I have been reluctant to write about this subject for a very long time now. Quite frankly, I feel I will only have earned my right to talk about it once I’m totally sorted on the topic. But earlier this week I received another email asking for advice on how to deal well with the subject of pregnancy announcements and it made me think that perhaps it’s time I address this as it remains one of the recurring challenges for infertility inmates. I’m going to be honest right from the beginning and tell you that despite my very best efforts, prayers and periods of success over the years, I still haven’t got to a place of perfect peace and rejoicing on the subject yet. And neither, it seems, have any of the ladies who have talked to me about their own struggles with new baby news as we have rubbed along shoulder-to-shoulder over the years.
It is my deepest wish in this post to be able to offer the one magic ingredient or guaranteed piece of advice that we all simply need to grab hold of to overcome this tricky topic. The truth is I have some good ideas for what’s needed and a handful of successful coping strategies, but I have yet to nail this ugly beast called envy once and for all.
Over the last few years I reckon my husband and I have clocked up around 50 to 60 pregnancy announcements from friends and family. (For a while I kept a list – and then I wondered why I was punishing myself further and deleted it from my phone). During this period, some announcements have been handled in an overwhelmingly sensitive manner. One family member kindly called us up and told us over the phone the day before they were to reveal their news at a family party, “so that we could scream and cry in private first”. I was genuinely touched by the thoughtfulness of this gesture and the foresight that it might be hard to respond well with an audience watching. Another family member cried as she told me of her second successful pregnancy because she knew that her joy would cause us pain even as we put on our brave faces and celebrated together. I would much rather she had just felt the happiness and not our sadness but it made me realise that she wasn’t oblivious to our mixed emotions. More recently a friend who has been through infertility herself told me how she had agonised about telling me her good news because she understood from experience just how difficult it would be to hear. Not everyone is clueless. And after all, we have to be honest with ourselves – our hyper-sensitivity to this touchy subject is without doubt one of the main reasons why it’s so hard to hear when someone else has had success.
There are, of course, those friends or family members that don’t seem to give a second thought to how their news might be received. For those who don’t know that we’re trying for a family, why should they think first before steaming on in triumph? For those of whom we expect a little more, being shown a baby scan photo or told without a little consideration for our feelings can feel incredibly tough and even a betrayal of our relationship because we wonder why they didn’t know better. How we handle this stuff – from both sides – makes or breaks friendships. I’ve seen them strengthened and destroyed.
Then there’s the manner in which the news is delivered. Over the years I have received phone calls, text messages, emails, social media updates, cards in the post and face-to-face announcements. None is ideal and even now I am still a little thrown by the words, “I’ve got something I need to talk to you about” because in my mind it can only mean one thing and my aching heart can’t help but jump to self-preservation mode. The consensus amongst fellow sailors in this miserable boat of infertility seems to be that delivery which avoids immediate personal contact is preferable. Being able to hide away from prying eyes so that one can sob, shout, collapse in a heap or go and drown sorrows over the unfairness of it all is so very, very important. We need our space to digest the news and deal with any unpredictable emotional outbursts which might come soaring to the surface as the words “I’m pregnant” thud to the bottom of our stomachs like we’ve just swallowed a cannonball. Sometimes it is too hard to hide the instantaneous surge of disappointment, jealousy, bitterness or anger which leaps to our faces as we struggle to put our masks on in time. We’re doing our best to be fine with our unwanted circumstances every single hour of the day. Is it a surprise that this kind of news throws our finely balanced demeanour off kilter?
Because the truth is hearing of another’s pregnancy – especially one which has come with ease – triggers all sorts of painful thoughts and emotions. We feel it is ‘our turn next’ and when it isn’t we wonder if it will ever be our turn – especially if we have been saying ‘our turn next’ for some time. We worry about our bodies, our lack of control over their healthy function and what underlying problems might exist. We are angered by another’s ability to plan out life and gleefully record how intention has become reality without difficulty as it makes us feel utterly inept at our own designs for life. (And if it’s an unplanned but wanted pregnancy, we find the bemused delight even more galling). We struggle with the impact of a reality that is so far from our own experiences. And the more announcements we hear, the more we wonder if we will ever be joining this ever-increasing crowd of swollen bellies.
Then there’s the impact such news has on our faith. Without a doubt our relationship with God takes a bashing as someone else’s baby news raises the recurring painful questions in our hearts of ‘Why her and not me?’ and ‘Why does God perform a miracle for them and not for us?’. We wonder what we have done to be so overlooked by God and how He can be so inconsistent in reality, when in the Gospels we read of miracle after miracle being performed by His son. At the back of our minds perhaps is the uncomfortable, nagging thought that not everyone gets an Abraham and Sarah ending to their infertility story – and we wonder if we will be such a couple. Even now as I write this I think of the men and women for whom the miracle has never come. Staring the same future in the face is a painful business, especially in relation to how we interpret the faithfulness of God and the vulnerable wail of our heart’s desire.
So how do we deal well with this struggle to be pleased for others when our hearts are aching? How do we “rejoice with those who are rejoicing“? How we do choose not to covet our neighbour’s donkey (or scan picture in this case)? I suspect the crux of it all lies in two crucial things: how we choose to see ourselves and how we choose to see and trust the God who knows us best in the midst of it all.
In my experience, it’s when I choose not to compare myself to others but consider my life as precious, safe and right-on-track in the eyes of the One who made me that I can find my joy for another. Rather than see the lack in my own life, I can assert that I am seen, known and being moved forward just as this new mother-to-be is, even as I wait for the same answer to my prayers. I don’t have to worry that I have been forgotten or over-looked because I can have the confidence that my hopes, dreams and future are as important to God as every woman who receives her positive pee stick before me. (Nerida Walker expands on this more in her brilliant book God’s Plan for Pregnancy).
And in truth, despite all the negative but understandably human emotions that rise up in me when I hear of another pregnancy, my deepest desire in the struggle is to be genuinely joyful for another woman – because that’s the kind of person I long to be! And if I was in her shoes (as I still hope to be some day), I would want her to be happy for me too. What we sow into and speak over another person, especially from our place of pain, says volumes about what we’re sowing into our own lives and futures. Moreover, celebrating with another blesses us powerfully even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time. As we die to the longing in our own lives and rejoice with someone who has what we want, we’re beginning to understand what putting another person’s needs before our own looks like in the smallest and simplest of ways.
As Christians we remember that our mandate is to reflect the life, love and acceptance that has welcomed us into the kingdom of God – and it’s our responsibility to reflect this even when it hurts like hell. My temptation whenever anyone tells me that they’re pregnant is to pull away, to avoid as many future details as I can about how the scan appointments have been, and to allow bitter thoughts to fester as particulars of the unfolding pregnancy are shared. I have done a lot of running away, avoiding, pulling back and shutting down to the details of pregnancy over the years. And although at times I’m sure it has been wise to have protected myself, I wonder also what it has denied me. Perhaps, using wisdom and grace, it’s an opportunity to bless and be a blessing?
Finally, when the questions shout loudly in our hearts about the faithfulness of God as we wonder about the absence of our own miracle, it is so easy to pull away from the loving arms of our Father that seek to comfort and embrace us. Even now, as I continue to nurse the pain of the last year’s disappointments, I wrestle constantly with how much I truly trust God and His word. Rather than giving as much air time as I do to these ponderings, I would do much better to press closer to Him in my pain – taking all the hurt, fears and doubts to Him – and to pray blessings upon each woman and each new life springing up. The One who made them is thrilled with all of His creations – and in my heart of hearts I want to rejoice with Him in his creating and feel His hand of blessing on my head as well.