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When Pregnancy Announcements Attack

Sep10

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Dear Amy,
I had a question that I did not see addressed in your archives but maybe you have already answered it. If not, it might be a good thing to ask just because I am sure other people have the same question.
My best friend is 12 weeks pregnant. She has started sharing the news with her friends, and decided to email the news a friend who recently lost her baby at 24 weeks gestation. I think she did the right thing: she wanted her friend to hear it from her, and not as a surprise in conversation from someone else, and she also wanted to give her friend the space to respond to the message as she needed to, and not have to say “congratulations” over the phone, etc. The friend who lost the baby responded very poorly to the news and accused my best friend of being insensitive and selfish, when really she was trying to be the opposite.
I think she did the right thing. I have read in various blogs of people who lost babies and then felt completely marginalized when people did not share pregnancy news with them. What do you think? What do your readers think?
For me the whole situation is that anyone can lose a baby at any time. Just as we share the joy of pregnancy and birth with our friends, we also want to share the news because if there is G-d forbid a loss, we want their support as well.
I am curious to hear your take on things.
Thanks for all the great advice over the years Amy!
Your devoted reader,
Danielle in Philadelphia

Well, I agree with you. Without seeing the actual text of the email, it sounds like your friend shared the news in the best possible way. The problem is that sometimes that’s just not going to be enough, for someone who is still stinging from the worst possible thing ever.
As a general rule, sharing pregnancy news with someone who is struggling with infertility or past losses should go something like this: tell them soon, possibly first, thus ensuring that they don’t hear the news secondhand, in a space where they aren’t prepared for the force of their reaction. When we were dealing with our failed Clomid cycles, I was casually informed of a coworker’s pregnancy while microwaving my lunch. And I had to stand there, smiling like a crazy loon, watching the seconds tick down and trying with all my might to make it back to my office before the tears started. Do not announce the news in front of them in a large group, for the same reasons.
Tell them in private or in a letter or email, so they can be free to cry, throw things or just to go numb for awhile without forced smiles and “congratulations!”
Don’t say you understand how they are feeling…or that you know how your news will make them feel. Don’t put on a happy spin to their situation, or say things like “I just know it will happen for you too!” Don’t go on and on and around in circles with a lot of superfluous kid-glove empathy and apologies for the pregnancy. Instead, tell them simply, and then step the hell back and away. “I wish I knew the perfect way to tell you this news, but I don’t. I am X weeks pregnant. I wanted you to hear it from me, and I want to give you as much time and space as you need. If you don’t want to talk about it, I understand. Please know that I love you and care about you.” Maybe not even that much, depending on your level of friendship and how involved you are in their grieving (or infertility treatment) process. Remember that pregnancy is a gift that keeps on stinging, for an infertile woman. The growing belly, the baby shower, the ACTUAL BABY. That “time and space” you offer to give them may go way beyond an initial half-hour crying jag.
But as your friend found out, you can do everything “right” and still end up hurting someone. It can totally happen, considering she’s trapped in a situation where EVERYTHING feels so “wrong.” She reacted badly, yes. Her own personal tragedy should not interfere with her ability to do good hair. Or be a good friend, in this case. Unless there was something in the text of the email that was a specific trigger for the “insensitive and selfish” thing, she really shouldn’t lash out at everyone who dares to get pregnant in the wake of her loss. But she did, and I’m guessing her grief is just too much, too fresh. Perhaps one day she’ll look back and be horrified at her words and apologize. (And perhaps she won’t. I mean, let’s be honest and admit that infertility and pregnancy loss can happen to people who are just self-centered jerks, regardless.)
But just like we forgive a pregnant woman for screaming horrible things at her husband in labor, or for a grief-stricken spouse for breaking down at a funeral and ordering all the well-wishers to get the hell out, this friend deserves a break too. Not to play the Pain Olympics, or anything, but 24 weeks. Gah. That’s…totally not the same thing as putting on a stiff upper lip in the wake of a anovulatory Clomid cycle. I’m not sure I’d be able to get out of bed, much less compose polite emails expressing my appreciation that my pregnant friend had done the best she could with her news.
But, for the record, I think your pregnant friend did the best she could. Some situations are just ass, all around.

