Life Without Baby

Filling the silence in the motherhood discussion

Good advice about dealing with pregnancy announcements? September 30, 2011

In the advice column of the Detroit Free Press, a woman unable to have children asked about how to deal with the endless pregnancies in her workplace. It sounds as if she’s found her own way to deal with it by putting on a happy face in public and keeping her true emotions private. I’m tending to agree that it’s about the only way to manage this situation with any grace.

I’m not so sure about the advice she’s been given though. Maybe getting involved with helping children might be a good way for this woman to have children in her life, but I don’t think it’s going to help her with the grief she is clearly still coming to terms with regarding her own loss. I might have advised this woman to seek some professional help, because she’s clearly not healing well on her own.

And while I think that the advice is coming largely from a place of compassion, I can’t help but read between the lines and wonder if she’s really told, “After 11 years, isn’t it time you got over it?”

What advice would you have given?


20 Responses to “Good advice about dealing with pregnancy announcements?”

  1. themissruby Says:

    i have a problem with this part of carolyn’s response:

    “Eleven years ago, you made the choice to build a life without kids”

    really? she made the choice? i read it that she was unable to have children, which means there was no CHOICE in the matter AT ALL. the advice she gives implies that just because you can’t have biological children, that you should “just adopt” but she of course implies it, without actually saying it.

    her advice is of no help at all to the reader – none.

    i would perhaps suggest the same as you, counselling, having said that we’re coming up 11 years and i’m still not at peace with it [in more ways than one, wrote a post on it today actually, about how it has affected my life] and i know counselling wouldn’t help me, a counsellor would only tell me what i already know and know i need to do.

    personally, if having children is something you wanted so much and you can’t have them – for whatever reason, then i’m not sure you will ever truly be able to “get over” that.

  2. mccxxiii Says:

    I think where Carolyn Hax (the advice columnist) missed was referring to it as the LW’s “choice” 11 years ago not to have children. That’s not how I read it at all … I read it as the LW has been struggling with infertility for 11 years, definitely *not* “choosing” not to have children. That’s a HUGE difference.

    I would tell the LW several things:

    1) You are not alone. There are lots of us out there in your situation. That may not make you feel any better at all, but just know that it’s true. We got your back. 🙂

    2) You don’t owe anyone any specific reaction. If you want to handle the situation “with grace” by smiling and nodding and sobbing your guts out in the car on the way home, do it. But you are NOT obliged to sublimate your own emotions for the sake of others. Just as valid a choice — and maybe one that’s more emotionally healthy for you — is to tell people “I’m happy for so-and-so’s good news, but it’s very painful for me and I’m not comfortable talking about it.” You aren’t responsible for other people’s happiness, and you don’t have to make yourself more unhappy just to benefit them.

    3) Beware of well-meaning advice about ‘other ways to nurture’ … yes, you might find some fulfillment in being and auntie or an official Big Sister, but neither of those things is the same as parenting, and neither of them will replace the hole that you have in your life. Do those things if you want to, and embrace them fully if you do them, but don’t pile more guilt on yourself if you do them and they don’t fully assuage your grief. People who tell you that those are equivalent ‘other ways to mother’ aren’t always coming from your place of experience. (Carolyn Hax, for example, has 2 or 3 kids herself …)

    4) If you feel the need to ‘retaliate’ at the unfairness of the situation, make a point over the next several months to talk to those women about the cool, expensive, last-minunte, time-consuming things that you do. Emphasize the fun you’re *able* to have because you don’t have the time and money constraints that a child brings. Talk about how good it felt to sleep late on Saturday, how much fun it was to take a last-minute weekend trip to the beach, how much you love being able to go for a run every morning. You don’t ever have to make the child-free connection explicit in these conversations, just talk a lot about the positive things you can appreciate about your situation. Is that mean and duplicitous and kinda shitty? You bet!! But if you need the emotional release, go for it. As long as you keep a plausible-deniability smile on your face while you’re doing it, nobody’s going to be able to call you out. If their *existence* in the workplace as pregnant women is going to make you feel bad, then maybe every once in a while you need to make them feel bad in return, even if you can only enjoy that revenge with a secret smile in your own mind. 🙂

  3. Lois Says:

    Wow what unhelpful advice from Carolyn.
    I don’t know what advice I’d give- I guess I do the same as the woman in the article, extend my congratulations and try to stay out of baby conversations. Hearing pregnancy announcements still hurts, physically and emotionally. I too don’t know if I’ll ever ‘get over it’.

  4. RuralRabbit Says:

    The advice that was given really rubs me the wrong way. Carolyn makes it sound like being child free was a choice for this lady, it wasn’t. There are no options for her to revisit. She didn’t make the choice to be child free, the choice was made for her.

    Also, just because her co-workers won’t be pg forever, doesn’t mean the problem will go away. Next they will be talking about sleepless nights, formula vs. breast feeding, which diapers work best, then it will be on to choosing a preschool, etc. The problem will not resolve itself.

  5. Colleen Says:

    I read Carolyn column pretty regularly, and I would say that her advice is usually a little off like that…..Carolyn obviously doesn’t know the resources out there to help this woman.

    One other thing I find is that people hesitate to tell me they are pregnant. A lot of the time I am kind of the last one to know. I know they are really trying to protect me. I think sometimes my coworkers know how painful this all is for me even though I don’t talk about it. I do the same as this lady be happy for them and stay silent about myself. I have gotten over the go home and cry. I do expect these ladies to have their kids so no reason to cry over and over again that I am not with them in the motherhood front.

