When You’re Infertile, ‘Pregnancy Envy’ Is Actually a Form of Grief
Soon after I discovered I would struggle with infertility, a new set of feelings crept into my life that I had not experienced before. They emerged in the form of tears whenever I heard someone else announce that they were pregnant.
I ached when I heard of a friend’s new pregnancy — I didn’t want to feel that pain, and I was frustrated at myself and perplexed at why I couldn’t make those feelings go away. Attempts to shove the pain deep down inside was not a solution, either — it would eventually surface.
I immediately despised those feelings because I thought they represented something very dark and ugly inside of my heart. It was an incredibly painful experience, and my greatest fear was that there was no remedy to alleviate it. I struggled with hope; it was difficult to trust God. I thought that maybe I would live with these dark feelings forever. It was tempting to harbor these pains and even nurture them in resentment.
After some self-reflection, I realized this dynamic sounded like envy — but that did not explain how I was still genuinely happy for those with pregnancy announcements. It was not as though I did not want them to be pregnant or have children. But, at the same time, knowing that I was glad for them did not make the lump in my throat and the pain in my chest disappear. I found myself needing and searching for distance from those celebrating the good news of a new baby.
I created a protective barrier around my heart to ease the pain of hearing about a new pregnancy, which could have easily turned into self-hatred. I despised the fact that my eyes might fill with tears when another was speaking of their baby. It caused me to feel so alone and to cry out to God for help and understanding.
It was only when I was able to be honest about my reactions that I was given the grace to recognize what I really was feeling: the aching I carried was not envy, but grief.
A few years ago, I attended a wedding where the groom ceremonially shattered a glass with his foot. This action is rooted in Jewish traditions to remember the destruction of the temple, and it symbolized for this couple that with great joy also comes great sorrow. This juxtaposition is similar to the way Christians experience the death of a loved one. Even though we are filled with sorrow at another’s passing, we can still carry hope and joy that they have entered into eternal life with God. Sorrow and joy are frequent companions.
Through the experience of infertility, I’ve learned just how closely sorrow and joy live in my heart. Pregnancy announcements, even with all of the happiness they bring, still are a reminder of my own longing, pain, and grief.
And everyday events can trigger this grief, not just pregnancy announcements. For example, I’ve burst into tears driving through the neighborhood seeing a father walking hand-in-hand with his son, his own spitting image. It was an unexpected reminder to me that my husband may never walk hand-in-hand with our biological children.
I’ve learned that it is so important to be patient with myself when sorting through these complex emotions. Grief is something that must be fully felt in order to heal, even if it surfaces at the most inopportune times. We can’t move through grief by ignoring it — we have to wade into it and feel it deeply.
That being said, no one wants to mourn another’s pregnancy announcement. I’ve grown particularly grateful to friends who have pulled me aside intentionally in a private way to tell me their news personally, which allows me the space to process on my own. Others have reached out to me by text before making a public pregnancy announcement. These gestures allow me some of the space I need to grieve.
Each announcement hits differently — some are more challenging to hear than others. It just depends on proximity of the relationship and what difficult moments I’ve been recently carrying regarding my journey through infertility.
It is important to recognize my feelings as what they really are: grief, not envy. Feeling grief does not mean that I am an envious person. Grief is an important part of processing the experience of infertility.
Now that I recognize those feelings as grief, I’ve been able to move through it to the other side, which is a recognition of God’s plan for me. Grieving allows me to pour my heart out to God in a way I have never done before, which has created room in my life for an increase of hope and trust. It does not necessarily mean that I’ll never experience a difficult pregnancy announcement again, but it does mean that I know God is there waiting for me in my grief and wanting to transform my heart.
For more resources regarding infertility, visit springsinthedesert.org