I was going to write a different post for the week before Christmas. About how Dan and I are trying to wring every last drop of joy from the festive season this year, my first not working – not on Christmas Day, not on Boxing Day, not on any of those surreal, time-passing-slow-as-treacle days in the run up to New Year – in practically a decade.
And then, suddenly, I didn’t feel very joyful.
Because there’s nothing like a pregnancy announcement (or three) to vaporise the many small fortifications you’ve carefully stacked up for yourself post-miscarriage. All those tiny achievements and ‘let’s make the best of it’ plans that had felt so solid and significant up until a second ago flutter and collapse like a house of cards. A Parkrun personal best. An exciting writing commission. The promise of soft cheese after Christmas dinner. Ice skating. A holiday planned in a Zika zone. What are these compared to a baby, really? How had I possibly convinced myself otherwise?
Stupid trinkets and mere trappings. A necklace, worn like an amulet, delicately strung out of ‘at least, at least, at least…’ Only now the beads have slipped off and you’re skidding, sliding, unable to find steady footing. No, there is no protection in ‘at leasts’. They’ll trip you up every time. I should know this by now.
I’m afraid I don’t have any reliable remedies for coping with other people’s pregnancy announcements (I think you just have to let yourself feel what you feel… sorry). Though perhaps brace yourself for the fact that they do seem to cluster around Christmas and New Year, that Facebook may be awash with scan and bump pictures captioned: ‘Look what’s arriving in 2019!!!!’ or ‘Turkey or baby?!!’
But, having received lovely, thoughtful messages from a few of my own friends who are expecting recently, I thought I could at least write about what to do if you’re on the other side of this conundrum. How to tell a friend who’s lost a baby – or who is struggling to conceive – that you’re pregnant.
Because, as much as other people’s news can make me crumple inside, I also hate the thought that I have been occupying some corner of their happiness, while they figure out what to say to me: a dark speck on what I only want to be a spotlessly blissful time for them, as it once was for me.
So here’s what to do. First, do something. Anything. Send a message, send a text, call them, tell them one-on-one over coffee, but don’t let them find out via Facebook or a scan picture sent to a group WhatsApp. Or spring it on them at a party or other group situation.
Yes, it’s going to hurt however they find out, but at least a little advance notice or private message shows that you’re thinking of them, that you haven’t forgotten what they’re grappling with.
If you do decide to send a message rather than doing it in person (which is fine, by the way, it means we can process our reaction – which can be complicated – in our own time) this is roughly what it should say:
‘I wanted to let you know personally that we have some news – we are expecting and due in xx. I know this might be difficult for you to hear (and that’s OK, I understand) but we really didn’t want you to find out on Facebook or from someone else.’
And then there are some magic words I would always add: ‘You do not have to reply to this message’.
This is important because otherwise, as well as processing the horrible curdle of emotions that inevitably follow, now they also have to formulate a response that conveys – convincingly – their happiness for you. And they will be happy for you, but they will also be sad for themselves. Then they’ll probably feel a bit guilty about that too, that they don’t feel purely happy; even that their inability to forget what happened to them is somehow tempting fate for you.
No. If you possibly can, relieve them of some of that emotional admin. After all, you should not be messaging them in search of absolution – it’s not up to them to give you permission to celebrate your pregnancy. Of course, they will absolutely want you to enjoy every second. But still, don’t put that responsibility on them. They will probably reply anyway, but it’s kind to give them the option not to.
Speaking of emotional admin, if you’re friends with both halves of a couple, don’t only tell the person who was physically pregnant. Men and partners can struggle with pregnancy news just as much after a loss, and if you don’t tell both of them, you’re just leaving it up to one to tell the other.
You could also consider telling them in your message when you are planning to go public – so that’s not dangling overhead, leaving them wondering if they’re going to be confronted by your scan picture every time they go online.
Bonus points for adding something like ‘I’m always here if you need to talk’.
But don’t be tempted by anything along the lines of: ‘your time will come!’ or ‘fingers crossed you’ll be next!’. It sounds like hopeful encouragement, but it simply adds a note of comparison, an implication that we’re all contestants in the great fertility race and that somehow we’ve fallen behind you. Besides, feelings about another pregnancy are far from straightforward – especially after multiple losses.
Also, once you have broken the news initially, try to accept that they may not ask many questions about your pregnancy. It’s not that they don’t care, but sometimes it’s hard to get those words out. On the other hand, if you do end up talking about the ins and out, try to remember that they have been pregnant, too. Losing a baby doesn’t annul your experience of pregnancy, they are not a stranger to its mysteries, to morning sickness, cravings, the bone-seeping tiredness. And if they respond to something you say along the lines of ‘I remember when I was pregnant…’ don’t look at them as though they’ve admitted something monstrous. What happened to them isn’t catching.
In short, try to make them feel included, considered, because it hurts like hell to feel like the only one barred from the super-special-secret parent club. And it really doesn’t take much to offer some comfort, alongside your joy.
Have I missed anything? Disagree with any of these? Please share your own dos and don’ts – and best and worst examples of things people have said to you – in the comments below. I would love this to be a really useful resource for people trying to help a friend…