One of the things I found hardest – aside from the physical ordeals my body was enduring – was the dreaded and greatly feared, ‘we’ve got some news!’ When you get to a certain age in life, this is somewhat to be expected. University days are blurred memories of long lie-ins and parties until the early hours, the world of work has lost its shine, people settle down, relationships become serious, houses are bought, some tie the knot and then…babies appear – incidentally all over Facebook so it can’t be missed. It’s part of life and, for most, starting a family becomes a priority. I knew all this. It’s the path I assumed we would take too. It was uncanny for it to come as a shock to me. But, each time it did…WHACK…a pain to my heart that I hadn’t experienced before.
I viewed everyone (even those I didn’t know) with severe trepidation, as I was petrified that I would be caught off guard and be brutally thumped in the gut with a severe case of ‘pregnancy announcement-itis’
I wouldn’t want the word pain to imply that I viewed people, announcing their happy pregnancy news, as specifically hurting me. Of course they weren’t. Everyone deserves happiness and I am, after all, not the only one in the world whose feelings matter. No one should apologise for their fertility. That said, it still caused me a deep-rooted pain – a reminder that I wasn’t pregnant – that others had what we longed for. I had a constant reminder that others were achieving and I was failing – a reminder that what we wanted so desperately, were working so hard for and might not happen, was so very easily happening for them. It must sound crazy, even now we have our daughter, but I still get a small pang in my tummy when I find out someone is expecting – perhaps it’s the deep scars left behind from what we had to go through to meet her.
Particularly in the early days, when announcements were made face to face, I got quite good at perfecting a big ‘congratulations’ smile. I didn’t want anyone to know how it made me feel inside – mainly because I was still fairly confident that it would soon be us with a similar announcement. The first time I felt that feeling – of jealousy that it wasn’t me – was when one of my friends casually told me, whilst we were getting ready for a party, that her sister was pregnant and that she was going to be an auntie. At the time, my friend didn’t know we were trying to get pregnant and so I did an oscar-winning job of covering up my worry by squealing excitedly for her. Inside, I felt pretty wobbly and the concern began to niggle at me. It was my first experience of jealousy. Jealousy is a horrible word and some people might try to claim that they aren’t jealous of other people falling pregnant. I was not one of these people.
I was jealous.
In amongst the swirl of feelings I was discovering, I was always jealous when I found out someone was pregnant. It didn’t mean that I wasn’t happy for them though but I would be lying if I didn’t say that I was green with envy too.
Time went on and my reactions definitely became more profound and took much longer to process and move past. Trying to protect myself, I would say to Craig, in advance of seeing someone, ‘I’ve got a feeling she’s pregnant.’ That way, if they were, I felt I had prepared myself and, if they weren’t, it was a relief – I wouldn’t have the task of trying to remain ‘normal’ with them. In the early days, I pushed myself to attend baby showers and christenings but, the longer things went on and the more we endured, I began to keep myself away as it was just a constant reminder of the joy we were being robbed of and I didn’t want to spoil things for others. I began to do everything I could to shelter myself from pregnancy.
I couldn’t control what was physically happening to us but I could try to protect myself.
There were some places where this was impossible though – mainly work. I remember pregnancy scan pictures put up on the board in the staff room, colleagues sharing their joyful news. It wasn’t their fault. Of course they wanted to tell everyone the secret they had been blissfully harbouring for 12 weeks.
Nevertheless, I wouldn’t always be prepared and I would often be praising myself for having a good day and getting my job done to the best of my ability, only to slip abruptly off my tight rope when nipping in to make a cup of tea and sensing a black and white image burning a hole in the back of my head, mocking me cruelly for not being able to do it too.
I’m ashamed to say that on more than one occasion, I had a meltdown and had to go home. I never stopped to consider other people’s stories or how far they had come to achieve their own pregnancies. I was trapped in sheer misery, consumed in thoughts of loss, and, to a degree, I was selfish. I was allowed to be (despite not believing this at the time) but it didn’t stop me from ruthlessly punishing myself.
I hated myself, my body and everything that made me who I am. I doubted my ability to do everything – including things, like my job, that I had always felt confident in. I was terribly fearful that my family and friends would leave me (some of them did) because of who I had become and that everyone would just see the loser I saw, staring back at me in the mirror each day.
I felt worthless.
One particular day at work, a colleague of mine called me over and said, ‘do you want to know a secret? Somebody’s pregnant.’ They wanted me to guess who.
In my overwrought mind, I vividly remember actually thinking for a second, ‘is it me? Am I pregnant? Do they know before me?’
My mind came crashing back down to earth and, quickly composing myself, I then had to cheerily run through a list of people until I guessed the correct lucky person. It was harmless of course.
I went and cried in a cupboard.
31st October 2016. My younger brother let himself into our house, unannounced – which was normal. Craig and I were sitting down to watch Planet Earth with a cup of tea. I asked him if he was alright. He said that he was. Strangely, I had said to Craig a few weeks before that I had a feeling my brother’s girlfriend was pregnant – this wasn’t too unusual as I would always assume everyone was, except me. They had only been together a very short while and Craig told me not to be ridiculous – even for me, this was somewhat absurd. But deep down I knew – or maybe my fear was rushing out of control. His girlfriend had been quiet, which was unlike her, as we used to text a lot. By the time my brother walked in that evening, it had slipped my mind. We chatted for a few minutes and then it popped back in my head. I just said it – almost in a teasing way.
