I’m one of those people who thinks you can learn a lot about your own psyche and subconscious from your dreams. Sometimes they’re crazy but at least for me I can see a lot of real-life in my dreams. Rather than ignore them (even the weirder ones…) I at least try to understand why my brain was making that connection while I had no control over my thoughts.
So anyway, after I finished my defense two months ago, I would have a few reoccurring nightmares. They were:
- Zombies were attacking and I had to run away. I hate zombies and don’t watch scary movies because I don’t enjoy them. Apparently I have a vivid enough imagination as it is.
- My adviser berating me and telling me she was taking away my degree. I would wake up in a cold panic that I hadn’t practiced enough only to realize, I already passed?!
- Friends would either tell me they were pregnant or I would run into them and their 6 month bellies and find out for myself.
Out of those three scenarios, guess which one I would wake up crying to? Yes, repeatedly. I wonder what my subconscious was telling me?
I sit here writing this after receiving news that (naturally) a close, married friend and her husband have gone off the pill and are eager to start their family. For a myriad of reasons, probably none due to me healthily dealing with the matter, its been a few months since I’ve been hit with a pregnancy announcement that’s given off that gut feeling of being punched (for that I’m grateful). But how I reacted to this news made me remember how it feels and very well may feel again to hear those words that friends/family are pregnant. In response to that feeling before, I wrote this joking post about the ‘cosmic pregnancy’ balance instead of examining the very real response that I feel after someone’s big announcement. (Looking back to that post, I have been meaning to write this post for a while now, I just never found the right words.)
But as I sat there, listening to my friends talk about how excited they were about trying to get pregnant and feeling that familiar pit growing in my stomach, I remembered why I haven’t written that post. Its a complicated of a subject that elicits a really complicated response that could easily be misconstrued. I have friends who will read this and one day probably have to tell me that they’re pregnant and I don’t want to create a giant awkwardness around this subject after I write about it here, once they find out what is really going on in my head when I hear the news.
For me personally, how drastically I’ve changed in regard to talking about plans to have babies, and just all things pregnancy is one of the most upsetting points about our sub-fertility.
However, I do think its necessary to write about this, because the ignorance and/or misunderstanding that surrounds how sub/infertile women receive these announcements is more unsettling than the announcement itself and I hope to shed some light on this.
If anything, I hope in reading this post you understand that the primary reaction to hearing that someone is pregnant is not jealousy. In my experience, its one of self-pity, isolation, and fear.
Self-pity that I am a broken woman that cannot relate to the most basic of womanly topics (perhaps, other than ‘the period’). Isolation because of this brokenness and lack of understanding with and from my peers. And fear of being left behind because of those first two.
A close fourth reaction is then guilt and shame. Guilt and shame for feeling these things, especially because if I’m hearing about a pregnancy, its likely because I’m friends with that person.
Speaking from personal experience, I used to be the most excited person ever when I found out a friend was pregnant. I’m really good at getting excited and would continuously say “I can’t believe so and so is pregnant!” to whoever would listen. I had perfected the art of the diaper cake and made them for a variety of close/not-so-close friends just because I was so excited for their new additions. And this was before we were even in a place to try to get pregnant. I was just a woman celebrating who women are: miraculous co-creators of life who have the special privilege of participating directly through pregnancy and birth.
…Or not always. Which is exactly where the difference starts to come in as a ‘not by choice’ childless woman.
These things that are supposedly ‘womanly’ things are markedly unlike us. And its not that a sub-fertile or barren woman will just sit idly by and at least hope that one day it will be her, there may be actual medical barriers preventing her from ever having that identity (known or unknown). If babies and birthing are womanly things, then sub/infertile women are decidedly broken and unwomanly. Self-pity plays into the ‘why me?’ questions and whatnot, although I’ve all but tried to stop figuring that out. And while I might be able to ignore it for the most part in public, being reminded yet again that you are decidedly unwomanly is a depressive thought. Airing the Chapel wrote about how seeing infertility as a disability that you just have to live with helped her come to peace with that and I tend to agree. I have to think past the naysayers and doubters and remind myself that its OK that my reaction isn’t one of extreme joy and excitement to be part of the sex that gets to experience the childbirth process upon hearing a pregnancy announcement, because my reality proves that it isn’t a shared joy just because you have the reproductive parts. I can be happy for another woman without being overly excited and not feel guilty and that’s ok. The best way I ever handled a pregnancy announcement since starting this journey was when I heard a cousin was pregnant while I was preparing for my defense . My reaction was just “oh, cool, another little one in the family”. I didn’t even realize until later that it hadn’t bothered me because I didn’t even consider the pregnancy process, only the result, because that pregnancy thing wasn’t something that could happen to me (in my hopeless head at least). Of course this only worked because I was so busy with work and I wonder if it will be so easy to always think like this, especially now that I am actively seeking to conceive through treatment.
There are a large number of parents who don’t get to share in the experience of pregnancy and birth and can still handle pregnancy announcements. And I’m not talking about adoptive parents, I’m talking about men. I basically reacted and hope to continue to react like a man. [Although I realize that its one thing to act like a man because you are a man and can't biologically conceive, and its another to try to act disinterested while you are a sub-fertile woman trying through treatment to conceive. Because clearly, I am a wannabe womanly female.]
The isolation and fear reactions feed off the self-pity reaction because as our identities change, so do our shared experiences, and therefore so do our friendships. I’ve already lost count of how many pregnant or friends with kids I just don’t talk to anymore, despite trying to make contact. Given my past, for me at least this plays a large part into the reaction I have when friends who announce their pregnancies. I have already fear of getting left behind and at least to date, sub/infertility has been closely related to being ‘left behind’ because kids take up a lot of time and well, people with kids want to play with people with kids.
So as I sat there and watched our friends’ suppressed excitement (after all, they aren’t immune to our suffering, they probably know it better than others) as they talked about what their kids would look like and what they would name them and as I listened to my husband’s metered response (“Well, I hope you get the short, straight path instead of the windy route.” <group laugh>) I realized the excitement over the anticipation of conceiving has been totally replaced by pain. I hate that such a wonderful subject and what could and should be a source of pure joy is so tainted for us. But I am beginning to accept that it really is OK that my response is more reserved now. I am a product of my experiences and I’m sure there’s more than enough women to happily jump up and down and give advice about breastfeeding and discipline to our friends based on their own experiences.
My identity and reality as a sub-fertile woman, never before conceiving, has made the journey of trying to conceive a tender subject full of sorrow and disappointment. And while that may not always be my case, it is my daily reality now and that is OK. I am grateful for their joy even if I share it in a different, less personal way. And I am grateful that I have friends who see children as the blessing that they are.
I hope I helped you understand what goes on when a sub-fertile couple is really thinking when they hear a pregnancy announcement. I know there are many other emotions as responses in there as well, but I tried to focus on the most dominate ones. Have you as a sub-fertile or an infertile couple found your experience to be similar or different? For me it has helped to focus on the product that I can share in (children) rather than the process which I can’t (pregnancy). What have you found that helps you handle pregnancy announcments?