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About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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25 Responses to “When Pregnancy Announcements Attack”

  1. PaintingChef Sep 10 at 9:43 am Reply Reply

    In all honesty… there is no GOOD way to tell someone who has struggled with infertility and/or miscarriages that you are expecting. But the worst thing you can do is HIDE the news from them.
    I think your friend told her in one of the best ways possible. By allowing her space to think it over and not be forced to offer congratulations on the spot, your friend was being very sensitive and considerate. I think that your friend who suffered the miscarriage will eventually see that and see that everyone was trying very hard to be considerate in a difficult and unclear situation.
    Although we may not always show it, we do realize that life and pregnancies go on around us every single day. And we are completely capable of being happy for someone else. It just sometimes takes us a little longer to get there. Your friend is very lucky to have people around her who are so considerate of her feelings and sensitive to her loss. Be patient and continue to give her space. She’ll come around.

  2. Jenn Bo Sep 10 at 10:56 am Reply Reply

    It sounds to me as if the expecting mama did all she could to share the news in the most respectful way possible. I have recurrent pregnancy loss (5 down) and it is, simply, devestating to me.
    Recently, I have reflected about my reaction to all the pregnancies and births around me (4 births so far this year) – I have so much joy for these other parents. Sure, I’m a little jealous, but I adore babies and feel privileged that I have friends with little ones that I can hold and spoil with gifts. I find it interesting that I can adore their children as I hear so much about other women dealing with infertility who avoid all things baby. Perhaps I’m not truly embracing my sadness, but I like to think I’m dealing with my failures in the most productive way possible.

  3. Kim Sep 10 at 11:14 am Reply Reply

    I have not personally had to experience a loss. I do read another blog and the author is dealing with secondary infertility. She often writes how hard it is to see others pregnant but it is also very hard to hear it through the grape vine and not get the news personally; like they are avoiding her. I think your friend did the right thing but like the wise Amalah said, you can’t please everyone and make everyone happy. I wish your friend good luck with her pregnancy and I am sorry for your other friend’s loss.

  4. Danielle in Philadelphia Sep 10 at 11:16 am Reply Reply

    Amy — thank you so much for answering our question! I agree that losing a baby at 24 weeks is just devastating, and no one expected the mama to respond “perfectly.” We all hold her with so much compassion in our hearts. Thank you for your thoughtful response and for giving other people the chance to weigh in on the matter. Especially when dealing with someone who has suffered such a loss, I think we all want to do and say the right thing, even if there is no right thing. Thanks again.

  5. Jessica in SC Sep 10 at 12:07 pm Reply Reply

    I had to tell my best friend, who had gone through five – FIVE – failed IVF cycles, 3 failed FET cycles and was in the middle of navigating the waters of adoption that we were pregnant. Unexpectedly. Our friendship was strained for a while because I know that it had to be unbelievably hard, but we have arrived on the other side and are better off. She is now the proud mom of an adorable six month old little girl, and she even threw one of my baby showers for me!
    But I did what the friend here did – I told her first and as early on as we were comfortable with (8 weeks? after we had seen the doctor and had the initial ultrasound). I wrote it in an email and said basically what Amy said and yeah, we did not talk for a while. We have not talked about pregnancy at all and really, we don’t have a reason to because she can’t relate. So we talk KIDS, because we are both going to be mothers, and who cares how we got there.
    It’s hard. All of this. Friendships are just as difficult at 30 as they are at 13, except we are not vying for the popular boy’s attention anymore, but for bigger, life-altering things.

  6. Anu Sep 10 at 12:29 pm Reply Reply

    I think that one of the reasons, the friend who lost the baby flipped out is because the other friend decided to share her good news through email with her, but in person with all the other friends. I am just assuming here since it is not clear in the queation if your friend shared it through email with everyone.

  7. Kate Sep 10 at 12:52 pm Reply Reply

    When I became pregnant, it was less than 2 months after a dear friend lost her infant son to SIDS. I agonized over telling her, but in the end I went to see her and told her in person. I know that on some level she must have really hurt with the news, but hugged and kissed me and never let me know if she was feeling anything other than joy for me. I think the trick is that she knew how worried I was for her response, and it told her that I was sensitive to her feelings.

