“Guess what?” your best couple friends ask when you’ve just sat down at an elegant restaurant. “We have an announcement. Guess who’s not having wine?” You and your partner are jolted. You just found out an hour ago that your third in vitro fertility treatment didn’t pan out, and you didn’t even know your friends were trying.
You and your partner have a quick, furtive look. Your throat is dry, and a tear slides out before you can will it to stop. “Great news,” your husband says.
You can’t think of anything you can say aloud. You know you can’t say what you’re feeling: “Why you, not us? This is your third child, and we may never have a first. Why did you have to tell us here and ruin this expensive dinner?”
You could say, “I’m happy for you, but sad for us,” if your friends know that you’ve been trying.
With more public awareness of infertility, people announcing a pregnancy or birth are sometimes more sensitive to your needs. They might tell you in a private moment and add, “It’s hard to tell you, knowing how much you want this. I hope it happens soon for you.” You may appreciate the empathy, and elaborate on your feelings, and feel supported. On the other hand, you might be embarrassed and not want to talk about it, especially if you’re not emotionally close to the woman or you have reasons not to trust her.
First we’ll talk about dealing with your own feelings. Then we’ll talk about taking some control over how you receive news of future pregnancies.
Your feelings: handle with compassion
Mixed in with feelings of disappointment and competition, you may also feel guilty. You may even fantasize about miscarriages or complications. Your partner may add to your guilt by asking “Why can’t you be happy for them?”
Give yourself a break. You’re a good person, not someone who typically goes around with ill wishes. If you’ve been trying for months or even years to get pregnant or to carry to full term, it makes sense that you would be envious. This is especially the case if your friend is complaining of an accidental pregnancy or doesn’t have as much to offer a child as you and your partner do. A compassionate thought to say to yourself is “I’m happy for her but sad for me.” You wouldn’t expect a 24 year-old whose husband died yesterday to dance up and down about a friend’s engagement. It is understandable to have good wishes for the other person while also having feelings about your own loss or disappointment.
Controlling how you receive the information
You can’t control whether your friend gets pregnant before you do, but you can have a say in how you find out. This assumes, of course, that you are aware that someone is planning a family and that they know what you’re going through. Many of my clients have benefitted from what I call “the card trick.”
Ask your friend to send you a card. Yes, an old-fashioned greeting card via snail mail. Real envelope, real stamp. A phone call is hard, because it puts you on the spot. You need to congratulate the person right away, before you’ve had a chance to digest the information. IM is no better than phone, and e-mail is only somewhat better. Even if you don’t open the message, if its subject line reads “BIG NEWS!” you may feel that you are expected to respond quickly.
Because old-fashioned snail mail is unpredictable, your friend doesn’t know what time or even which day you receive it. This gives you time to tear up the card and stomp on it, have a good cry, or do some deep breathing before you pick up the phone and hit the keyboard. You get to feel like the loving, caring person you actually are and offer sincere congratulations. Even if you don’t have any negative feelings, you still have the luxury of time to respond when you’re ready. Everybody wins. You win because you controlled how you got the news. Your friend wins because you gave her a gentler way of breaking the news. You can both feel good about her new status and sincerely celebrate.
Even though you don’t know when or if your own luck will change, you can avoid unnecessary stress and enjoy your friend’s support and good wishes for your future pregnancy success.
Dealing with Fertility Challenges: Coping Tips and Resources for Parents-in-the-Making
Coping with Holidays While Trying to Have a Baby
Why Should I See a Therapist? I’m Not Crazy – We Just Can’t Have a Baby!
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