Dear Dana is a bi-weekly advice column for humans who engage in romantic relationships. Please send your dilemmas, issues, conundrums, assumptions, conflicts, anxieties, worriments, obstacles, complications, predicaments, queries, questions, and any other synonyms for “problems” to email@example.com.
I’ve been struggling with infertility for over two years now. We’ve done every test, seen every doctor, tried every drug and alternative medicine out there, I just can’t seem to get pregnant. And the one time I did, I miscarried at seven weeks. It’s absolutely devastating. My husband and I have both always wanted children, and wanting something so badly that I just can’t seem to reach is killing me.
Meanwhile, my best friend just announced that she is pregnant. I desperately want to be happy for her, but I feel nothing but anger and jealousy and sadness when I think about it. After she called to tell me the news, I hung up the phone and wept for an hour. I love her dearly and want to be there for her during her pregnancy and beyond, but I just don’t know if I can do it.
How can I be so overwhelmed with my own sadness and happy for her at the same time?
Not Really Happy For Her
Dear Not Really Happy For Her,
My mother once told me that fertility is something that we all assume we have until we reach for it. It makes me think of a high shelf in a pantry—you open the door, turn on the light, stand on your tip toes, extend your arm up to the highest shelf, fingers stretching, reaching. Your fingertips brush against something, but accidentally push it back. You try again, extending yourself further, stretching every muscle in an effort to grasp it. Is it really there? Should you have tried to get it sooner?
Trying to get pregnant and not getting pregnant feels like failing. Every month your period arrives, a fresh disappointment. And your perspective narrows—you are nothing but an egg traveling down a dark tube, unmet potential that falls through you month after month. You can do everything else—find a partner, get a job, wear cool shoes—why can’t you do this? Why don’t you get to do this?
When I first tried to get pregnant, I was successful right away, but then I miscarried and then it was another year before I was pregnant again. During that year my best friend told me she was pregnant and I did what you did—I congratulated her on the phone, so, so happy that she was going to have a child, so happy that she was going to be a mom because I knew she was going to be such an amazing mom. And then we hung up and I cried because her happiness was in such stark contrast to my ongoing, constant disappointment.
One evening, later in her pregnancy, we were talking on the phone. I was laying in my bed and she was having a hard day, she was in the middle of it, in the end of the first trimester, in the shit. She was nauseated always, exhausted always, each day like walking upstream through a current that only grows stronger. My period had arrived, unwanted, again, and she commiserated but also said, “You know, being pregnant, really, it’s just new problems.” I don’t remember how I responded, probably said something like, “Sure, I can see that,” but I do remember how I felt. Like, what? Like, huh? Like, should I be offended? Like, I legitimately don’t understand what you just said? Like, what are you even talking about right now? Because all I want in the world is to be where you are, pregnant, but you’re there, pregnant, and telling me that it’s not that great. How could it be not that great when it’s the only thing I ever think about?
I helped throw my best friend a baby shower and it was at that baby shower when I felt my first waves of dizziness and nausea that were indicators that I was pregnant, again, this time with a tiny fertilized egg who would become my son. And as the months went by, I began to understand what she had been trying to tell me: Being pregnant is all you want in the world, until you are pregnant, until you realize how really really hard it is to be pregnant. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t want to be pregnant, but I am saying that, like all significant life changes, it really is just a bunch of new problems.
I know lots of people with lots of fertility issues. And I want to tell you that all of them, every single one of them, has found a way through. That doesn’t mean that they all have the exact number of children they want now, or that they have children at all, but it does mean that they have all found a way through infertility. They were where you are now, worried, desperate, consumed with unending want for a child. And now, they know what they have, they know what they get, they know what they are and are not willing to sacrifice. They’re done, they’re content, they found a way from want to peace.
You will find a way through. You will find a way to have a child, though it may not be in the way you initially plan. I’ll spare you the stories of people who tried and tried to conceive and adopted and then found themselves pregnant. I’ll spare you the stories of people who found out that an easily managed blood disorder was preventing them from getting pregnant. I’ll spare you the stories of hope that are so frustratingly specific to individuals and their specific situations that they aren’t going to help you and your specific situation.
You gotta forgive your friend for being pregnant. You gotta forgive yourself for feeling bad about her pregnancy. You gotta understand, deep down, in your core, that her uterus has fuck-all to do with your uterus. People get pregnant all the time and it has nothing to do with their worth or how hard they worked or how much you want it more. Somewhere in our culture there is this bullshit notion that having the exact kids you want to have exactly when you want to have them is easily achieved. Like the way you pick out a car—I’d like a blue one, a crossover. I’d like a little boy, this July.
Our consumerist culture has led us to spread the lie that the creation of life is something we can all have, if only we want it enough. But biology doesn’t care what we want, and the process of creating, and then birthing, new life is really fucking arduous. It takes everything you can give and then it takes some more, and you don’t even necessarily get a baby in the end. Biology is not a meritocracy.
You can find a way to be happy for your friend by finding a way to summon your most grown-ass adult self. You can be jealous, you can have moments, you can even tell your friend that you love her and support her but you’re feeling raw and thus can’t throw her a baby shower, or maybe even not attend it. But you can also know that your pain and her happiness are not incongruous. There is no competition, there are no prizes. There is just us, a group of women, worried, tired, doing our very best. And we all need each other. We need each other desperately. Find a way to be there for your friend, and find a way to let her be there for you. Find a way through.
Dana Norris once went on 71 internet dates, many of which you may read about here. She is the founder of Story Club and editor-in-chief of Story Club Magazine. She has been featured in McSweeney’s, Role Reboot, The Rumpus, and Tampa Review and she teaches at StoryStudio Chicago. You may find her on Twitter at @dananorris.