He didn’t laugh.
He just said that, yes, she was in fact pregnant. It hadn’t been planned and it had come as an enormous shock to him.
I was going to be an Auntie. It was the second time I had been told this in 6 weeks.
Weeks before, Craig’s brother and sister in-law had announced their pregnancy too. I was older than all of them. It wasn’t fair. We had been trying for years. Come the spring, there would be two babies…and neither of them would be ours. I would love them, of course, but I would also be expected to surround myself with the news. It was my worst fear becoming a very frightening reality.
I’m embarrassed to say that my reaction to both sets of news were not my finest moments. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t bear it anymore. And my heart ached – oh, it ached.
It wasn’t because I wasn’t pleased for either couple’s special news – they deserved to be happy, just as we did.
What I couldn’t bear was how I was going to face it all. This was ‘on my doorstep’. I couldn’t hide from it or avoid it. The babies would be the first grandchildren on both sides which naturally brings lots of excitement, celebrations and a change to how family life works.
After the first announcement, I remember staying up all night on the sofa and watching a series called ‘Victoria’ that I had on series link. I didn’t watch it though.
I just sobbed and sobbed and sobbed and sobbed until there were no tears left to cry.
I felt guilt.
Raw guilt was slowly eating me alive for having such a selfish reaction to something I ought be delighted about. I was mourning the loss of getting pregnant myself and all the excitement that comes with it.
Lying on the sofa, I watched the sun rise across the fresh September landscape of the view I loved so dearly; I resented it for coming – because, for me and the agony I was in, I didn’t see the point in starting another day. I didn’t want to be that person. The one who everyone blamed for not being happy – or for being supportive enough – or for excitedly rushing out to buy baby clothes. The thought of going anywhere near a baby shop, or cooing over colour swatches for nursery walls, brought me out in a cold sweat. I really suffered with the news that I was going to be an Auntie for a very long time and some may judge me for this – but it’s the truth – and I know I’m not alone in feeling like this.
Slowly, my head began to accept the news. It was extremely small steps. I couldn’t even look at someone’s baby bump when I was out shopping so I didn’t know how I would face it in our family. The first thing I did was to bake. I baked cupcakes and wrote a card for Craig’s brother and sister-in-law. It was my way of showing that we cared, albeit from afar.
Sadly, silence still surrounded us from some and we felt very alone. My brother however was a rock to me, right from the start of our journey to conceive. Chatting to Sally, my accupucturist, in the December after we found out his news, she helped me to realise that I needed to support him – he was going to need it. I stopped on my way home and brought him some beers and some flowers for his girlfriend. After that, slowly but surely, I found it easier.
During our first round of IVF, I was signed off work for a while. I was breaking down, we had to move out of our beloved home suddenly and I felt like our world was caving in… fast. I have a lot of admiration for my brother, who visited me every afternoon and just chatted to me about normal things – and rude things (he loves a crude joke). We laughed a lot, at a time when I didn’t think laughter was possible. His dedicated care, by making me smile and keeping my mind off things, meant everything. I promised myself that I would do everything I could manage to return the support and in, actual fact, when my nephew was born, I couldn’t have been happier for him. Yes, it stung but watching my little brother become a brilliant father to his son eased the pain.
What made life easiest to share in the joy for those having babies (which we absolutely wanted to do) was when others also recognised what we were going through, talked to us, checked in on us and were sensitive to our feelings. I remember my brother even saying to me, ‘What are your boy baby names because I would never want to choose one that you would like?’ It broke my heart a little to hear him say that – he cared a lot in his own way. I will never forget the very special time, during some of my darkest days, that I had with him. I love him very much for it and always will.
Consumed with myself and my feelings, I never gave much consideration, at the time, to what it must be like for those on the other side. For my friends, who knew of the agony we were in, to find the right way to tell us that they had exactly what we were trying so hard to achieve, must have been exceptionally difficult. Furthermore, I can understand that it could hurt too if your news doesn’t have the ‘jump up and down and squeal’ response that you rightly deserve. Lately, I have been reflecting on the sensitivity of both sides.
How do you tell your infertile friend that you are pregnant?
I think that this really has to be one of life’s biggest tests (unless you are in a circle lucky enough for everyone to fall pregnant without any hitches, in which case you happily swerve this particular trial).
Friendships that make it through are, in my eyes, relationships that are bullet proof.
I am proud to say that I have many of these friendships – which have lasted – against the odds.
My darling friend Rachel was one of these people. Not only was she the friend who pointed me in the direction of Sally, she was also someone who always made me feel better when we met up – not matter how disastrous or painful the situation was. There are not many Rachels in this world – she is certainly one in a million. Whenever I needed her, she was there. She was patient, kind, listened and could magically keep me positive when I so wanted to give up. One night, she sat with me chatting away on the sofa whilst Craig administered a series of IVF injections to me and, somehow, she managed to make me laugh during a physically painful moment. We broached near enough every subject surrounding infertility around the kitchen table, with many a cup of tea! The day our sweet niece was born and our first round of IVF had just failed, Rachel was on my doorstep, straight from work, ready to be however I needed her to be. I will never forget that.
