The Daily News

LFCA Latest Issue: Friday, September 25, 2009.

Latest Post on BlogHer: Parenting after Infertility.

My Status: Fed Josh's almonds to the squirrels. They needed them very badly.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Barren Advice: Twenty-Nine

This is the 29th 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:

When another blogger becomes pregnant, even if it is very hard-won and I should be happy and rooting for her, I often find myself unable to comment on (or even visit) her blog anymore. My IF journey has included both miscarriages and endless BFNs, so it is a mixture of jealousy and self-preservation that keeps me away. It may not be very nice, but it's how I feel. However, if that same blogger later has a loss or bad news, or something like that, I then feel unable to offer any sympathy -- because, how shitty is that? "Hi there, stranger! I can't share in your happiness, but I'm right here once you're miserable again!"

My question is twofold: 1) Do others do this, or am I just a mean person? and 2) Assuming I can't ever bring myself to share the joy, should I also keep my sympathy to myself if things go wrong? I'm really not sure what I'd want someone else to do if it were me, so I never know what to do.

Foul Weather Friend

I'm willing to bet that more people do this than admit. And no, to kick this off, I don't think it means you're a mean person or a terrible person or a heartless person. Yes, on the surface it sounds like a crappy thing to do (wait--before you get upset, back up and read the sentence before this one), but I think it's important to understand the impulse behind it before we condemn it.

While I normally think that we need to comport ourselves online as we would face-to-face (in other words, if you wouldn't call someone a bitch to their face, it isn't very nice of you to leave someone an anonymous comment doing just that), I don't think we need to extend every perk of friendship to every online friend. I'm not saying that I haven't become close friends with many people via the Internet, but these friendships include more than just reading and commenting on a blog. I'm talking about emails, phone calls, and sometimes even visits. So, first and foremost, separate out a "friend" from a friend. If the support is not mutual, if the contact would not last without the blog, they're a "friend"--someone who you probably care about as you would a friend, but someone who falls into this strange, amorphous, online category of relationship that doesn't necessarily operate under the same terms of a face-to-face friendship.

So there's definitely a divide between people I read ("friends") and people I interact with (friends that I happened to meet online). And I'm willing to bet that many of the people you're ditching once they get that positive are people you read. You haven't built up a friendship therefore, the happiness you are supposed to express comes from emotional slush funds that are empty.

Wait, I need to back up for a second. You need to think about this in terms of banking. Every relationship you have is an emotional bank account. You bank figurative money in the form of trust, support, comfort. And you have a separate account for every close person in your life. Once you've placed "money" in, it can't be taken out unless the bank messes up or you other words, this is why we can return to some friendships after months of not talking and jump right back into a great space full of trust. One of my best friends and I do this all the time--we won't speak for a month or two and then we have a three hour phone call to catch up and we can tell each other the most intimate things regardless of the time that has passed since our last phone call. It's because we put a lot of "money" in that account back in our college years and we replenish the account often enough that we can live off of it for the rest of our lives.

You also have an emotional slush fund. This "money" isn't earmarked for a single person--it's what you have to spend at your own discretion. And frankly, from your description in the question, it sounds like your slush fund is empty. It happens from time to time--everyone goes through points in their life where they just don't have emotional energy to spend on others when they really need to use all of their resources on themselves. Of course, it becomes a problem when you are always without an emotional slush fund, but that is a topic for another day. When you're emotionally in a great spot, your slush fund is overflowing and you can reach out to others. When your slush fund is empty, it's time to turn inward and work on self-preservation.

And no, you can't really open an emotional bank account with every person you meet. There has to be a hierarchy of relationships in your life or you'll go crazy. Partners, siblings, parents, close friends--they get their own account--everyone else pulls from the slush fund.

So if you're happy, you tend to have deep emotional stores in the slush fund that you can pass along to anyone. It's sort of the Mary Poppins effect--if you're twittering about, singing about spoonfuls of sugar and can see the world in this rosy way, you also have emotional money in the bank so to speak. You can lend it out freely knowing more exists. But if you're already emotionally bankrupt, it is hard to give out what doesn't exist in your pockets. You can't hand out money you don't have and you can't hand out happiness you don't have.

