is to your troubles!

Guera! said...

"When I read about similar situations it seems like everybody makes a point of saying that they are happy for their friends. Do you think they really mean it or are they just trying their best to convince themselves?"
When I read this Lucie I thought I could have written it. I want to be happy for my friends who get pregnant and what I have found is that sometimes I truly am and other times I am faking the happiness completely. We are supposed to be happy and to be anything else makes you feel like a less than decent person so it's just easier to fake it and say what you are supposed to say. My reaction usually depends on my friend's attitude too. One friend I have is pregnant after trying for two years. She and her husband both were tested. He had easily resolvable issues and they finally got pregnant. Great, right? You think she would be very grateful and humble. No, she now acts like they weren't trying that long anyway and that it actually came easy for them. She wants no association whatsoever with having trouble getting pregnant. That burns me. I know her situation and we spent hours talking together about our struggles. Suddenly she doesn't relate anymore. I know I am being lengthy but once I started writing I couldn't stop! The thing are no alone. Your feelings are completely normal and understood by everyone reading your question. Mel's analogy was on target wasn't it? Hang in there!

Deb said...

Great advice Mel.

Lucie, I am right there with you but thankfully, while the latest announcment hurts worse than any before it due to the circumstances. I just have to try and be happy over email, texts, and phone calls since they just moved away.

I hope that you can come to a place where you can truly support your friend and if you can't that you can fake it with the best of them. But I also wish you the courage to take care of yourself during this pregancy and step away when you need to.

Good luck

SarahSews said...

I always had a tough time with this and I was rarely graceful about it. You'd think that after our siblings had 8 (I lost count!) pregnancies while we were trying I would have figured it out. But I didn't. Sometimes I didn't even get out a good fake congratulations.

Be kind to yourself. Try to be kind to your friend. And remember that she will have LOADS of people other than you who will be happy about her pregnancy and coming baby. Lots of other people will happily endure the pregnancy and baby talk. It does not have to come from you.

Anonymous said...

Wow, what a beautiful analogy for something that's so hard to put into words. I always explain it like I'm 100% happy for my friend, but still 100% sad for myself.

It's also hard because it seems like men don't usually feel the same way. My husband doesn't understand why I can be completely devastated by a friend's announcement.

Thank you for the advice, I'm going to remember that and think about that for a long time.

Rachel said...

Dear Lucie, you are SO SO normal.

And, I'll tell you a secret. I may say that I'm happy for my friend in a blog or whatever... but the happy feeling is this quiet-not-so-in-your-face-emotion.

This is compared to how I feel inside, which is that pain and sadness you're talking about. I think I've cried each time a friend of mine got pregnant or had a baby since I've been trying... that's a long time! I love my friends... but it's still sad for *me*. I'm not sad that *they* are pregnant... I'm sad that I can't have what they have.

Io said...

I can definitely be both happy and sad all mixed together. Even if I am happy for a friend, it can be happy with a twist of knife in my gut.
The only thing I would disagree with Mel about is the telling. No matter how discrete you may try to be about not showing your hurt in front of your friend or bowing out of a few things you can't handle, she may notice and be hurt. I think it's important to let her know it's not personal, it's probably not even rational, but that sometimes you need some time off so you *don't* rain on her parade unintentionally.

Faith said...

What a great post. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I needed that today.

Bea said...

Very well explained.


the misfit said...

It reassures me so much to hear other people say that they aren't always really happy for people who make announcements. I'm probably in sort of an unusual situation here but I'll add my two cents...I used to cry whenever I heard. Particularly and especially, I would cry whenever people whose wedding we'd attended as a married couple (i.e., we got married first) announced a pregnancy while we were trying. PARTICULARLY an unexpected pregnancy or one they clearly thought was a little early in coming.

I don't cry now. I congratulate people sincerely. It's not even really hard. Because I don't really think about me getting pregnant. (Not "child-free" or whatever, just sort of emotionally checked out.) But I hardly care. I'm not INsincere, it just doesn't matter to me at all. They could announce they had new tennis rackets, I would still smile. It's their pregnancy. That's nice. I might send a card. But it's not my life.

Also: myself, I wouldn't tell her. People who don't NOTICE that I care so much about family and children and have been three years married and am childless when they announce their pregnancies do not need to hear much about me. While I can smile and sit and listen to any number of pregnancy stories if they want to tell them. That's an acquaintance, not a friend. But you may not be so heartless. If she's your friend, you should tell her. She doesn't have a special "get out of friendship free" card where she gets to be your friend only if it never causes her a moment's discomfort. That's not how it works.

Anonymous said...