When you are struggling with infertility, it can feel like the entire rest of the world is pregnant. You’re confronted with pregnant women on the metro, on the street, at work, in your neighborhood, and most painfully — among your friends and family. With strangers, you can learn to look away; with friends and family members, it gets trickier. You have an enduring relationship that somehow has to accommodate that they have happy news and you don’t — not easy in any event but particularly difficult with a desire as strong and natural as the one to expand your family.
By adulthood, most of us have gotten good at politely declining or making good excuses to get out of things we would rather not do. But what about when the events feel more required than optional: Thanksgiving at your pregnant sister-in-law’s house or your best friend’s baby shower? It’s particularly challenging to navigate if you have chosen not to share your struggles with infertility. You don’t have the opportunity to explain, “Sorry, attending your baby shower is just too painful right now,” or “I’m grieving the loss of my last pregnancy so it is hard to feel excited about yours without being reminded.”
Telling or not telling is a personal choice and you shouldn’t feel compelled to share your struggles with infertility any sooner than you are ready. However, this is a time when having one trusted person to act as your spokesperson can be helpful. Perhaps it’s your sister or a dear friend who can say, “They are very private but have had some challenges getting pregnant. Though she’s very happy for you, it’s been a tough time for her.” That way the word gets out without you ever having to explain a thing.
Seek out the company of other couples who are experiencing infertility. Support groups can be so invaluable in giving you company in your time of grief and worry; you never have to worry that someone will think badly of you for not wanting to hold your friend’s newborn or for crying when you get the news that your cousin is pregnant with her third baby. Infertility can feel like such an isolating experience but the truth is, there are many people who are struggling and can commiserate, share stories about treatment, and serve as a sounding board.
Learn and practice good stress reduction techniques. Mindfulness-based stress reduction is well-researched and has been shown to help couples experiencing infertility to reduce stress and purportedly, to conceive. At the very least, it’s beneficial for a hope-to-be-mom to be as relaxed as possible.
One good strategy for minimizing upsetting triggers is to buy new baby gifts in advance, wrap, and package them for mailing (making sure to label what they are) so when a friend or family member has a new baby, you can just slap a mailing label on it without ever needing to go into a baby store. Acknowledging someone else’s joy shouldn’t have to be such a miserable experience for you; this is a simple way to alleviate some of the burden.
Know that having conflicting feelings about someone else’s pregnancy doesn’t make you a mean person; it’s a normal reaction to a loss that you’ve had to experience monthly for a while. Do your best to treat yourself with kindness and compassion now, when you most need it.