  6. Iris D Says:

    I’m wondering if anyone here who might have gone through counseling has received any useful advice about how to deal with baby announcements. It feels like Carolyn’s advice was “just adopt” and you’ll get over the loss of being able to have your own biological child, I suppose because you’ll have your mind and hands full bringing up the child you’ve adopted. I wonder to what extent this is true. Do women who have been able to go on to adopt feel the loss of their own fertility less when someone announces a pregnancy? All that said, I know that the assumption that even adoption is an easily available option for all is misguided.

    • As someone who is infertile and went on to adopt I can tell you that those feelings of envy never entirely go away. I am an elementary teacher and am surrounded by young women and usually one or two of them are pregnant (one year we had 6!). Most of the time I am OK with it but there are times when the pregnancy talk, especially from 1st timers, gets a little thick and I make my exit from the room. I still have a hard time dealing with the pregnancies that are surprises – you know the ones where they say “and we weren’t even trying!” That just brings back all the old longings and disappointments. Don’t get me wrong – my son is the light of my life but a slice of me still wishes that one of my pregnancies had ended in a baby.

  7. Kathleen Guthrie Says:

    How did this Carolyn person get an advice column?! I’m appalled.

  8. Angela Says:

    I don’t think there’s anything you can do about that situation. I don’t tell people at work about my inability to have babies, and I don’t expect them to NOT have babies, so I just smile and nod and leave my own stuff out of it. I DO like the above suggestion to talk about all the fun stuff we get to do, hey if other people can sit around and talk about their situations I can talk about mine, too. My situation just happens to not include diapers and sleep deprivation. Which I am secretly smug about, although I wouldn’t let them know that! But I think the best advice would be to tell her to find a group of women in the same boat (Hello, y’all!) and talk to them about it! Support groups abound for a reason!

  9. loribeth Says:

    I too got the “maybe you rethink & adopt” vibe from this column. Bah humbug. :p Does she think that getting involved with children will be like getting a vaccination — that after awhile, you’ll develop an immunity??

    I’m not sure how someone “deals” with pregnancy announcements. I still find them difficult after all these years, especially when they come in bunches. Sometimes when the baby talk gets too much, I just make an excuse & duck out. I also try to be extra nice to myself after a really hard day — treat myself to a new book or lip gloss or a latte at Starbucks, maybe.

  10. Rerah Says:

    Part of modern society’s problem is that it has a “fix-it-and-forget-about-it” attitude about everything. The word “closure” is so overused that I cringe when I hear it! Everyone is full of opinions whether you ask for them or not. Can’t get pregnant? Try A-Z fertility treatments. Still can’t have children? Just adopt. Adoption not for you (for whatever reason)? Well, you must not want kids that badly. The worst is the attitude “If God wants you to have children, you will.” Life does not always give you tidy solutions, and a lot of people aren’t comfortable with that thought.

    I don’t think infertility is something you get over, but you can learn to live with it. Some days I’m fine with pregnancy announcements and baby talk, some days not. I used to feel guilty about negative emotions when yet another baby shower flyer showed up in my mailbox–not anymore. I found that once I gave myself permission to be upset–in perpetuity–the better I could handle things. I also try to enjoy as many things as possible and appreciate what I have–I definitely believe in pampering myself whenever possible.

    Ironically, I am a sixth grade teacher, so I do work with kids on regular basis. Does it help, or hurt? Both, depending on the day, month, week. I wouldn’t recommend it as some kind of blanket therapy for everyone, though.

  11. Lee Cockrum Says:

    I agree that I am happy for others (mostly! The young single friend with possible substance issues having another baby makes me pretty envious and feeling the unfairness of it all.) But I agree with the person who said that she does not think she will ever be totally over not being able to have children. I feel the same. Even though I do enjoy my life, I cannot change the fact that I always wanted children, and never got them.

  12. Lara Says:

    Indeed that’s a pretty lame advice, which indeed kind of reads “You can’t have your own children? Go play with other people children!” It’s kind of like telling someone who lost both legs in car accident “You miss running? Go watch a marathon!”

  13. Rural Rabbit Says:

    Iris D –
    My counselor’s advice has been to allow myself to feel whatever the announcement makes me feel, wallow if I need to. Then refocus myself on what is good in my life, what I do have and what being childfree allows me.

  14. Iris D Says:

    Thanks, Rural Rabbit. I find myself frequently on an emotional roller coaster, but in those moments of clarity when I think about what I have and am grateful for it, I let go of focusing on what I think is missing and find myself enjoying life and feeling pretty happy. It’s a struggle though.

  15. Mali Says:

    When will people realise that adoption or fostering is not a “cure” for infertility?! Argh. I have friends who have adopted. But they still hurt at the sight of pregnant bellies and newborns, something they weren’t able to experience.

  16. Dorothy Says:

    Did anyone mention prayer as an option? If not, I would like to offer that for advice. God did not answer my prayer for a child in the way I hoped, but I know the Lord is still hearing and answering prayers, so I have not given up on this privileged communication. Gosh, the power of prayer guided me to this wonderful community!

  17. […] Think about how you’ll handle being around children, new babies, and pregnant relatives. Here’s a post about that. […]

  18. […] Think about how you’ll handle being around children, new babies, and pregnant relatives. Here’s a post about that. […]

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