What I’m thinking when I hear you’re pregnant

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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?!
  3. 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?

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22 thoughts on “What I’m thinking when I hear you’re pregnant

  1. I hate to even say this, but when I heard that several women in the blogs were pregnant while we were waiting for Maggie, I felt sort of betrayed. I felt mad at God, because not only had he “taken our baby” through a miscarriage, but x number of months had gone by and I hadn’t gotten pregnant yet.

    But that was tame compared to the response I had when a girl in my grad program got pregnant while on the pill, with a man she was casually dating, two months after I miscarried. I was actually so upset I cried. Not my finest hour.

    In general I took it much better when the people who conceived were living in accord with the moral law than in cases where they were unmarried or contracepting. I know that’s horrible, but you asked for it!

    • I have found that when I hear of friends that have conceived while living totally within moral law then I think to myself “well, of course they got pregnant, they never messed up” because, well, I have many years of ‘messing up’. I think the loneliness and isolation took longer to develop and especially since pregnancy hasn’t been a part of my history, either through miscarriage or live birth, it just doesn’t seem to be an option either way.

  2. I too feel like I’m being left behind. The loneliness is sometimes overwhelming, and having to listen to one of the girls at work complain every. single. day. about her pregnancy (that was, of course, unplanned) tests me in ways I could never have imagined.

    Also, maybe because we have yet to start to figure out any of the ‘whys’, I feel my chest tighten and the fears of ‘never’ start to creep in. For the most part, I am an extremely positive person, but this is one area of my life where I just feel completely overwhelmed and somewhat hopeless. And hearing others announce pregnancies doesn’t help that.

    All that sad, I am truly happy for the couple who is expecting – my negative feelings are not directed towards them (well, OK, maybe in the case of the complaining coworker), but rather inwardly.

    • When it hits me hard I would literally repeat to myself “This has nothing to do with me. This is a good thing that has absolutely nothing to do with me.” At least that worked for the time being that I was repeating it to myself, but as soon as I stopped, man. Overwhelming is the best word.

  3. My reactions tend to be of self-pity for both myself and my husband. After hearing a pregnancy announcement I immediately start thinking about how different our lives would be if “getting pregnant” was that easy. My mind fills with so many “what if’s.” I understand what you mean by stating that you focus on the end result, a child. Like many women our age, I am a “baby” person. It is easier for me to be around a newborn baby then it is to be around a pregnant woman. When the emotions become overwhelmingly difficult I always start counting my blessings. Literally, I count them in my head like counting sheep. Every path is different and I pray that we have some answers soon.

    • Self-pity for my husband is also in there. Especially when its mutal friends I just wonder “I know he wishes it were him but he’d never say it”. And yes, babies are easier than pregnant women!

  4. I feel like I’ve been overwhelmed by pg announcements lately! I usually feel absolute defeat when I hear that yet another friend is expecting and I have even gone as far as anticipate that horrible feeling.

    We got another announcement via FB last week, from friends that got married two months after us. They’re pg with their second. Mr JB and I shrugged our shoulders and looked at one another. I felt bad, but at least we’re hopeful now that we know we’re going to see Dr H.

    This IF world is so getting old. I need out!

  5. I think you stated this beautifully. Honestly, but not bitterly. You’re a bigger person than I was when I heard the announcements. I agree with your first commenter though. When I heard of a blogger’s announcement I was honestly, genuinely happy for them because I knew they had struggled and I knew they were living morally. The ones I didn’t handle so well were the unmarried relatives and the one who had previously had an abortion. Ugh.

    • I have had more angst with friends that I’ve bonded over not being able to conceive and then once they get pregnant, they stop talking to me. But again, for me that’s related to the left behind problem. Mike has has a few cousins get pregnant, young and unwed, but at some point I realize that they will have their own issues and I guess I don’t completely envy their situation because it is far from ideal. Plus, I guess I just see it as normal women get pregnant. I am not normal.

  6. It’s like you were in my mind…writing the things that I am thinking!! Oh the dreaded pregnancy announcements and reactions to…

    I especially get the whole hearing from a friend/friends, “we’re off bc and going to start trying!!” I have had three friends in the last year come off bc, after years on it, and gotten pregnant that very month. Nothibg shocks me anymore really.

    Just praying for grace to accept all these announcements.

    And praying for you!

    • Oh yeah, that’s the worst part. Its not shocking at all when people get pregnant, after all, that’s what’s supposed to happen. Especially when its newlyweds. I think that’s why the loneliness is a bigger factor, at least for me. Hopefully we can all have more grace to handle it!

  7. Thanks for sharing that. It took 6 months to get pregnant with Bryn. Not very long, but 2 months before when my SIL told me she was pregnant I was jealous. I was, and it had only been 4 months. But like you said I was happy for her too.
    I think self pity, isolation, and fear take longer to develop. I am praying for you Alison. It breaks my heart to see someone who will be such a good mother have to wait and suffer so long.

  8. Thank you for sharing this post and your blog. I’ve been reading for a while now and so appreciate your honesty and the way you express a lot of the same emotions so many face when struggling with fertility challenges.
    We’re over 3 years into our journey and have two beautiful 14 month old little girls in our home right now so pregnancy announcements don’t hit me as violently as the used to, but there will always, always be an ache there.

  9. Thanks for sharing your feelings so eloquently. Being single and unable to start a family the way I’d hoped elicited some similar emotions (both in response to engagements and pregnancies). This line hits on a lot of how I felt being “left behind” in the family-building department:

    “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.”

    Yes, friendships and relationships do change and that can really sting. Still, through God’s grace I am not as devastated about walking a different path as I was in my early 20’s.

  10. Thanks for sharing this… I too do not feel jealous. I am too happy at a new life coming into the world for that! I am genuinely excited for the expectant parents! But it does send me into a tailspin of doubt, isolation, self-pity and wondering when/why–all the negativity is directed at myself.

    Bottom line: It just makes my heart ache, for the babies I long to carry within me and hold in my arms.
    ~Clara

  11. Thanks for this post. I, too, feel the feelings you mentioned after finding out that someone I know is pregnant…or pregnant again. One of my friends has been pregnant 3 times since DH and I have been trying. They were all “unplanned” pregnancies for her–and very stressful for her marriage, but it was still a little hard for me to hear of them.

    I think I also feel a little jealousy, though. It’s not that I wish ill-will on them. I just would like to be pregnant, too. I agree with Clara that the overwhelming emotion I feel is heart ache.

    I think one of the hardest announcements to take was from a friend who initiated communication with me to ask if we were experiencing sub/infertility. She revealed that she was also having trouble conceiving. We communicated for several months, and then she dropped off the planet. Many months later, I heard from another friend that she was pregnant and expecting soon. I just don’t get that. That one really left me raw. I try to be charitable and think the best of her, though. Maybe I messed up. Maybe she is just really busy. I don’t know.

    It’s hard.

    • I think jealousy is in there a little bit, but I guess for me its not the dominate feeling since it only takes you so far.
      And yes, I have a similar story as yours! A friend who I confided with about our shared struggle and then stopped hearing from her and then found out she was pregnant (far along) from a flippant facebook status as well. To this day she has not mentioned anything to me and he baby is over 3 months old, despite other communications about her baby and such so yes. Losing friends I guess.

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