  8. Anu Sep 10 at 12:54 pm Reply Reply

    I think that one of the reasons, the friend who lost the baby flipped out is because the other friend decided to share her good news through email with her, but in person with all the other friends. I am just assuming here since it is not clear in the queation if your friend shared it through email with everyone.

  9. Danielle in Philadelphia Sep 10 at 2:01 pm Reply Reply

    She shared the news via email with everyone in this particular group of friends, but sent the grieving mama a separate, very sensitive message, which included the points of: I wanted you to hear it from me, I don’t need a response, I care about you and think about you every day, etc.

  10. anon Sep 10 at 3:04 pm Reply Reply

    This is a very timely Q & A for me. My husband and I have struggled with infertility for quite some time. A friend of mine told me that she was pregnant in person a few months back. I felt totally ambushed. I thought we were going out for drinks, so, even though I knew that she was trying to get pregnant I was not anticipating the news. In her defense (I guess) she never said SHE was going to be drinking so she didn’t outright lie or anything but anytime we’ve gone out for drinks before, she drank. Anyway, the news sent me into a tailspin and I had some sort of anxiety attack. I had to cut the evening short. She was empathetic and supportive, or so I thought. The day after I freaked out I sent her a very heartfelt email apologizing for my reaction, I was very happy for her (I was) and could we get together again. We did, I asked all the right questions, I thought things were fine. Well they weren’t and they aren’t. Long story short, if she had told me the news in email I would have adjusted to it on MY time frame in MY space and our friendship might not be in the toilet now. Apparently I have done other things against her with regard to the pregnancy which she is upset about but that is another story. For what it’s worth, she said (repeatedly) that she thought the news was too big for email, that email was too impersonal. While I can respect that position, in this situation I would have REALLY appreciated the more impersonal approach.

  11. Jenn Sep 10 at 7:59 pm Reply Reply

    Ack.
    I am that Mom who lost her baby at 23 weeks.
    I would have lost my mind if I got an email announcement. I would have felt like she was scared to tell me in person or over the phone… and it would have hurt terribly.
    Having been in her shoes, I would have been hurt at the email, and I would have lashed out. I had dream and hopes that were dashed when Jamisen died, and it was just as real as if he had been with me for a year. I can’t say I wouldn’t have reacted the same. It’s been five years and I still have those moments when I hear a pregnancy announcement.
    Bottom line,I think she would have reacted better hearing her friends voice, and being able to react to it in person. One of my best friends told me the news in person a few weeks later, and I was able to congratulate her and cry with her… because I was happy for her but it hurt too.

  12. Cassie Sep 10 at 10:20 pm Reply Reply

    Remember that pregnancy is a gift that keeps on stinging, for an infertile woman. The growing belly, the baby shower, the ACTUAL BABY.
    Gah! Me. So much me. Two years past this and I still haven’t written the letter I intended to write to a newly pregnant friend who is now close to celebrating her daughter’s 18 month birthday. It is beyond difficult to explain to someone so happy, even when they KNOW about your history, how much you are thrilled for them and devastated for yourself at the same time. And incredibly hard not to step back and even, sometimes, lose the closeness of that friendship.
    And that was just infertility… I can’t imagine LOSING a child and then coping with the news, no matter how the well-intentioned and sensitively presented.
    (OTOH, a dear friend who also has infertility problems and whose adoption process is taking FOREVER, was truly thrilled for me when I finally did manage to get pregnant. It all depends.)
    Really, the only thing that can work is time. Maybe after a few more weeks, the friend will be able to step back and see the other friend’s intentions. Or may, a year or so later the new mom will get a letter finally saying how sorry her friend is for her past reactions and hoping that there is still a friendship there to salvage.
    And now I really feel the need to sit down and start that letter I intended to write 2 years ago…