I would be willing to bet that it's harder for you to walk away from the blogs where you have built a relationship with the author. Where you have been trading support and therefore building up capital in your emotional account. I'm obviously assuming that you're talking about walking away from blogs where you're simply a reader and an occasional commenter. In those cases, I would probably say it's part of the nature of the blogosphere. You are free to walk away when times are good for that person and come back (or not come back) when times are bad for that person. I wouldn't feel badly commenting again--they probably didn't know the conscious choice you made to avoid their blog.

If you're walking away from blogs where you've had an account open and a lot of capital in place, well, I guess I have a different answer. If you've forged a relationship with the person that goes beyond simply reading their thoughts and offering up a "that sucks!" or "that's great!" every once in a while, I don't think you owe them an explanation, but you do need to consider what you'd want in your own future. If you always pull out from the relationship when their weather doesn't match your weather, it begs the question--why build that emotional capital at all? I mean, why save this figurative emotional money by building that rapport and trust and doing all the work that it takes to maintain a relationship if you don't want to have that support through your own thick or thin? What I'm saying is that I don't really understand the point in putting in the work of building the account if you're not going to use it in the future.

Just as you wouldn't go around town opening up random accounts at every bank and then leaving the money behind when you move, I don't really understand the point in building up an emotional bank account with another person and then ditching it. And I mean this both in terms of face-to-face relationships as well as the ones that begin online. If you're taking the time to invest, make sure you protect and nurture your investments. You would never throw out a 401K account and say, "feh, it's just money." So don't throw out friendship. You can throw out "friendships" but not friendships. See the difference?

In those cases, where you felt a connection while you were both in the trenches and took time to nurture the relationship, I would allow it to continue on--taking the space you need and being good to yourself, but also knowing that it may mean that you need to view their joy even if you don't need to feel their joy (after all, you can't make them instantly sad because you're sad and they can't make you instantly happy because they're happy). Which means saying "congratulations" when they get the positive, perhaps holding back and just reading for a bit, and also offering sympathy if all goes to hell.

In the cases (which are probably the vast majority of cases because we all read more blogs than we have personal relationships) where you simply have been reading along and leaving a few comments from time to time, I don't think it speaks volumes about you as a person. I don't think that it means you're mean or that you would do the same thing in the face-to-face world. I think it shows that you know how much emotional capital is in your figurative slush fund and that you're not withdrawing more than you have on hand and leaving yourself in a deficit.

Therefore, step back with the joy and step forward with the sadness. You're actually a great person to have around because you have the umbrella up in your own personal rain storm and it sounds like others could benefit from having that umbrella placed over them as well rather than only being surrounded by those who are standing in the sunshine and reminding them of the weather they just lost.

We can do small good things without having everything we do be small good things. It doesn't negate the small good things--the offer of support in a moment of sadness--nor does it make commentary on ourselves as complete humans. It would be wonderful if we only comported ourselves with joy, doing small good things with every breath. But we are human and we're messy and we're complex and even with our foibles, we're still wonderful. What you consider to be a problem in your personality actually has a very positive side: you are possibly the best person to comfort someone whose misery needs a little company. And that can't be dismissed as less important. It is just one more way to build support and those emotional stores between two people as you share in sadness.

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


PamalaLauren said...

I used to think that people who did that, got mad and stopped reading blogs were odd.

It's been about a year now with me trying to get pregnant and everytime I read about a person getting pregnant I get so angry. I run a playgroup and 10 of my mommy friends are pregnant and I'm pissed off.

A friend I used to know in person who moved away, who doesn't want anymore children, is pregnant again. And I'm pissed.

So I think it's more normal than not.

eve said...

I COMPLETELY struggle with this issue with my internet IFers and my RL friends. I'm extremely active on a TTC message board, and just recently had a good cry because there was a joyous pregnancy announcement there. I have no ill will towards this person (and choked out my 'congrats' message best I could), but it still hurts.

