There is something in the air. Spring is coming and all those winter nights of special cuddles and keeping each other warm has resulted in a deluge of pregnancy announcements.
For anyone enduring fertility issues, this could be called Gut Punch Season. Or, The Soul Crushing Bonanza. Or, Time To Leave Social Media Season. You get the idea.
It is painful. And pregnancy announcements are really a litmus test for friendships.
Over the years, we have heard so many stories about pregnancy announcements. Invariably, most are not great BUT we are hopeful people and we love when you hear a really good story. A story of kindness and thoughtfulness. A story where friendship is deemed important enough to give due consideration to how you tell some who is in pain all about your joy.
We want to share some of the ways you can share your news and not cause unintentional hurt.
SCAN PHOTOS ARE A TRIGGER
Any woman who has faced fertility struggles will have seen scans of their empty uterus. Women who have had multiple miscarriages will have scan photos of their babies. So, popping your scan photo up on Facebook may feel like the easiest way to share your news. It ticks a lot of boxes. You will have waited probably 12 weeks until you can go ‘public’. Your relief at everything being ok will be palpable. You want to tell everyone. You are walking on cloud nine.
But, if your friend who has just been told that their latest round of IVF was unsuccessful, or there is no heartbeat detected at their latest scan, or that the chances of them conceiving naturally are non-existent, logs on to Facebook and is confronted with your scan photo you could be the trigger for them falling off the edge. I cannot recall the exact number of times I felt punched in the face by a scan photo. I know that the reaction was physical. A tightening in my tummy, a racing heart, an indescribable ache. And more tears than I knew possible. Wrapping yourself in your duvet and sobbing into your pillow are the hallmarks of the scan ambush.
An ambush is what it feels like.
When Elis and I found out we were pregnant, we had to decide if we were just going to talk the talk or actually walk the walk. Would we put into practice what had only been theories. There was never any question of whether we would put up a scan photo. Of course we wouldn’t. I couldn’t ever live with myself knowing the pain it had caused me in the past. And it truly didn’t stop us enjoying the moment. We would happily show people the scan photo if they asked (spoiler alert: very few people can tell the difference between one scan from the next) and we had the joy of announcing our news over and over again as we met up with people or contacted them individually. If anything, we got an extra dose of joy by being able to tell people in this way.
Some people will never understand why putting up a scan photo would be a problem. They see it as a rite of passage. It’s what everyone does. Perhaps though, there is a better way? A way where the (ever increasing) minority are considered. Where scans of our bodies can return to being slightly more private and treasured in a different way.
If you plan on putting up your scan photo, please just ask yourself why. Who is it for? What is the purpose? Is there anyone who would find this difficult?
THOUGHTFULNESS GOES A LONG WAY
Contacting your friend privately who is struggling with infertility to tell them your pregnancy news will count for an awful lot. Whether you text, e-mail, What’sApp, snail mail or use carrier pigeon, taking the time to let them know your news and give them time to process it will be friendship gold. The best examples we’ve experienced and heard about all include being given space to process the news eg. ‘I know this will be hard for you and I don’t expect a reply from you until you are ready.’
Responding to pregnancy announcements is one of the hardest things someone facing infertility has to do. We are so guilt-ridden quite often because we are battling with the utter sadness at our own situations with the happiness of knowing you are having a baby. It is often compounded by loneliness. The older you get and the longer you face infertility, the more you notice your peer group changing and you feel more of void between you than you’d like to admit.
If you can acknowledge how hard your pregnancy might be for you friend and genuinely be ok with them taking all the time they need to get their head and heart around it then your friendship will be ok. If your expectation is that they will scream with delight, begin planning your baby shower and be ready 24/7 to talk all things baby then you may need to lower those expectations. The truth is, you may land somewhere in the middle. Everyone reacts differently to baby news. It can depend on the nature of your friendship. It can definitely depend on where they are at on their own fertility journey. If you can remember that friendships with grit can endure anything then hang in there.
Life is so much richer with a variety of friendships.
