This is an anonymous letter from a woman with fertility struggles to her pregnant friend.
Content warning: pregnancy, pregnancy loss, mental health
Dear pregnant, glowing, happy friend,
Let’s cut to the chase: Yes I did ignore the scan photo, the maternity pictures where I’m sure you’re gently holding your swelling bump & gazing wistfully into the distance (I haven’t looked to be honest) and your invitation to the baby shower. There are no hearts or comments from me on those. I’ve put you on mute.
You have plenty of friends, half of whom are pregnant like you so I hoped you wouldn’t notice, but you clearly have. I hear you’re a bit upset with me over this. I’m honestly not a horrible person, so here’s why you’re suddenly dead to me, and I hope that you can try to understand:
I can’t stand looking at pregnant women at the moment, and unfortunately I can’t make an exception for you. Yes, you’re more than a walking womb – you’re my friend & we’ve got history, so how dare I ignore you just because you got pregnant, right? What kind of evil witch does that?
This cuts both ways though – as my friend you know exactly what I’ve been through trying to get pregnant. You see, I’m currently an infertile woman and you’re a pregnant woman, and absolutely everyone is happy to throw my mental health under a bus to make a fuss of you. Including you. I’m expected to suck it up for you, but it’s the end of the world if I expect the same consideration. That’s just the way it is apparently – I don’t make the rules.
We have all said “Be kind!” but do we mean it?
It doesn’t matter how much we say “be kind!” and “mental health is important!” when you’re a woman that’s not able to make babies. My mental health matters less than a like on a picture of a scan to some people – and definitely less than a party. You can withdraw our friendship because you think that I owe you the appropriate amount of fawning over your baby shower, even though you know I’m in the middle of IVF. Yes, that sounds appalling, I’m not proud of saying that, but as I will continue to mention – this is a mental health issue – it’s not about manners.
It is not your fault that you don’t understand what’s going on with women like me, and I’m not actually mad with you for that. I’m mad with a society that treats infertile women like they’re selfishly making a fuss, if they dare to try and excuse themselves from the carnival of joy that follows a pregnant woman into the office and beyond. That seems to forget about us & then gets annoyed when it’s reminded that we do exist. That can laugh kindly and be understanding about the emotional behaviour of a pregnant woman, but is quick to label us selfish or drama queens or jealous, if we are sensitive about trauma triggers such as pregnancy. It feels like we’re pitted against each other somehow, and it’s so unfair. We have phrases like “hormones” and “baby brain” to ensure that we make space for a pregnant woman’s reactions and emotions, but we don’t have a way to tactfully say to pregnant women “Hey, maybe you should give your friend with fertility struggles some space and not shove that big old pretty bump in her face right now!”
Of course pregnant women are in a vulnerable and unique position, and pregnancy is hard and of course we should all look out for them. I’m just saying – anonymously, because I know how deep this goes in society, that maybe we don’t have to routinely disregard the mental health of infertility sufferers, for the sake of special parties and social niceties? Those things could take place without us. You could graciously excuse us from all of that, if you knew how deep our suffering runs.
Instead we’re expected to fawn over people who (innocently) trigger our deepest feelings of sadness and anger, with a fake smile on our face and a congratulations card – and I’m sick of it. We’re all sick of it, but I’m just especially sick of it at the moment. I don’t deserve it – and you don’t deserve this bitter version of me that exists at the moment. What if I could just say hey – congratulations but I’m just having a hard time with this because I can’t get pregnant myself. You could say “OK, good luck with that. Not going to be offended if you don’t get involved right now, but you’re always welcome in the future!”
What if we could handle infertility vs pregnancy better?
So we don’t currently handle it that well, and I’m going to miss your whole pregnancy, and that’s obviously a big deal, right? I don’t actually want to miss a huge chunk of your life, but here’s the kicker – I have to. For my mental health. Because it’s just as important as your mental health. You, as a woman who hasn’t had fertility issues, and apparently got pregnant just by glancing at your husband’s penis in the shower- have no idea what’s happening to me. You will think – as society tells you to, that I am being bitter and uncaring and mean because it’s just in my nature to be like that. That I’m making it “all about me”, when I actually just want to slink away unnoticed. But why would you know any better if no-one ever tells you this stuff or talks about it? Can we just bloody stop this merry-go-round and get real about it please? I’m not mean or uncaring – I’m just struggling with pregnancy. Including yours.
Give me a pass for heaven’s sake. I couldn’t even cope if my cat got pregnant right now, never mind someone I went shopping at Tammy Girl with. Pregnancy is deeply, horribly triggering when you desperately wanted a baby and tried your hardest, but instead you had a miscarriage, a chemical pregnancy, a failed embryo implant, an ectopic pregnancy, a termination for medical reasons or a stillbirth. Show me a woman with fertility struggles who hasn’t had at least one of those. A scan is the very last thing you want to look at. A baby shower is the last place in the universe you want to be. But I’m not allowed to simply say “Thanks so much for the invite, truly happy for you but can’t deal with pregnancy RN because I’m doing IVF again” in case it impinges for five seconds upon your fairy-tale. I wonder if I’ll be the same if I ever get pregnant. Probably not, knowing what I know now.
Fertility struggles have given me a new perspective
So what is it that I know now? That infertility is traumatic. That IVF is mentally and physically hard, and it doesn’t always work. That it can cause relationship strain and feelings of inadequacy and mental health challenges galore. Financial struggles. Hormonal drugs. Constant stupid comments from people who don’t understand. There’s something else too.
Women with fertility issues have to track everything – periods, ovulations and appointments. They are often acutely aware of how old their own lost and maybe-babies would have been at any given time, as well as the ongoing sense of loss they experience from not being able to have a baby. Nature has a really cruddy way of timing baby showers in the same month as our due-dates that never were. Your baby shower is two weeks after my due date 2 years ago. I should be bringing my nearly 2 year old with me. See, I told you we track everything.
Do you really want me to explain that I’d be bringing the baggage of my lost child with me to this party? Do I owe you that? Or could you, you know, just be understanding that baby showers might just be a little bit hard for someone that’s been trying to get pregnant for longer than you’ve known your husband?
So that’s my confession, and I’m going to passive-aggressively post it on my wall and hope that you read it. I can’t come to you with my truth, because I’d risk “stressing you out” and “making it all about me” if I did. I can’t just suck it up, because my mental health is too fragile for that right now. So here I am as a woman with fertility struggles, asking for a little understanding from my friends. Can we call a truce? Can we be more honest with each other? Can we accept that pregnancy is wonderful for you but hard for others? As a woman trying so hard for a baby, I live in hope.