At a wedding we attended last week, my husband and I sat next to a young couple who recently had their first child. In true new first-time-parent fashion, our discussion quickly turned to our newborns, and then to the mothers who birthed them.
How long were you trying? Were you trying? Was it natural? How long did it take you to lose your pregnancy weight?
Her pregnancy story was dramatically different than mine.
“So you’re pretty much the girl that women hate,” she concluded.
Mind you, just 20 minutes before her statement she was a complete stranger. She still is. But her remark sounded all too familiar to me.
When I publicly shared news of my pregnancy, I received dozens of messages from family, close friends, and even high school acquaintances I hadn’t spoken to in over a decade (thank you, Facebook) -- not just to congratulate me, but to tell me that they had been trying to conceive. Some, for just a few months. Some, for many years. Some shared stories of false positives, failed marriages, and of devastating miscarriages.
Then, the barrage of personal questions.
They wanted to know whether it was planned; whether I had used a fertility plan and, if so, which one; whether this was truly my first pregnancy or whether I had previous failed attempts.
It’s common to discuss baby plans in many circles that include young married couples. Some couples have gone as far as sharing their timeline, to the exact month. Out loud. Over dinner.
Not me. I kept many details, including the first two trimesters of my pregnancy, private. There were so many reasons why. Among them, I feared infertility. 10 percent of women have difficulty conceiving, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. With a family history of difficult pregnancies, I couldn’t help but think I would fall into that statistic.
Above all, the information probably made for good conversation filler, but I don’t think anyone really cared.
As couples who surpassed their publicized deadline were being asked how baby making was coming along, all I kept thinking was thank goodness that spotlight was not on us. We never let others put that kind of pressure on us.
So when I told my closest friends I was pregnant, they didn’t see it coming. While I did have a few scares along the way, I don’t have an extraordinary conception story. No tale of overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles. I’m grateful for that. But after hearing from others about infertility shame, I couldn’t help but feel fertility guilt.
Guilt that it may have come too easy. Guilt that mentioning my pregnancy automatically equated to “rubbing it in.” Guilt in knowing that, had I been in their place, I would not have been able to handle their experiences with nearly half their strength and patience. Here I was running a 5K in my first trimester, babymooning in Costa Rica during my second and still able to touch my toes by the third while other hopefuls were being told to “pray harder,” or “don’t think about it so much.”
I downplayed the excitement and felt like I couldn’t talk about it as openly as I would’ve liked. Since there were quite a few couples that came forward to tell us about their fertility struggles, I knew there were probably more around us who may be experiencing the same but dare not share. I worried about unknowingly offending others. I only allowed my closest inner circle to experience the joy. Perhaps in that cloud of privacy I had shortchanged a part of the pregnancy experience.
It’s not the type of guilt you apologize for. There’s nothing to regret when you get exactly what you want. But your physical condition quite literally becomes the elephant in the room and that changes the dynamics of friendships. Since our experiences were so different and the journey to family building is so personal, the situation created a rift. Initially, support meant answering those personal questions and lending that ear to situations that were difficult to hear. Soon it translated to distancing from the negativity.
Some said they didn’t want to hear about our pregnancy updates. Some were hurtful. Some were hurt. Some rethought their deadlines and let us all know about it. Some went on to conceive. Some did not.
Even still, among all, the relationship has not gone back to the way it was. Will it?
Readers, share. Have you ever felt fertility guilt? How did you overcome?
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