Side note: Some people think using a group chat counts as a private message. I hate to be the bearer of bad news but it doesn’t. Announcing your pregnancy in a group chat will make your friend feel incredibly anxious. As the flurry of congratulation messages flood in, she’ll be sat there broken heartedly attempting to craft a message which doesn’t highlight her own struggle. She won’t want to be the one who doesn’t reply so she’ll do it, even when she isn’t feeling genuinely excited for you in that moment. The best advice if you’re planning on telling people in a group is to have already told the person/people who would find it hard. They then won’t be shocked and feel exposed.
SURPRISE ANNOUNCEMENTS ARE THE WORST
Do not, under any circumstances, surprise your infertile friends/family with your pregnancy announcement. Examples being: attaching your scan photo to your cat’s collar and acting all surprised when they stroll in; inviting them for a meal and as they take their first bite of a much longed for food, saying, ‘We’ve got news!’; using a family gathering like, I dunno, Christmas, to give your mum a t-shirt emblazoned with ‘Call me Glamma not Grandma’ to announce you are expecting; actually using any situation which gets them there under false pretences;
Who is the surprise for? What do you expect their reaction to be?
We once had a surprise announcement. It was a double whammy because we had popped in for a cup of tea and a catch up before I headed off to a baby shower. I was already feeling pretty vulnerable and was using all my strength to get myself to the baby shower. So, when our friend casually mentioned they wouldn’t be drinking at New year’s, I absentmindedly took the bait.
Being surprised by pregnancy news and being face to face puts everyone in an awkward position. I went into shock and overcompensation. “Oh my goodness, this is the most wonderful news I could ever have prepared myself for on this glorious day!” Or along those lines. We said our goodbyes and I travelled to the baby shower in shock. That night, when Elis picked me up and we drove home, I sobbed. Like an injured animal. It must have been hard for Elis to drive but he got me home. I cried so hard and for so long because I felt so incredibly hurt and misunderstood. That announcement lead to a painful friendship break up. It still saddens me now. I wish I had been stronger and braver back then. To call out the nature of the announcement. But the truth is, no one in the midst of the fertility fight has the strength to do that. The heartache can be so all consuming that you are literally trying to survive.
I understand now that it can be hard from the other perspective. You can tie yourself in knots and get so worried about how to tell them you are pregnant that you end up doing it in the worse possible way. I get that. But that’s when apologising and giving your friend space will work. Proper space. Where you can put your needs to one side and recognise that they are grieving.
NOT TELLING THEM IS NOT THE ANSWER
I recently asked our Saltwater and Honey community for their best/worst pregnancy announcement stories. Lots of examples came in and many of which I totally related to. However, there was a similar thread that I hadn’t expected. Being kept in the dark. Out of the loop. Examples of a friendship group being sworn to secrecy so as to not ‘hurt’ their infertile friend. I’m sure there may be good intentions behind this. Perhaps wanting to think through how best to tell your friend, or being aware that they may be right in the midst of their treatment and you don’t want to cause them any stress. Sadly, those good intentions may not prevent harm. Infertility is alienating. So then to discover that all your friends already knew and you were being kept on the outside of that news, it will feed the feeling of not belonging.
As awkward as you may feel about telling your friend, it is better to do it than run the risk of someone else telling them. If your friends are like my friends then you will know that they talk. They ask after one another. They want the latest news. So, take the leap and tell them. Don’t let them even for a minute believe that their friendship doesn’t matter to you.
THERE IS NO MAGIC FORMULA
All of these suggestions are based on experiences we and members of our community have had. They are not hard and fast rules. Everyone reacts differently to pregnancy announcements. Some people may want you to tell them face to face. Others may want to know all the details and be included in all your baby preparations. The truth is, you know your friend/family better than us. However, fertility issues are complex and deeply emotional. Perhaps the best way to prepare for announcing a pregnancy is to ask your friend how they would like to be told. Would they prefer a text to a call? How much would they want you to talk about it? Having these open and honest discussions can lead to much more fruitful and deeper connections.
We truly believe that joy and pain can be held at the same time. Pregnancy is a precious experience and actually, who better to celebrate with you than your friend who longs for that same experience. If you can find the compassion to let them grieve their loss, to give them space and time then I am sure your friendship will be filled with reciprocal moments of kindness and thoughtfulness.