I found myself talking today with my good friend about my possible POF and found it hard not to look at her plump 7-month-plus preggo belly as we chatted. Even though she was wonderfully supportive, I still felt justitied (just for a minute) in thinking she should just GIVE me one of her good eggs as a token of our friendship.

Anyway, the best way I've found to deal with the people getting preggers thing is to find a friend who will NOT be getting pregnant in the next 2-3 years (and fertile myrtles, "he just looked at me" are disqualified)and confide in them all my wicked and jealous thoughts.

Especially if they've deal with IF, they'll totally understand and never slap you in the face with a 'guess what?' type moment.


Anonymous said...

Great answer Mel! Because so many of us are in the same boat (and deal with the same struggle), I try not to beat myself up too much over these feelings. There are quite a few blogs I read where the now-pregnant writer expresses guilt and hesitation to even be writing, and I know if it ever happens for me I will feel conflicted too. I think most bloggers understand that sometimes their positive happenings can be hurtful to others, and they wouldn't take offense to losing readers or having a friend that needs to take a break.

Maybe you could even write about it on your own blog - like, I'm having a really hard time with all the great news around here, so if I'm not commenting as much as normal, please understand.

There are such a wonderful bunch of supportive people here, I think they would all get it.

Heidi said...

I have just had my 3rd miscarriage in one year and I struggle with the playdate/group issue too--

most of my female friends are in that group, but after this most recent miscarriage (Sat), I cannot bring myself to go to these meetings anymore--it hurts too much to see what I cannot have.

I do think that this is a normal response and I am surprised that there are not more women out there writing about it--have you found other discussions of this?

thanks, Heidi

Lori said...

You are an amazingly wise and compassionate woman.

annacyclopedia said...

I second Lori's emotion, wholeheartedly.

What I love about this response is that it's such a compassionate way of holding our own processes. I have struggled with this lately, and the way I've dealt with it is pretty similar to what you suggest here - that my main responsibility is to myself, and taking care of myself however I need to in the moment doesn't negate the good I might do, however small. And that I don't have to do good with every breath, as you say.

I also love the distinction between friends and "friends" - there are so many people I read regularly and comment on, but don't necessarily have that deeper connection with. As I've found more people with whom I do truly connect, I've struggled with guilt at just not having the emotional resources or even the time to pay equal attention to everyone. This post reminds me that I don't have to treat everyone equally - they are not my children, and it's ok that I'm not going to be super cuddly puffy heart rainbow unicorn best friends with every blogger I have ever read. I can forgive myself for that, at least right now in this moment, and also see that the true friends I've met on the blogs can have the same ebb and flow as my real life friendships.

Damn, you're good!

JamieD said...

Excellent answer, Mel.

I just wanted to add my own experience in that there ~are~ times when I don't comment because I'm not in a good place at the time. I figure, in the end, I need to take care of myself first.

On the flip side, now that I am pregnant, I think long and hard about any comment I leave. I often wonder if the women who are still in the grasp of IF or currently experiencing a loss want to hear from me.

Anonymous said...

Great and sensitive answer, Mel. You are very wise. Sorry to be anonymous for this, but I wanted to comment on JamieD's comment, because it is an important point. For me, it can be weird to get comments from pregnant bloggers, especially on posts where you're expressing a lot of pain. I know pg after IF people still feel like sisters at arms in the trenches, but sometimes even harmless comments can feel bad. "I know just how you feel" from someone who is pg, can feel very different than the same sentiment from someone still struggling.

Princess Jo said...

I know that feeling, very well of late.

Some long time friends of ours, whose children we often babysit (2 to 3 times in a month over a period of 3 years) recently slammed the gates on our friendship, in a very accusatory way...a lot of jealousy of the relationship we had with their children, and a lot of nasty, hurtful and just plain false things said to my husband and I.

