I came across this article about "fertility envy", written from the perspective of a woman without fertility issues who felt hurt and isolated when her closest friends distanced themselves during her pregnancy. The author describes feeling disappointed and dismayed when her friends, who had not yet disclosed their infertility struggles, did not react with excitement to her pregnancy announcement. As her pregnancy progressed, she felt increasingly isolated and unable to talk about her pregnancy and preparations for her children. Instead, she felt burdened by having to spend time talking about her friends' infertility treatments. In the end, she found herself spending more time with her friends who already had children or who were not interested in having children, and grew apart from her friends with infertility.
For me, the article stirred up a myriad of feelings. On the one hand, I guess I couldn't help experiencing a little bit of "fertility envy" myself--after all, the author had no problems conceiving and carrying beautiful twin girls. Is it fair of her to be upset that her infertile friends, because of their own pain, couldn't be as excited about her pregnancy as she was? On the other hand, though, it was an interesting perspective, and one that as a therapist specializing in infertility, I don't often hear. I suspect that many friends of mine may have felt similarly during their own pregnancies, but I don't think they would have ever felt comfortable admitting it to me.
I believe that disruptions in friendship and family relationships are one of the most painful aspects of infertility. It seems that they are incredibly common and perhaps unavoidable. However, what I find makes a pregnancy a "fatal blow" to a relationship is a preexisting problem in the relationship prior to the pregnancy. Once a pregnancy occurs, the issue surfaces, and because emotions are so high, the issue is usually unable to be resolved. For instance, in the article mentioned above, the author only learned upon disclosure of her own pregnancy that her friend had been struggling to conceive for three years. To me, the fact that her allegedly closest friend did not feel comfortable sharing this with her prior to her pregnancy announcement was a sign that her friend was already having mixed feelings about the relationship. It is also interesting that the author turned out to have several friends undergoing infertility treatment at the same time, none of whom shared this with her. Rather than bemoaning the fact that her friends weren't available to her, she might be better served questioning why people she felt close to didn't feel comfortable opening up to her. In a sense, what she really discovered is that her former friendships weren't really all that close anyway, and thus they were unable to withstand the emotional pressure of her pregnancy.
Much has been written about the difficulties that individuals struggling with infertility have when their friends and family members become pregnant. I agree that this is often very difficult, but I think much of the difficulty comes from the attitude and expectations of the pregnant persons involved. The pregnant person's reactions usually fall in one of two camps: either their is complete insensitivity to the feelings of the infertile person, or their is a high level of guilt and oversensitivity, which can then become burdensome for the infertile person to manage.
Last year I had a relatively unique experience in this regard when I became pregnant (as a result of a frozen transfer from a prior IVF) somewhat unexpectedly, in the midst of working with several clients struggling with their own infertility. I must say I was repeatedly impressed with how well my clients handled my pregnancy. Perhaps knowing my long history of infertility, I got a "pass", but I think it had more to do with my willingness to understand and tolerate the fact that they would have negative feelings about my pregnancy, and that I didn't expect them to be excited for me. In my own personal life, when I was embroiled in IVF, I found that I was able to tolerate, and to some extent enjoy the pregnancies of friends who understood that I was going to have my own feelings about it. It helped that they listened to my feelings when I brought them up, but didn't force me to talk about it when I didn't.
As for the author's feelings of pregnancy isolation, I find this hard to believe. It seems that our culture worships pregnancy and its related rituals and material goods, so it seems nearly impossible to me that she couldn't have found other women (other than the old lady in the checkout line) that would have been excited to share in her experiences with her.
I am curious to hear what your experiences with pregnant friends or family members and "infertility envy" have been. Where there responses or attitudes that you found helpful, or that were less than ideal?
As always, thank you for reading, and please feel free to contact me with any questions or suggestions!