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Why I Can’t Be There: an Open Letter to My Pregnant Friends

One woman opens up about her fertility struggles, and explains why she needs to take a step back from sharing in her expecting friends’ joy.
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Published January 27, 2022
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To all my pregnant friends:

First, I want to say that I’m so happy for you. You are going to be wonderful moms.

But here’s the thing: I can’t be there for you. At least, not in the way I’d like to be. You deserve a friend you can talk to about your back pain, your cravings, your mood swings, your pregnancy brain—a friend who will laugh with you about the silly names your partner keeps suggesting. You deserve to be able to confide your fears about entering motherhood—and have a friend who listens.

I can’t be that friend right now.

You know that I’m trying to conceive. You know that I’ve been trying for a long time. And you know that it hasn’t happened—that it might not ever happen. What you don’t know is just how much it hurts. The absence. The emptiness. The lack. How could you know? How could you know everything I haven’t told you? (And there’s a lot I haven’t told you.) Like how every month, I wait with breathless anticipation; how a twinge in my breasts can make my heart soar with hope–only to have a red spot on my underwear dash those dreams to bitter pieces.

I haven’t told you how I mark the anniversary of my miscarriage each and every month—or that I know, down to the week, how far along I’d be if I hadn’t lost that pregnancy. How I grieve for the child that never was. How part of me is terrified it was my one and only chance and that it’ll happen again.

I haven’t told you how annoying it is to not be able to have a glass of wine for two weeks out of every month, to cut out sushi and soft cheeses and to look up every medication, herbal tea and supplement I put in my body—just in case it could possibly increase my chance of miscarrying a child I don’t even know I have. I know you could commiserate with me. But you only have to endure these inconveniences for nine months. I’ve been doing it for two years, and there’s still no end in sight.

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I haven’t told you how hard it is to make plans. Do I start a new job, knowing I could get pregnant and leave them high and dry? Do I plan a vacation knowing we might have to cancel? Can I commit to next year’s family reunion? The uncertainty of it all leaves me feeling trapped in limbo.

I haven’t told you how I spend my first waking minutes taking my basal temperature, peeing on a stick and testing my cervical mucus, and then logging it all in my period tracker. It consumes my thoughts in the morning, and it’s the last thing I worry about as I chase sleep at night.

I haven’t told you about the times I’ve had sex during a migraine, when I was sad or when I just wasn’t in the mood, simply because I was ovulating. About how I sometimes feel sore from constant, lube-free sex. Or about the times my husband has had to take off work to masturbate into a plastic cup, and then speed 45 minutes to a fertility clinic to drop off his sample.

I haven’t told you about the discomfort of the transvaginal ultrasounds or the mood swings and nausea caused by my fertility meds. I haven’t shared about the hours spent in doctors’ offices, labs and pharmacies, and the amount of time I’ve spent waiting on the phone just to make an appointment.

I haven’t told you about the exponentially high cost of fertility treatments.

I haven’t told you how the world is suddenly full of babies. They’re at the park, in restaurants, being pushed in strollers and carried on their parents’ backs on hikes. I haven’t told you that it feels as if everyone in the world has a child. Everyone except me.

And now you’re going to have one too.

It’s not your fault that I can’t get pregnant. But the sight of your swelling stomach, your thickening ankles and your waddling gait remind me of everything I can’t have.

So, I’m stepping back.

I’m not going to talk with you about your pregnancy. I’m not going to join your shopping spree for baby clothes or admire your sonogram. And I’m not going to be at your baby shower. I’m sorry, but I just can’t. Not now—not yet.

One day, I’ll reenter your life. The wound will heal, and our friendship will burn as bright as ever. I will step into the role of auntie, and I’ll love your child as ferociously as I love you. And hopefully, one day, you’ll be able to do the same for me. Until then, thank you for giving me time and space.

About the author:
Natalie Dale, MD, is a former neurology resident turned writer and mental health advocate. She recently self-published the first volume of her series, A Writer’s Guide to Medicine. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.

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