  13. Jen Sep 11 at 12:36 am Reply Reply

    I’m that girl that’s tried everything and has had nine losses and has been on the end of every kind of correspondence regarding the news of a pregnant friend.
    Personally, I prefer to hear it through the grape vine. Being specifically sought out via a private conversation or email hurts more because it puts me on the spot to react. I know what they’re hoping I’ll say, what they’re hoping to hear. Even if they say I don’t have to respond, they’re still hoping I will. Frankly I would much rather come by the news on my own terms without the clock ticking from the time I’m told to the time I respond. If I hear it second hand then I can digest it at my convenience and then approach the friend with my sincere congratulations when I’m ready.
    And I don’t wear my heart on my sleeve and I have learned how to cope and I am able to be genuinely happy for others. Yet still…
    That may not be how everyone feels but it’s exactly how I feel.

  14. Oh Sep 11 at 9:57 am Reply Reply

    I have several friends who struggle with infertility and the best way for them is to tell the husband as soon as possible and let him break the news. That way, our friends have time to get used to the idea before having to be around whoever is pregnant.

  15. cagey Sep 11 at 12:18 pm Reply Reply

    I encountered this myself with two friends and went about it the same way with both – I very carefully told them what was going on and was very clear in that I understood if they needed time to process it. I emphasized that I understood if they needed to back off from me for awhile, that I would always be open to their friendship.
    I have not heard from one friend in nearly 4 years whereas, the other friend is still my friend. Yes, it still hurts that I lost a longtime friend simply because I had uncomplicated pregnancies and she did not, but I can rest easy knowing I did the right thing, at least. Sigh.

  16. Jen Sep 11 at 2:07 pm Reply Reply

    Pregnant friends need to realize that even though your pregnancy might be the most important thing in your world, it might barely rank in someone elses, infertile or not. Peeing on a stick and then immediately plotting your approach to tell the infertiles is compeltely narcaccisstic and rude. Giving them ‘permission’ to take time to process it? ‘Understanding’ that they might need time away for a while? And then resting assured that you did the ‘right thing’ is just a mechanism to make YOU feel better.
    Sometimes friends that become pregnant friends become entirely differently people. Those people need to realize that their infertile friends do not want to become your project. And also that, interfile or not, not everyone elses sun rises and sets around your pregnancy.

  17. cagey Sep 12 at 9:01 am Reply Reply

    Jen, wow – way to make great, stretching assumptions about me based on a single comment (I am assuming the comment was directed towards me since portions of my comment were quoted)
    I never said the sun rose and set around my pregnancy. Just because you disagreed with my approach does not make me narcissistic.
    One friend (S)did not like my approach, the other friend (C) said I did exactly the right thing and it was what she needed at the time. Furthermore, C has said that S was inappropriate in her response. I was just trying to illustrate that no matter how a person goes about it, you cannot predict someone else’s behaviour. All you can do is try hard to maintain the relationship and hope for the best. Sometimes, it is simply out of your hands. That is it. I should note, it was not just me. The friend also cut out a good number of other fertile friends in her life.

  18. Isabel Kallman
    Isabel Kallman @AlphaMom Sep 12 at 10:05 am Reply Reply

    Jen,
    As I see it, you’re the only one being rude here.
    I was tempted to delete your comment for its rudeness. But ultimately I left it up as I think the anger you demonstrate in your words above are a reflection of the reality of the world we live in and precisely the reason why those of us who are empathetic and do care about others (pregnant or not) think through (doesn’t mean ‘plotting’) and approach these types of situations sensitively.
    Peace to you Jen.
    Isabel

  19. kari Sep 12 at 1:52 pm Reply Reply

    Bringing a baby into the world is one of the greatest things that someone can experience. I don’t expect EVERYONE’S lives to revolve around my pregnancy, but the IMPORTANT people in my life? Yeah. They should share this with me. Because not only am I having a baby, but they are getting a niece, or nephew, a grandchild, a godchild, or even just “a good friend’s baby”. It takes a village to raise a child, and so I think that a mother has a right to expect that it WILL be a big deal to those that are important to her. AND AND AND!! Isn’t saying that you are being selfish to think that your pregnancy is important to others ALSO saying that the LOSS of a pregnancy shouldn’t be important to others???? Huh.

