I can remember wanting to be pregnant. Trying month after month and facing the bitter disappointment of yet another period, looking for the smallest sign that maybe this time we may be lucky and having to hear the ‘happy’ news that my friends were expecting. It wasn’t easy and I know we were lucky because eventually thanks to the wonders of IVF we went on to have children, but the memory of that time has never left me because it was so hard and so painful.
I hadn’t told anyone other than my Mum that we were trying for a baby, so when friends told me of their exciting news, they didn’t have to tread on eggshells but I often wonder how different it would have been if they had known. How would they have felt about sharing their news, would it have made them feel uncomfortable and what is the best way of telling someone that you’re about to have the one thing that they want most?
Ms Dani Singer, Counsellor and Specialist Psychotherapist at Harley Street Fertility Clinic has some advice for you if you find yourself in just that predicament….
“This is a very delicate dilemma on both sides of the pregnancy divide, and sometimes even for those who have crossed over the divide (i.e. those, who after much struggle, finally have a child). The advantage for the latter is that they have firsthand experience of what it was like for them but even then it does not mean that it will be the same for everyone – and so there cannot be an exact ‘right’ formula or way to deal with the situation.
Unsurprisingly, your news is likely to unleash a veritable tornado of emotions in your friend: from genuinely pleased and excited for you to (possibly) downright hatred (you betrayed her again!) and jealousy, but at the same time feeling like a horrible friend/human being for having these feelings just because it is not her. You sound like you too are struggling with your own torn feelings, but probably to a lesser degree: delight at welcoming another child into your family and feelings of guilt in relation to her, almost a mirror image in reverse. As she is your best friend, and she has continued in that role through your previous pregnancies, you are well placed to imagine the turmoil she is going through, and also what approach might be most helpful to her specifically. Nevertheless, it is very hard to get it ‘right’, because the difficulties your friend is experiencing are not ‘right’, neither what she wants nor expected.
So in a way you are from the outset ‘in the wrong’. Perhaps the best thing you can do is to be aware of this and be able to withstand any emotional backlash from your friend, by letting her know that you love and care for her and are there for her regardless of how she responds – a process that may fluctuate and take time.
The trick is to negotiate a path between not being unintentionally patronising – ‘I understand/ know how you must feel’ (you may not, not really), ‘It will happen to you too’ (it may not), or excluding (ie she is the last to know because you are trying not to hurt her feelings) or over inclusive (she probably does not want to hear every little detail no matter what she says to you) or over apologetic (it is your baby after all).
People use a variety of strategies: some may drop ‘hints’ so that she guesses herself (e.g. morning sickness), some suggest that this was completely unplanned (though this may not help her, after all she is working hard for the same goal) and others wait until they start to show. However, probably more helpful is to tell her gently and privately, not in the presence of others. She will probably prefer to hear it from you directly, rather than indirectly through your mutual friends or, worse, on facebook. You don’t want to assume that she can’t ‘handle’ it. One possible scenario might be something along the lines of: ‘I realise this might be difficult, but I want to tell you (first),even though I know I’d said I wouldn’t and the timing is terrible (for you)… and I also want to let you know how much I am thinking of you and wishing/praying/hoping for a really good outcome for you too.” Then perhaps a ‘good luck!’ or ‘you’re a wonderful and very special friend to me’ card and flowers a few days later – delivered to her home rather than at the office.
In a similar vein, some women opt for sending a letter or emailing in the first instance so as to give your friend time and space to gather herself and get over the shock rather than feel forced to respond instantly with a ‘congratulations, this is wonderful news, I’m so happy for you’ front. Some suggest apologising for the timing in a light touch manner, making reference to suddenly being the kind of person you always secretly hated (addressing the sense of betrayal), and expressing your sincere wishes that she gets similar news soon. Then follow it up with a tete a tete conversation, if she’s willing (she may need more time).
Don’t put on too happy a spin to her situation; don’t go on and on and around in circles with a lot of superfluous kid-glove empathy and apologies either. Instead, tell her simply, and then step back, give her space. For example: ‘I wish I knew the perfect way to tell you this news, but I don’t. I am X weeks pregnant. I wanted you to hear it from me, and I want to give you as much time and space as you need. If you don’t want to talk about it, that’s OK. Please know that I love you and care about you.’ Maybe not even that much, depending on your level of friendship and how involved you are in her grieving (or infertility treatment) process. Remember, as someone I recently saw said, that pregnancy is a gift that keeps on stinging, for an infertile woman.
Include her in the invitations to celebrate your news, but probably don’t ask her to organise these and acknowledge that you understand that she may not always or at all want to participate and that that’s alright with you. She may call and ask how you are etc, answer her questions but don’t say more than that as that might hurt her feelings and you probably have other people you can do that with. She may just need a hug at times, but may also find it hard to see your growing bump. Accept her process, she is doing the best she can.
So generally, in as much as one can generalise, sharing pregnancy news with someone struggling with infertility or past losses should go something like this: tell them soon, possibly first, ensuring that they don’t hear the news second-hand, in a space where they can be free to experience the full force of their reaction which they probably won’t be prepared for.”
For more information on fertility treatment visit: www.hsfc.org.uk