Ten years ago, just before I turned 30, I left my nuchal appointment for my first child, went straight to my work computer, and quickly banged out an “I’m Going To Be A Mother!” email to send to my 5,000 closest friends.
Few of my friends back then were married, let alone having kids. I was a pioneer (I later went on to become a pioneer among my peers in divorce, of course), and an oblivious one. It didn’t occur to me that other people’s reaction to my news could possibly be anything but happiness (mildly uncomprehending happiness, perhaps, but happiness nonetheless).
Ten years later, I am incredibly happy to be pregnant with my fifth child–but my attitude toward telling people about my pregnancy has been very, very different. I’m thrilled, to be sure, but have also been very concerned about my friends’ reactions to this news.
Now, at almost 40 years old, I have many friends who would love to have a child. I have friends who are single, married friends trying to conceive, friends who have suffered through miscarriages, friends engaged in prolonged battles with expensive and hormonal fertility treatments, and friends who are freezing their eggs in the hope of creating children one day with a would-be partner. And those are just the situations I know about, and don’t include all those who haven’t confided in me.
I feel for my friends, very deeply–and in light of what they are going through, announcing my pregnancy with my fifth child seems almost unseemly. It seems gluttonous, like I’ve helped myself to way more than I’m entitled to of life’s “happiness buffet.” While I know my friends are happy for me (hence why we are “friends”), I also have a small sense of the depth of their own sadness and frustration, and feel terribly that my good news may be, indirectly, hurtful to them or even just remind them of their situations.
There is no logic behind this: obviously, rationally, I’m not “taking” my friends’ would-be child by being pregnant myself. When my friend gets her third book published, she’s not lessening my chances of publishing my own novel–and when her book gets critical raves, that doesn’t mean that my eventually-someday-to-be-finished novel won’t get the same accolades. But feelings sometimes don’t listen to reason.
I get it. When I was divorced, sad, and living with my parents, I looked around me at all the other nursery school parents leading “normal” lives in houses with husbands. I’d wonder all the time if I would ever have my own home again, let alone with my own spouse. I’d lie in my bed in my parents’ house in the suburbs at night and think of all the other houses around me, where my friends had someone to sleep with, while I’d wedged myself back into some bizarre adolescence.
Some would argue, of course, that I can never really get it, my attempts at empathy notwithstanding. I may have had other troubles in my life, but I haven’t had to struggle with fertility and all that that entails.
But I saw the look in my close friend’s eyes when she came to lunch with me and my two babies. As I tried to placate the toddler with a book and the baby with a bottle, I saw the look on her face. Without words, I saw clearly how much she wanted to be in my seat, in my position. And I wished that I, someone who dealt in words all the time, had the right thing to say to her–beyond how much I loved her and wished it could be true for her. I wished I could make it all okay. And I wished that my very presence wouldn’t have the knife-edge of reminding her of what she wanted but didn’t have. Adults-only dinners from now on, I thought–but still felt horribly.
She and I were emailing a few weeks ago, in a cagey series of back-and-forths. What could I possibly say to her? I wondered. We’d talked about how I was her one friend whose Facebook feed she didn’t hide from view, despite its proliferation of cute kids. We’d talked about all this before.
Finally, in a roundabout way, the emails turned to the topic of pregnancy: her pregnancy. She was 13 weeks pregnant–one week ahead of me. All the tests were good. I felt so happy for her (and, possibly, hormonal) that when I read her email, I cried with joy. And then I called her and talked all about her pregnancy…and then told her I had something to tell her, too.
All I can say is that life’s fortunes change more quickly and dramatically than we ever expect. Five years ago, I was a single mother of two. Now, I’m a married mother of almost five.
I’ve been taught up-close and personal that life is full of unexpected pain. But I’ve also learned through the years that life can also surprise you with unexpected joy and love. Take as many servings as you can of happiness: I wish everyone more than their fill of the latter.