Comfort and Joy (Pregnancy announcements: A how-to)

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…  

 

 

 

17 Comments

  1. My husband and I lost our fourth pregnancy last year in June. A month later after our loss, my sister in law asked my husband if she could have the baby clothes back, she had given us a few years ago when we was first trying. She didn’t want us to throw them away as she may need them. That was her announcement of her pregnancy to us both. To make matters even worse she didn’t need them in the end as they were girls clothes and she was expecting a boy, two in fact! I also got the well known comments from friends and family like “it will happen” “atleast it was early” etc etc .. and the comments still hurt as we are still trying for our baby x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh dear. You do wonder what goes through people’s minds sometimes. I can imagine how difficult and hurtful it must have felt handing back those baby clothes. Almost as if people have given up on the idea of you having children – this is how I feel sometimes now that people no longer broach this subject with us, anyway. Obviously, I know they’re just being tactful because most people in our lives know our situation, and I very much appreciate that they do this, but every now and again it can make you feel a bit like a lost cause…. Wishing much better luck for you soon. Jennie xxx

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  2. Perfectly written 💓

    It makes such a difference when someone tells you thoughtfully.

    Over the years I’ve learnt not to fight my emotions but to let them wash over me like a wave, knowing they may come back, but also knowing they will pass again.

    I’ve also learnt that being sad for yourself about pregnancy announcements doesn’t negate the happiness you feel for the other people, it’s possible to feel both emotions and not to overthink it or feel guilty about these feelings

    And what did surprise me is that Ive learnt that I can still find pregnancy announcements hard even after being incredibly lucky to finally have a baby in my arms. So many years of infertility and loss have embedded some emotions in me that I don’t think will ever completely fade

    Sending love xxx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you. I have heard from a few people who’ve gone on to have children post-loss (whether miscarriage, stillbirth or neo-natal) that announcements continue to be difficult. My best amateur-psychology guess is that it’s because once you know that things don’t always work out, it’s hard to fully inhabit that joy in an uncomplicated way. You’re either kept at bay by worry for them or else grieving your own loss of the ‘normal’ pregnancy that you never got to have, or both. Jennie xxx

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Perfectly put. Thank you so much. I’m completely avoidant when it comes to social media; I don’t use it at all due to my need to limit the gut-wrenching despair triggered within me by pregnancy-related posts. I would love for this to go viral. It could help so many well-meaning friends and family members to reduce some of the rage/hatred/fury in the tumult of emotions their announcement generates in their childless-not-by-choice loved ones.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Louise. I would love for this to go viral too….. (!) Here’s hoping it finds the right eyes. One problem, of course, which I didn’t go into in the post, is that for so many people no one will ever know they’ve miscarried and so their friends won’t know to break the news gently. Social media is really tricky, I agree. I use it a lot for publicising the blog and connecting with others writing around loss and infertility, but every now and again I have to take an extended break. It got too much for me this Christmas and right now all my apps are deleted. Thinking of you. Jennie xxx

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  4. Thank you for this. Perfectly sums up how I feel, both about the flimsy joy of Christmas and other distractions and the pain of other’s happiness.

    Mostly I’ve learnt to try to give myself a break. Like others I avoid Facebook, I allow myself a good cry and to feel properly jealous when needed. Very much agree with the advance warning bit too, giving time to put a game face on.

    Thank you for being so honest.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading, Katy. Giving yourself a break is good advice, I think. I had a full-blown, howling cry the week before Christmas when it all got a bit much. It does help, although I think sometimes it can be frightening to give into, as if stopping to think about it too deeply, it will never stop. Or maybe that’s just me. I’ve embraced a social media ban this Christmas too. Hope the season has not been too painful for you. Jennie xxx

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  5. I would love to share this with friends and family who I know are trying or plan to be in the near future.

    A close friend who I knew was going through IVF sent me a very long message to let me know she was pregnant. She wrote ‘I’m aware this isn’t good news for everyone’ and ‘I understand if you don’t want to see me’. Yes, it was hard, but I was more hurt that she thought I would feel like that, especially given I knew about her own struggle.

    Short, factual and thoughtful is all I ask and ideally in a message to let me compose myself – especially if it’s out of the blue.

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience – it really does help to know others are going through something similar. With love and best wishes for 2019 xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s a really tricky balance isn’t it? On the one hand, it’s so blindsiding when people don’t give it any thought at all, to be told on social media or in a group chat etc. But on the other, people telling you privately, then avoiding you/the topic on the assumption it will be too difficult makes you feel awful too. I know I’ve sat through social events feeling as though everyone is just waiting for me to leave so they can all talk about someone’s pregnancy in detail, without fear of upsetting me. It can feel like a crack, a crevasse, opening up between you as friends. And I really wish I had some answers on how to prevent it feeling that way. Love and luck to you too, for the new year. Jennie xxx

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  6. I really struggled with people treating us differently – not telling us their news or inviting us to child’s birthdays. It really highlighted the difference even though they tried to make it easier for us… best wishes for a healthy and positive 2019

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know exactly what you mean. And I sometimes feel a bit bad about that… because on the one hand you want people to be thoughtful, to navigate your sore points with a degree of tact, but on the other you don’t want them to be walking on eggshells all the time, or, as you say, avoiding you altogether. It’s such a tightrope for your friends to walk. I’ve always said to friends who ask to please keep inviting us to stuff (children’s birthdays, baby showers, christenings etc) but to understand if we say no. Thank you for reading. Wishing you lots of luck and health for 2019 too. Jennie xxx

      Liked by 1 person

  7. This perfectly sums up everything I have said I wish people would do. After four years of trying and five miscarriages, I hate that people don’t want to talk about their pregnancy with you and when you sympathise about their tiredness etc they make it clear you don’t understand and look at you like maybe miscarriage is contagious!

    I don’t think I’ll ever forget the inconsiderate way my brother and sister in law told us they were expecting two days after I had my fifth miscarriage and third D&C. It was so thoughtless and hurtful, we got the we know it not great timing to tell you but… and then the obligatory you will be next . Followed by we will tell you everything you need to know when your time comes.

    I know people don’t know what to say sometimes but they can still engage thei brain.

    Like

    1. It’s weird isn’t it? I think there’s a layer of superstition around all of this that needs to be smashed through. I do understand to a certain extent that when you’re pregnant you don’t want to think about what can go wrong (after all I spend every pregnancy now trying and failing to push all that out of my mind) but I still think people need to just try to deal a bit more rationally – and kindly.

      And that is incredibly poor timing. It was obviously never going to be easy, but couldn’t they have given you a little longer to heal…? Sending lots of love and luck. Jennie xxx (ps. sorry it’s taken me so long to reply, this one got lost in my notifications somehow). xx

      Like

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