OPP (Other People’s Pregnancies)

Last night I spent an embarrassing amount of time reading through NY Times readers’ responses to another woman’s quandary. The woman wrote to the Motherlode blog to ask for readers’ advice on how to gently break the news of her pregnancy to her infertile friend. I was touched by her sensitivity and admire her kind spirit, especially as someone who has found myself having an unexpected and unpleasant reaction to OPP.

Some of the Motherlode readers were real ass hats about the way that they described the infertile friend. They assumed (based on the pregnant friend’s fear of telling her happy news) that the infertile friend is the antithesis of a friend–a childish, self-focused, emotionally stunted tantrum thrower–if she can’t be immediately thrilled for her pregnant friend. But the majority of readers were kind to the pregnant woman and her friend, helping illuminate the best way forward for both of them so that their friendship can (hopefully) continue to thrive. It was somehow cathartic for me to sift through the responses, and discover two gems. First, that other infertile women have experienced the same unsavory and embarrassing responses to OPP. Second, that many of those women are now parents by hook or by crook.

So, dear reader, in case you ever need to know how to sensitively announce your pregnancy to a close friend who is trying desperately to make one of her own, I have distilled the readers’ responses (excluding the ones from the ass hats) to a tidy list.

Don’t delay. Don’t wait until you are visibly pregnant and there’s a chance someone has already spilled the beans on Facebook. Your dear friend shouldn’t be the last to know. That will make her feel like you assumed she couldn’t handle your news.

Consider giving her privacy. Readers had pretty mixed reviews on this one, but I think most agreed that it might be best to write a very honest and loving email, or to call your friend on the phone. Some vehemently opposed this approach, advocating for an in person convo–but then your friend risks displaying an uncontrollable emotional response that she feels badly about later.

Do NOT, under ANY circumstances say you were not even trying to have a baby. This is pretty much the worst thing you can say to someone who is devoting considerable time, energy, and finances to conception.

Acknowledge that you anticipate the news may be hard for your friend to hear. This is NOT coddling (I’m talking to you, ass hats). It IS giving your friend the space to grieve without embarrassment or shame, if that is what she needs to do.

Let your friend take the lead. A lot of women suggested that you avoid talking obsessively about the pregnancy (your symptoms, the nursery, baby names) and wait for your friend to ask you for details. This seems like a reasonable approach to any subject and any friend.

Try to understand that your friend’s sadness does not mean she isn’t happy for you. In our culture (and in most others) we greet the news of a new human with joy and celebration. In most cases, your friend will join the party, but she may just need to grieve a little first. It’s not that she isn’t happy for you, it’s just that she’s unsure if she’ll ever experience the same joy, no matter how much she wants it or how hard she tries. This is the thing that some readers just could not grasp. I thought that this woman did a nice job of explaining:

Having been on the infertility side of this, I can say it isn’t jealousy that you feel. It’s in no way the same thing as getting jealous over a friend’s new job or nice clothes. “Appease her bitterness?” Wow. I’d frame it more like trying to be sensitive to someone in a difficult situation. I have a friend who’s a widow; I try not to complain about my husband around her or go on and on about comparatively small problems. I think that’s OK. It doesn’t mean I’m coddling her and that she should just deal.

What infertility feels like is that multiple times every day you are confronted with something very fundamental that you and most others want to do, to be, but that you cannot. You are stuck in repeated monthly cycles of hope and despair. You feel broken, defective…

I think it is nice that the pregnant woman wants to soften the blow for her friend. It’s hard to know what to do when you’re in her position. I think the best advice is to email the information so that she can hear the news and let it sink in without having to put on a reassuring display of happiness. She almost certainly WILL be happy; she just may need a moment to process the news and find the right words.

So, there you have it. The basic rules are be sensitive, try to understand your friend’s perspective, know that she will be happy for you in good time–just your average approach to friendship in general.

I have talked with other women who struggled to attend (or simply didn’t attend) their friends’ and relatives’ baby showers. So I was really touched to read this sweet post about two sisters, one expectant and one infertile:

I was the infertile person among my friends and my four sisters. It was awful to feel so jealous and sad. When my sister Michelle got pregnant, and my sister-in-law, and my other sister and I didn’t, it was just so, so difficult.

My sister did something very kind that really helped me. On the day of her baby shower, I was having a very hard time, but I told myself that it wasn’t right to make everything all about me. I retreated to the bathroom once or twice, but I played all the games–and won them–and bought a great gift.

At the end, my sister gave me a beautifully wrapped gift and card. In the card, she said, “Thank you so much for coming to my baby shower. I know this was a difficult day for you. This gift won’t make up for what you really want, but hopefully when you wear it, you will know how much you are loved and how much I appreciate you.”

Inside was a gorgeous, soft angora sweater in one of my favorite colors, fuchsia. And though it didn’t make up for what I wanted, a baby, it showed great compassion on her part because up until that point I’d felt like the most selfish, self-centered negative person.

So, back to your friend….It won’t be easy to tell her, but tell her–in person if possible. And tell her that you wish the same thing for her…and you understand that she may not be able to take full participation in everything, but you will continue to reach out. And be kind.

We should all be so good to one another.

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3 responses to “OPP (Other People’s Pregnancies)

  1. This was wonderful, and so well written. Thank you. I often wondered, while pregnant, what to say to my friends who were struggling. Your post makes good logical, and more importantly, emotional sense. Thank you.

    • Sandy, thanks for taking the time to read and comment! I was so relieved to read that Motherlode post because it helped me see that I’m not the only person who struggles to feel truly celebratory as soon as I hear someone else’s good news. It’s a double-edged sword. Sometimes the news leaves me with a deep and burrowing sadness, which is quickly followed by searing guilt for being so immature and self-focused. It’s a rotten experience, and one that could be eased a bit by sensitivity and good humor. Best wishes!

  2. Pingback: Fresh Perspective « mothershood

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