Tips For Handling Baby Showers And Other Social Events During Infertility
By Rena Gower, LCSW
You may be finding it difficult to navigate your “before” life with your “TTC” life. Suddenly, events that you may have looked forward to in the past such as birthday parties or baby showers may make you feel increased anxiety or like you would rather crawl into a hole than socialize. You are absolutely not alone in these feelings. They are normal.
The trick is to learn how to navigate and validate these feelings and then come to a place where you are able to find a balance between protecting and honoring yourself and not being completely isolated, since that is not good either. I often tell my patients that one of the goals I have when working with them is to help them figure out how to dial back feeling as though trying to conceive is dominating their lives.
It wouldn’t be realistic to pretend it wasn’t happening or pretend that your life hasn’t changed, but the work lies in figuring out how to shape your life around it so that you are still controlling your life instead of having the journey control you.
Social events may feel particularly hard to navigate during this time. I did not have a great support system when I was going through my own TTC journey, so I remember many events where I ended up crying in a bathroom stall after seeing a pregnant person. I don’t want this to happen to you!
Human beings are social creatures by nature, so it is not good to isolate yourself and have zero socialization. The trick with figuring out how to socialize when trying to conceive is to figure out what is comfortable for you. For example, say you are invited to a baby shower of a close friend or family member and you are feeling really upset at the thought of not going but the thought of going and having to sit through that is also making you upset, I recommend going for either the first part or the last part.
Come up with a reason ahead of time that you will either need to leave early or be late, and then stick to it. Also, go prepared with a “cocktail conversation” response, a one-liner that you can recite whenever someone asks you when you will conceive or why you haven’t yet (trust me, it happens).
Positive psychology tools like practicing gratitude, journaling, meditation, random acts of kindness, and exercise should also help in terms of social events, as they will train your brain to err on the side of positive. These techniques really do help so that you can navigate these situations with a sense of humor rather than breaking down in tears and running to the bathroom as I did.
Friends & Family
Friends and family can be another difficult element to navigate during this journey. It is common to feel disappointed or let down when you disclose your struggle to a friend or family member and they respond with something like, “why don’t you just adopt?” or “just relax and it will happen.”
It is important to remember that your friend or family member is not trying to hurt your feelings or be insensitive on purpose. They simply don’t know what to say. By nature, most people want to help. They want to provide a solution for you. The reality is that the only real solution you are looking for is a healthy, live birth. So well-meaning friends and family members end up saying things that they think will help, just because they aren’t quite sure what else to say.
I always tell my patients that they need to set their friends and family members up for success. I know that it isn’t fair because it’s yet another thing to think about, but it’s important for you to give them the tools they need to best support you. For example, you can say, “I am going to tell you something that I am dealing with, and after I tell you I want you to tell me that you love me and then I don’t want you to bring it up unless I do.”
It’s important that you think about what you need from your support system before disclosing it to them, and also recognize that this isn’t finite—what you need one week may not be what you need the next week. Continued communication is crucial. Journaling can also be a helpful tool in helping you figure out what you need from friends and family members from one week to the next. Try and remember that, most likely, people are coming from a good place and they just don’t have the tools.
Pregnancy announcements can be very difficult to see when you are on your own journey to conceive. I always recommend to my patients during this time that they cut down on social media. This way, you are only getting pregnancy announcements from people you are actually close with and not seeing announcements from random Facebook friends that you don’t even keep in touch with.
My patients often struggle with the juxtaposition of emotions that may arise when this happens: how can I feel happy for someone else but sad for myself? I am here to tell you that it is entirely possible to feel two completely different emotions about one thing. You can feel both happy for your friend that is pregnant but also sad for yourself because it is what you want so badly.
The point here is not to repress or deny your emotions but rather, to validate and honor them. It is really important that you acknowledge how a friend or family member’s pregnancy announcement makes you feel. It is important to say that it makes you feel horrible and you’re angry and it sucks; that is part of being human.
The other part of this equation is to figure out how to deal with it with as much grace and dignity as possible. I often tell my patients that are struggling with how to navigate friendships during this time that, especially as adults, friends ebb and flow. Friendships can be sticky and messy, and sometimes we vibe with people and sometimes we don’t. The important thing is to handle your friendships with grace and dignity so that, when you are on the other side of this journey, resuming a friendship is possible.
It may be natural and normal to need to take a step back from a friendship while you are trying to conceive. Perhaps your best friend just announced she is pregnant and she tried for one month—certainly that may be really difficult to navigate. The important thing is to communicate to your friend why you may need to take a step back from the friendship or why you may not be her target audience for discussing all things baby with right now.
So remember: have a prepared “cocktail conversation response;” set people up for success on how best to support you; honor your feelings, and give yourself grace throughout this process. It’s not an easy one, but you’ve got this.
Share this cheat sheet with your friends & family:
“It’s because you exercise too much and work too hard.”
“Just relax, and it will happen!”
“Why don’t you just adopt?”
“That sounds so difficult. Would it be helpful for you if I keep checking in on you, or would you prefer to bring it up yourself?”
“I am so sorry you are going through this. How can I help? What can I do?”
Rena Gower, LCSW, is a New York-based clinician who started her work in the fertility space after her own struggle to conceive. She approaches her clients from a strengths perspective and helps them work to find the resilience and courage to carry on through the fertility journey. She fully believes that infertility sucks, but you aren't alone and we are stronger together. For more information, head to www.renamgfertility.com or @renamgfertility.