To be fair, my husband and I had begun to shut the doors on our relationship anyway. I was finding it difficult to cope with their "need" levels, I guess you could say. They always wanted something (mostly free childcare) but on their own terms: which for the longest time, I was okay with, because they were their children (and as an experienced childcare worker, you expect it): but I balked when the kids started being told that they couldn't tell us that they loved us: only "liked" us. And having my husband being accused of changing their daughter's nappy on the word of a 4 yr old, really topped the cake (we have a strict nappy changing policy, partially on their request, partially because of our feelings on the topic).

All this when I was struggling with our own infertility battle and had just had a miscarriage: and she was pregnant with her fourth (unwanted and unplanned) and was thinking of aborting, and then having ME take care of the kids while she was having the abortion. Thank God she didn't go ahead with it (the abortion), because I don't think I could have coped with it all.

And you know what sucks? The kids are stuck in the middle: and will never probably see us again (okay that last part is selfish me talking).

I guess I invested a lot of emotions and real money into a relationship that went no where, even though I had pictured a happy, longterm friendship: that I would be able to rely on the knowledge and friendship of this woman, when my own children came.

So thanks Melissa, this Barren Advice came at a really good time for me.


'Murgdan' said...

Excellent distinction between friendship and "friendship"...and I love your answer because it makes me feel normal and less bitchy.

If/when I ever get knocked up I would not hold it against any "friends" who decided my newfound belly just wasn't their cup of tea...but I've found, from the other end, not everyone gets that from the other side. One blogger even 'called me out' on it. I didn't so much care for that coming from someone I had never shared emails or back and forth comments with.

I think sometimes, in blog-land, one reads so much of another person's personal life/thoughts/dreams/pain...some begin to think/feel that they actually have a relationship with that person...even when there isn't actually any exchange of information other than what is put out on the web for the world to read.

I don't mean that to say I haven't formed some very real friendships and gained some very much needed support through blogging, but I surely don't expect all of those 'friendships' to last a lifetime (but some may).

So...there are friends I would never snub out of my own IF sorrow...but there are TONS of blogs I read/follow...and they may not all be stories I want to follow to the ends of the world--But there are others I will follow as long as they continue to write...belly or no belly. That's just the way life is. Real life too in a sense.

Wow. I didn't even think I had that much to say about this issue.

Cassandra said...

I agree with everything you said. One response I'll add to the original question is that I think it's fine to comment on a loss without having offered congratulations for the pregnancy. I have definitely done this, for example when I didn't hear about the pregnancy but hear of the loss from Lost and Found, or didn't start reading the blog until after the person became pregnant.

But I agree that if it's someone who comments regularly and they mysteriously disappear during pregnancy only to reappear after a loss, it would be strange. If there is any kind of real relationship beyond the comments section, I think an email would be entirely appropriate, something to the effect of, "I'm very happy for you and wish you the best but I'm not in a place right now where I can read about pregnancies. I hope you will understand."

Most of us would gladly accept a drop in our readership in exchange for a baby.

The Steadfast Warrior said...

As usual, fantastically written and bang on Mel!

Now I have a conundrum. I'm following up on Jamie's comments (as we're in the same boat)and Anon's follow-up comments .

I won't take offense if people stop reading my blog because I'm pregnant, as I do feel for those still struglling and I also know there will always be people to support me.

But because I am pg now, I shouldn't comment on non-pg bloggers blogs? Is this like Drs using EDC- estimated date of confinement, instead of EDD- to describe your due date? Are we now banished to a special Pregger blogland because of our new circumstances? I don't get this.

What about Show and Tell, LFCA and ICLW? Are these things off limits too?

I'm struggling with the idea that there seems to be a "them" and "us" dynamic. Whereas before, we were the ALI COMMUNITY, it seems some are not welcome some of the time?

Maybe I'm blowing this out of proportion (blame the hormones?). But I challenge the idea that my experieces during and after my two (oh so very painful) miscarriages are less valid or helpful to others not that I'm pregnant again. It makes me sad.

orodemniades said...

Heidi, my condolences.

Excellent words, Mel. I'd add that as circumstances change, you can go back to those blogs and resume reading or conversing...

nancy said...

