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How NOT to Tell the Infertile in Your Life You're Pregnant

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a blog by CGD, April 21, 2011

I remember back to the early days of trying to conceive, before fertility doctor appointments and fertility medications. Back when I just knew that things appeared to be taking longer than expected.

Around six months into this process came the first pregnancy announcement, and it hit me like a ton of bricks. Boom! That boom was followed quickly by shock and surprise — as I was truly not expecting to feel the pangs of jealousy that came after this news.

Fast forward a few years, and I am no longer surprised by these reactions — I just kind of accept this as part of this process.

Mistakes Are Made

My mother recently told me that she thinks there is no good way or time for someone to tell me that she is pregnant. Personally, I am not sure if I believe that. While I do agree that there might be no actual good time to tell an infertile woman that you are having a baby, there may be some times that are just worse than others.

For me, that time came when my brother told me a few weeks ago that my sister in law is 15 weeks pregnant. It was a time that fell five days after my beta from my last IVF failure and two days before we were about to mark the anniversary of the loss of our baby (my only pregnancy that ended in the second trimester one year ago). So, I would say that this announcement’s timing was less than ideal — at least from my perspective.

My brother is well meaning, but as he is part of a lucky fertile couple, he is clueless when it comes to sensitivity about infertility. Consequently, he made what I consider to be two critical mistakes.

    Mistake No. 1: Do not ask about how someone’s fertility treatments are going in the same conversation as you announce news of your own pregnancy. Those need to be separate conversations. My brother started the conversation by asking me how my “procedures” went. About 45 min later, the “we have some news…” line came out of his mouth. My husband says that this is like telling your unemployed friend about your new job and six-figure salary in the same conversation that you then inquire about your friend’s unemployment checks. It’s something that you just shouldn’t do.

    Mistake No. 2: Do not give all the gory details about your pregnancy to your infertile friend or family member. Save that information for the other fertile people in your life. My brother, to add insult to injury, proceeded to tell me about all of the extra testing that my sister in law will need as she will be over 35 at the time of the birth. This is interesting information to give to a woman who is actually older than her sister-in-law and has already been through countless tests due to a very complex and troubled pregnancy. Additionally, he let me know that this might be their last baby, but that maybe they will try for their third at some point. It is hard to hear about how others decide on how many children they want to have when you struggle to get just one of your own. I know my brother meant no harm, but really was it a wise idea to tell your almost 36-year-old, childless sister all of this information? Perhaps this goes for life in general, but certainly is relevant here — please think just a little before you speak and be aware of who you are actually speaking to.

Email Gives You Time to Process

Having been on this fertility journey for a while, I have a stumbled upon a preferred way of hearing this kind of news — email. Impersonal, yes, but it allows me the time to process the news alone in front of my computer so that, by the time I need to see or speak to the parents to be, I can muster up some happiness (both real and faked) and gush lots of good wishes upon them.

That happiness and gushing is harder to come by immediately. Typically after hearing such news, I start out much more self-centered and filled with thoughts like “why not me?” I am going to safely assume that these are things nobody else really wants to hear and things I wish to not say out loud.

Luckily, I am surrounded my many intelligent and intuitive friends who, without any direction from me, have used this preferred email method and acknowledged some understanding that this news, while happy, may be hard for me to hear. I am a lucky girl in this way. Perhaps I should have them go and share this information with my brother.

Ultimately, I am happy for my brother and sister-in-law. I did manage to squeak out excitement and congratulations to them that were at least in part genuine. At the same time, I will not pretend that this is easy for me or that I do not have mixed feelings. Pregnancies are hard stuff for infertile women, whether my brother realizes it or not ...

Comments (14)

We handled the announcement of our pregnancy as you suggested, without even looking here first. We are a texting family, so we texted my husband sister, who is stifling with infertility. We knew that it would be hard for her, so we didn't want to corner her. And after several months into the pregnancy now, she just told us she is not happy for us, and doesn't want to hear any updates about the pregnancy. We have updated her twice, when new information was and available, but with pinterest, she feels like we are saying things all the time. I'm sad that she wants no part of this pregnancy at all and she kind of made or sound like she may not even be that involved one the baby was born. I think it's a shame that she is handling this this way, and I don't know what to do other than just stop communicating with her, but I'm afraid all of this is going to cause a permanent rift in our relationship.

Hi Elyse,

I am so sorry you are dealing with this. Trying to be sensitive, but still having trouble connecting with your sister-in-law. It sounds like she does need her space and may come around in time. There isn't much you can do there. She can also block your Facebook feed or unfollow you on Pinterest if she feels bombarded by baby posts. Just keep being there for her and she will come around.

Good luck!