In June 2017, it was Rachel’s turn to be the focus of the attention – she celebrated her dream wedding to her incredible man – and Craig and I took great pleasure in witnessing and supporting their special day. Shortly after they returned from honeymoon, we invited them round for a BBQ. We were a few weeks away from starting our second round of IVF at the Zita West Clinic in London.
When they arrived, we offered them an alcoholic drink. She had brought her own fruit juice and I knew immediately – after many years, I had developed an innate sense for these things! We sat in the garden, just she and I. She was pregnant. 5 weeks (or so). She explained to me that she just couldn’t have come to see us, having been there through everything, and lie to me. It was the kindest and most thoughtful thing she had done for me yet.
Some might say, ‘well, we told you too.’ That’s true. But the foundations of our relationship were cemented firmly into the ground. She told me out of love. She was selfless. As my friend, she had carefully considered the best way to broach the situation and I will always remember the warmth in her smile and the pure friendship she gave me that day. She hadn’t even told her Mum and Dad as they were on holiday.
She knew how important it was to be honest, with the promise of still being there to support us too.
She knows that my immediate reaction inside was the all too familiar thump to my chest. The difference is – she knew this would be the case and wasn’t offended or hurt that this is how I felt.
She let me feel it.
I really did feel enormous joy and happiness for her too. How could I feel any different for a friend who had held me up and helped me to put one foot in front of the other during our saddest times? I was so excited for her and I was going to be there to support her on this new journey. We chatted about it for hours, late into the evening, as the deep glow of the summer sun began to set. 7 weeks later…I was pregnant too.
I have been considering why Rachel and I made it through and three words keep popping into my head: trust, consideration and honesty.
Without these, I don’t believe relationships between those suffering from infertility and those getting pregnant, can survive easily. Sadly, I have some relationships that were not built upon strong enough foundations – and they crumbled.
I did other crazy things too – social media being the predominant facilitator. Every time someone got married, I would pore through photos, scanning every recent picture of the wife to see if I could spy a distinctive wine glass or a teeny, tiny bump. Completely insane. After all, some people still drink when pregnant. My obsessive mind though wouldn’t care about this. I would think ‘phew, she’s holding a wine glass – she can’t be pregnant yet.’ Again, I wasn’t rejoicing in the fact that others weren’t pregnant, I was just consoling myself that perhaps I wasn’t alone.
Social media announcements would floor me. The worst was that you never knew, when you opened up the familiar blue and white app on your phone, whether there would be one happily sitting there, waiting to craftily mess with your head. I resented these announcements and I would tell anyone who would listen how insensitive I thought it was. I now hate myself for saying this.
Inside I was hurting and, by blaming something, it made me feel a little more in control.
One particular post announcing pregnancy had the caption, ‘Shit got real’. This person was part of our every day life and knew we had recently miscarried. I found this one very hard to get over. I was angry and took it very personally. How dare someone refer to getting pregnant as being ‘shit.’ It wasn’t about me though; that person was probably just making a harmless joke.
Now I am a Mum, I have seen things partly from the other side.
When we were in a slightly more relaxed place in our pregnancy, we announced it on Facebook – even though I had vowed I would never do this. I chose not to put a scan picture up. Instead, we announced with a picture of a pair of ‘Mummy and Daddy’ mugs that Craig had bought me for my birthday.
I felt like it was my turn.
I couldn’t wait to share the news we had longed for. Despite this, I still felt guilty sharing it – and I still do now every time I share a picture of our daughter. In the back of my mind, I’m always thinking about those who might be suffering in the same way as we did. I’ve learnt that it is human nature to want to share what you are proud of and I am so proud of what we have achieved; I just want to shout it from the rooftops – this doesn’t stop me feeling like I shouldn’t however. Feeling like this has enabled me to realise that this is exactly what all the posts I found so upsetting were doing too – sharing pride and joy about miracle news. No one wants to hurt anyone intentionally – or at least I hope so.
With social media, I found that quietly unfollowing the pages, I found difficult to view, helped a lot. I knew I could go back to them when I was ready. It was the only solution I could think of at the time and it gave me head space. I would recommend this to anyone finding social media posts a challenge. Part of me was often tempted to self – torture myself and sometimes I couldn’t help but look; this can be very distressing for a brain that is already working in overdrive to keep it together. Where possible (this is not always easy) – just. don’t. look. It obviously doesn’t help in avoiding surprise announcements.
Recently, I asked for other people to share their experiences of pregnancy announcements (from both sides) on my Instagram. The response, both publicly and privately, was overwhelming. Many people have been through this (or know of someone) from one side or the other. The key themes that stuck out in all the messages was support and sensitivity.
There is no neat and tidy way to cope with this.
I’ve learnt it can be very messy but,
with honesty, time and understanding,
the best relationships – the ones worth having – can survive – and flourish in ways you thought might never be possible.