This is one of those topics that will have a different "answer" in every new step of IF or even non-IF and after-IF. The human heart is a fickle, fickle thing.

nancy said...

(totally OT, but the word verification on my last comment was "grasylog". Made me giggle.

luna said...

another brilliant analogy, mel.

and I agree your advice is wise and compassionate.

I think we need to allow ourselves the time and space to detach from those blogs we can't bear to read. I think people understand if you stop following every step of pregnancy. and if they don't, well then, why should you feel bad then if they can't feel for you too?

but it goes the other way too. I've had people stop reading when they got pregnant and I was wallowing. but I picked up other readers. so again, the internet allows that space to breathe, and readership evolves as it should.

D said...

What you said Mel is perfect.

Self preservation is worthy and emotionally healthy for what ever the reason when dealing with others. Especially with blog "friends". Sometimes it even happens with real friends when it's too much to handle.

It's natural for a blog "friends" to move on and stop seeking or giving support in the same way to someone pregnant. The focus of the blogger shifts to the idiosyncries of the pregnancy.

And you know what, Happy pregnant women blogs are not your focus when you're still struggling.

D said...

It's not a us-vs-them.

People move on, their emotional needs change. They seek support elsewhere that feels more compatible for where they are at the moment.

A pregnant women transitions to motherhood her focus drifts away from her loss and struggle, and when others are still struggling with loss and difficulty with getting preg it's just not that useful, and healthy to read her blog anymore if all you feel is rage and jealousy with a tinge of bitterseet happiness for her.

Anonymous said...

SteadfastWarrior and JamieD, I want to respond to your connundrum as to whether to comment on a non-pregnant blog when you are pregnant. The answer is, you should do what you feel is right. Different people feel differently about it in general, and also at different times. So I'd say, just go with how you'd feel if it were the other way around. That's the best any of us can do. However, I can only speak for myself, but there are times when comments from pregnant bloggers (especially to posts when I am really angry or sad about being surrounded by pregnant people and feeling like such a failure myself) have really upset me. Even made me angry. Even comments meant with all good intentions to be supportive or sympathetic. I hate to say it, but to some degree there IS a "them" and "us" in this. It's not malicious on either side, it just is. When you're pregnant after IF you still have worries and fears, but you're a lot closer to the prize than those of us who are still in deep doubt that we'll even get within sight of it. Your IF story is moving ahead while ours is stalled in the same old same old. And sometimes, in certain moods, that can make hearing consolation from you a little hard. Again, not that I'm saying you shouldn't offer it, but just to be aware that for some people, or at certain times, it might have a different effect than you intend.

Elizabeth said...

Great response! I've struggled with this issue from both sides, and right now, I'm struggling from sort of the other side. I've started wondering whether I should comment on some of the blogs of ladies still in the IF trenches since I am technically having a baby in June. However, it's hard for me to think of myself as on the other side b/c we are expecting via surrogacy. I am not pg. I am not carrying. But we are having a baby. So it's weird for me b/c I am still infertile and often think as an infertile, but I'm having a baby. It's a new kind of limbo I guess.

But above all, I would suggest to do what you feel capable of doing and if that means stopping reading some blogs, then that's ok.

nutmeg96 said...

You know, I never stopped reading a blog just because of a blogger's pregnancy. But when blogs turned into standard "joy of pregnancy" drivel, then I'd lose interest. Also, bloggers who used ART to get PG and then spent multiple posts thanking God without a mention of modern science would typically lose me as a reader. It may not be fair, but that's just me.

What I'm trying to say is that there are lots of reasons people stop reading a blog, and it may not be simply "she got pregnant." You know?

Shinejil said...

I think it's fine to comment if you feel true sympathy (i.e. you couldn't be happy for the pregnancy, but you could help mourn the m/c), even if you've been silent for a while.

All of us understand that not everyone is going to want to share our joy at having what they long for but don't have.

WiseGuy said...

Just wanted to let you know....I wrote about this one here -

Keep up the good work!