6 Ways to Deal with Pregnancy Envy During Infertility
Envy, a very human trait, but one we fight against, none more so than while trying to conceive. Every bump or baby you encounter can feel like a punch in the chest, winding you, causing you to stumble. With Meghan Markle, The Duchess of Sussex, announcing on Valentine’s Day that she is pregnant again, social media is awash with the news and an idyllic photograph of herself and Prince Harry looking blissfully happy.
It can be almost impossible when confronted with what you want most in the world to not compare your life to others, and the emotional storm inside can be debilitating. You can feel upset, angry, inadequate, confused, even grief-stricken. “Why them and not me?” When that bump (or baby) belongs to a close friend or family member all of the above can be magnified and you then feel awful for having these feelings.
At times, distancing yourself from encounters can be an essential survival technique, and many fertility websites suggest avoiding baby showers and situations involving children in order to protect yourself. However, while I was going through infertility I refused to give up or lose my friends. I had given up so many things in my quest to become a mother; caffeine, dairy, gluten, and alcohol, to name a few. I also lost many things for a time: my self-confidence, trust in myself, my body, and my faith in life.
I love my friends’ children; they are miniature versions of the people I care most about. Yes, it was difficult being around children when I desperately wanted them myself. Yes, it brought home the longing, the wanting, and the lack, but my grief was not any less acute, my situation not any different if I had stayed at home.
I could be doing something completely unrelated to pregnancy and children, when out of nowhere a little unwanted thought would rise up and be just as painful as walking past a group of new moms in a cafe. The fact was that until I got pregnant I needed to deal with the fact that I was not pregnant! I needed coping strategies.
I wrote the following while I was in the trenches of infertility and IVF:
1. Be honest with yourself.
Part of mindfulness practice is to stretch. The phrase “Yoga is not about touching your toes; it is about what we learn on the way down” sums it up perfectly. When you stretch your body to the point of resistance you are learning your boundaries. The idea is not to strain but to find that point of resistance and breathe into it for a few moments to fully experience it, and then gently back off. We can use the same tool in scenarios when encountering emotional resistance. Learn your boundaries.
If you are in any given scenario and overwhelming emotions arise, simply remove yourself from the situation for a time. Just stop and allow your emotions to surface. It is okay to cry. It is okay to admit that you are jealous. It is perfectly understandable and natural. Be with your feelings. You may find that after a time, you are strong enough to return to the situation and take pleasure from it.
2. Be honest with others.
This leads to being honest with your friends and family. We can fall into the trap of seeming positive and upbeat when inside we are silently screaming. No one can truly understand how we are feeling but by sharing a little you may help to protect yourself from well-intentioned but painful comments. The family member who tells you to hurry up and have a baby before it is too late or the friend with a newborn who says you are lucky that you get to sleep at night.
You don’t need to give them the whole story, but maybe a comment such as “You know it’s not as easy for some people just to decide to have a baby, these things can take time.” Or to friends who know you are trying, “Most of the time I’m okay, but some days I just want to curl up under the covers, and I find it really difficult to stay strong.” You could send this blog to your friends and say that this is a little bit like how you are feeling.
3. Put yourself in other people’s ballet pumps.
Everyone, no matter who they are, has their own difficulties and worries. You may look at someone who is heavily pregnant or who has a baby and think that they have everything, but unless you walk a mile in their shoes you do not know the entire story. Take Meghan Markle, for example. She shared at the end of last year that in July she had suffered a miscarriage. How many other celebrities, friends, or work colleagues have been through untold losses, perhaps even fertility treatments? We only ever see or hear part of each person’s story. Whenever jealousy has you in its grip, take a deep breath and put yourself in the other person’s shoes, you will be amazed at how much this simple technique can help.
4. Don’t see babies as babies.
This one helped me the most when I felt myself judging other people’s parenting choices. You know, when you say to yourself, “Why do they have a child when they obviously do not want them?” Imagine that child in 16 years’ time, giving that parent grief and getting their own back! This also helps to remind you that you don’t want just any baby, you want YOUR baby, that person who will be in your life for your entire life.
5. Play the “Yes, please” game.
This one can be really hard to start, but when you get into the habit of doing it it is really fun and can be a lifesaver. Instead of seeing every bump or baby as a reminder of what you do not have, use them as a reminder of what you want and say, “Yes, please! That is what I want in my life."
If you have read any positive psychology books you will know that this is highly recommended for lifting your mood and moving you towards what you want in life. The idea is that if you see the things you want and only register the lack of them in your own life you are putting yourself on a downward spiral that can lead to anxiety and depression. By saying yes to the things you want and imagining that you too can have them, you are putting yourself on an upward spiral, which is altogether more fun.
An example for you: every year I would go on holiday with my husband, gran, parents, and uncle to the seaside, and every year I would tell myself that next year I would be bringing our gorgeous baby with us. For the third summer, Aunt Flo joined us instead and that year I was in the beach toilets when she arrived. I stepped out of the cubicle to find not one but two heavily pregnant young (like nineteen-year-old) ladies in front of me, in string bikinis! I had two choices, the first to turn around, go back into that cubicle, and stay there for the rest of the day, or to say “Yes, please, that will be me in nine months’ time, but possibly without the string bikini!” I went for the second option. I’m not saying it’s easy, and sometimes it can take all of your strength, but it is so worth it.
6. Stop expecting life to be fair.
I went through a period of using the phrase “It’s not fair!” almost continuously. “It’s not fair that some women get pregnant when they do not even want a child.” “It’s not fair that I have to go through tests, injections, surgery, and treatment and some people get pregnant on their first try.” “It’s not fair that some women have ten children and we don’t have any.” My husband responded, “Why do you expect life to be fair?”
Life is not fair. Shit happens to lovely people every day. The trick is not to be weighed down by this fact, but to change your perspective. Instead of stamping your foot and crying, “It’s not fair!” whenever life throws you a curveball, instead see each challenge as an opportunity to learn and grow.
On my journey, I learned to be proud of myself, really proud of myself for who I am and not what I do. I learned to accept my current situation while acknowledging my feelings. I learned to really love and listen to my body. I learned to communicate on a new level with my husband. I learned that I would not crumble, that I have an inner strength, and that I could actually be happy on this journey.
Naomi Woolfson, of Embrace Fertility, is a therapist who specializes in supporting women through trying to conceive, fertility treatments, and then pregnancy and birth following infertility. She and her partner went through almost 4 years of infertility, IUI’s, IVF, anxiety, surgery, and a miscarriage before they went on to conceive both of their ginger children naturally! On the ‘Embrace Fertility’ podcast, Naomi offers emotional support and shares mind-body techniques to help you feel calm and confident and ultimately find yourself again while waiting for your baby. She also runs a 12-week mind-body program guiding women through the 5 steps of her unique Embrace Fertility Method; Comfort, Coping, Connection, Clearing, and finally, Creating. You can visit her website at www.embracefertility.co.uk.