So, both my husband and brother in law have sperm issues, therefore both my sister in law and myself were not getting pregnant. They started their fertility process much sooner than us and have spent a great deal of money on IVF (and no baby). I conceived naturally (absolute miracle!) 10 weeks ago. They just failed another IVF attempt. She is devastated. We are coming up on 12 weeks and we really want to share the news with friends, but are so scared to tell them. We are not going to tell them by email... we are thinking maybe my husband tells his brother and let his brother decide when is a good time to tell his wife. I have battle scars, I know how it feels when you can't have a baby, but I also want to be able to enjoy this pregnancy fully without "survivor's guilt".

You are very kind and considerate to think of your sister in law's feelings. I agree, you should have a private discussion with your brother in law and let him tell her the news. I would suggest email, but if you feel that is too impersonal, you have to go with what feels right. Good luck!

I have just found out I am pregnant and am worried about telling my best friend who has been trying for 5 years especially as she will be going through her second round of ivf and possibly finding out the result when I would be telling people. I never email her and we don't talk on the phone as we meet up all the time. Should I tell her early before she starts ivf?

Hi Lesley, It is very thoughtful of you to be researching ways to tell your friend that you are pregnant. Keep in mind, this news won't be easy for her to receive. Just because she is starting IVF does not mean her IVF will be successful and she might take the news pretty hard if the IVF fails. You should be honest with her, let her know that you are trying to be sensitive to her feelings and will only share information about the pregnancy when she asks. Perhaps you could send her an email or a letter this way she has time to process the news and come to terms with her feelings. Best of luck! Kim

My husband and I have been happily together for ten years, since I was 25 and he was 27. We were both students for the first 6 years of our relationship and felt it wasn't the right time to have a child. I'm now in my mid 30's and what should be a wonderful next step in our lives after building our first home has strained our relationship to breaking point because his older sister is infertile. She has never been easy and the last ten years I've had to take my fair share poor behaviour on her part towards me, but I have reached a point with the decision to have children where, I actually cannot face her if we get pregnant. I am deeply compassionate towards; however I don' think that gives her license to treat me badly because our life didn't go exactly the way hers did and we have prioritised things differently. I am so emotionally exhausted by this entire trip with her that I feel it would be easier not to have children than to have to deal with the bitchiness, bitterness, jealousy and anger that she has directed towards us since she started trying to fall pregnant 8 years ago. The choice to have a child is a profoundly personal one. I agree that people should support people who are struggling with infertility and be sensitive to their journey. Equally, I think that it should not mean that this at the expense of respectful behaviour towards other people because of their life choices. I honestly do not know what to do here. I am desperate

Hi Jacqui,

I'm sorry you are dealing with this. I think the best thing you can do is email her so she has time to process the news on her own. Acknowledge that you would love to have a strong relationship with her, but feel it has been difficult over the years. Tell her you are there for her, but also need her to know this is happening and you would love for her to be supportive (she can choose to be as active in your pregnancy or the baby's life as she wishes). It would be helpful for your husband to follow up with a phone call after the email to see how she is feeling. You don't want to have pity on her, but you also don't want to make her feel vulnerable by telling her the news in person. She needs time to process it.


I just recently got pregnant for my second time and I have 2 sister in laws who are infertile. I am always sensitive to their needs, making sure I am not talking too much about my pregnancy, making sure I do everything right. To be honest with you I am so sick of it! I deserve to be happy too and not always tiptoeing around them. My son is 15 months old already and not one of them makes any effort to see him because it is a constant reminder to them. Something has to give and I been always giving. Sending 'thinking of you' baskets and cards, emails...I think everyone has to rise above. It would be nice to have them also make that effort and help me along once in a while. I am sorry about this difficult experience for them and wish all the luck to them, but they are missing out on their nephew as well as just being a family.

I have two very dear friends who have struggled with getting and staying pregnant. When I fell late last year, then very nearly lost the baby, I confided in one but not the other. Why, because one friend had 1) helped me through the break-up of my first marriage and 2) she had resigned herself to never having children. We had talked long and hard about the emotions and upheaval around pregnancy announcements, so while I knew she would be upset I also knew we could support each other.
My other friend was going through the process of IVF, and had recently lost a pregnancy. I knew the last thing she needed was to hear that yes I'd got pregnant, but that within a couple of weeks I'd nearly lost it before it had got properly started. She would be devastated it wasn't her, but also worried about me. Talking it over with my husband we decided to wait until we passed 12 weeks to tell her. We also told her via email to give her a chance to process things, then called her a couple of weeks later.
As she gets ready for another round of IVF, we're keeping our fingers and toes crossed for her and her husband.

So, so true. The last three pregnancy announcements from my girlfriends were done with such thoughtfulness and sincerity that they almost blew me away. There is definitely a proper way to handle it. Honest phone calls and emails are the best because reacting in person can be hard.

Very nice piece. Thanks for sharing.

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