  20. Caitlyn Sep 12 at 11:18 pm Reply Reply

    some time ago, two good friends and I all started trying to conceive at around the same time. We were all anovulatory for along time, we all saw fertility doctors, two of us went through Clomid and one of us decided to wait and see.
    Then the one who decided to wait got pregnant. And announced it to our entire social group at once, at the bowling alley. The other friend and I had to sit there and smile and laugh at comments about how everyone expected me to be pregnant first! (That especially hurt, since I had been the first to start trying.) She came over and told us quietly that she understood if we needed time to process, but…what time did she think there was??
    I could have killed her! (Actually, I was angry at her husband, who was probably more at fault.) All I needed was ten minutes to cry, but at the bowling alley you can’t even find an excuse to duck into the kitchen. Eventually I walked away and cried in the arcade (my husband came and held me, which helped) and after that I was totally fine and able to celebrate.
    After that the other friend and I discussed it and promised that whichever of us got pregnant first would tell the other over the phone and early, so they wouldn’t hear over the grapevine. I got pregnant a month or two later and that’s what I did and it worked well.

  21. Jenna Sep 13 at 11:23 pm Reply Reply

    I remember when Meagan from Velveteen Mind went through this. She took forever to tell her readers she was pregnant out of fear of hurting some of them. It was something. The comments are something else.
    http://bit.ly/17V2WP

  22. Hoosier Sep 14 at 12:16 pm Reply Reply

    Our baby was recently stillborn…at 38 weeks. Yes, you read correctly, 38 weeks of a perfect, no-problems pregnancy, and he died. Just out of the blue like that. 9 months pregnant and I had to deliver a dead baby.
    So. for the friend that lost one at 24 weeks. She can do and say whatever the heck she wants to. Having a baby die, like Amy said, is the WORST scenario ever.
    The friend that sent the email seems considerate. I’ve had similar things come up amd greatly appreciated people telling me in private and allowing me some space. I didn’t react coldly towards it, but everyone’s grief is different.
    Chalk it up as her grief, forgive, and move on.

  23. Renee Sep 23 at 11:25 am Reply Reply

    When I had to tell a coworker I was expecting and she was going through fertility treatments, she accused me of having a “hysterical pregnancy”. I took everything she had to dish out with the understanding that she was going through a difficult time. It certainly helped that I did not go on and on about my condition.
    Flash forward 7 years, I now have 3 kids. The neighbor lady hates children and screams at kids whenever she gets a chance. She yells at the bus driver for stopping near her house, and if she ever gets caught screaming in front of parents, she says that she could never have children, and it was so painful, and looking at children reminds her of all of her loss and pain.
    All I’m saying is that if when it is all over, motherhood wasn’t in the cards, don’t be crazy-screaming-old-lady. Be fun-aunt, or nice-neighbor. Bitterness eats at the soul.

  24. lucy Nov 15 at 10:05 am Reply Reply

    I have a friend who’s still in the “trying” phase of her her 2nd pregnancy, and I think it’s been around a year. I have an older baby (my first), but two other friends have just given birth to their 2nd kids and I think she’s feeling the sting (all of the 1st children are the same age – so it seems she being left behind). I’ve recently came across some information that helped me to conceive, but I don’t know if it would be helpful or insensitive or just crass to pass it along. (It was a method-type thing)
    And — on a separate note, Coincidentally, there was a woman named Jen on a motherhood forum I used to read. She was the infertile forum ringleader, and she the other infertile women liked to pop into *pregnancy threads* to tell the preggos how insensitive they were being to the others struggling with infertility on the forum. No amount of tip-toeing was good enough for her. If you said A, you should have said B. But how dare you have said B, you insensitive cow! It was part of the reason I needed to move away from this particular forum. There are just some people out there for whom who can never win….

  25. m Jan 28 at 7:24 pm Reply Reply

    steel magnolias reference #2!  nothing can interfere with one’s ability to do good hair!

    just stumbled on this site while trying to figure out if i’m PMSing or growing a human.  the abundance of steel magnolia references makes me feel like –no matter the result– i found my tribe!

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