We are just starting our first egg donor cycle after 3 years and many failed attempts. A very close family member is about 6 months pregnant and will be visiting other family nearby next weekend. I don't want to see her because I am not only envious but the ugly word, jealous. I have never really even asked about the pregnancy. Pretty much avoided the topic at all costs and the rest of the family have been gracious enough to do the same. Thankfully, every one lives out of town.
Question: Do you think it will be easier for me to just take the plunge and see her this weekend or to keep putting it off until the inevitable? I just don't know how I will react and am afraid of falling apart. On the other hand, maybe I won't feel much and realize the fear itself was worse than facing it.
Avoiding the Baby Bump
In Mansfield Park, Austen writes of two cousins growing up together, "Children of the same family, the same blood, with the same first associations and habits, have some means of enjoyment in their power, which no subsequent connections can supply."
Just look at Elizabeth clomping through the mud in Pride and Prejudice to come to her sister's aid to get some sense of where Austen places the importance of being there for family. If Jane were here, she'd lend you her favourite dress and sit with you as you got ready so you could steel yourself for the meeting and jump back to that moment in your head any time you needed to escape the room. But she'd make you go for the sake of family.
That's what Jane would do.
But what should you do?
If she were a friend, I would tell you that you should do whatever you need to do to get through that weekend without creating a larger problem for yourself down the road. But, if you were to do what you want to do (avoid the visit), I think you're setting yourself up for more work down the road: family has a funny way of being difficult to avoid at times and you don't want the first visit to be during an even more emotionally-intense gathering (such as a holiday or a life-cycle event).
It's about taking control for yourself and taking power away from that meeting. The control is that you're creating the terms of the visit. The power comes from the fact that the longer you wait, the more your fears build and the harder it will be.
It's not that family should be held to a different standard than friends, but it's harder to disentangle yourself from family therefore it's more important to commit the energy to the relationship. In other words, as much as it sucks, unlike a friend you can avoid, you either have to remove yourself from family events and miss out on important moments with people who have known you your entire life (not to sound like a hysterical elderly aunt lecturing you on the importance of family) or you have to see these people because you can't pick another family to hang out with instead. People who don't have the support of family are probably better at understanding how much is missed by being estranged from relatives than those who do have a strong relationship with their family.
You need to also consider the message your actions send. Think of it this way: there are acute problems and there are chronic problems. Acute problems either come on suddenly or come knowingly and literally blot out your ability to focus anywhere but inwardly. Death, pregnancy loss, and divorce all have an intense emotional period--an electrical storm of mourning followed by a drizzle that can alternate between a summer shower and a grey, dreary, stay-inside steady misting.
Chronic problems such as infertility are more like living in Seattle. It's always raining. Therefore you learn how to work your way around it, even if the rain still gets under your skin sometimes. You bring an umbrella. Seeing this cousin is sort of like choosing to open that umbrella and get to work on time--it isn't pleasant and you'd rather stay in bed all day, but it's a task that must be done. And you'll be happy that you opened the umbrella and got to work when you get that paycheck at the end of the week.
Perhaps too much analogy?
In general society, we usually give a get-out-of-obligations pass to those undergoing an acute problem though even that pass has an expiration date. Yet we rarely excuse those with a chronic problem. Why? Because we're bloody unfair. And because a chronic problem is like living in Seattle--it's not a passing thunderstorm; it's a very wet lifestyle.
In the immortal words of Captain Monterey Jack on The State: you deal or you die.
And by deal, I don't mean going through life pretending that you don't have a chronic problem. I mean that you need to be mindful of your situation and aware of your personal limits and respect them. And at the same time, the rest of the world is expecting you to keep living as if it were bright and sunny outside. Since it isn't, you need to take steps to ensure that you remain dry.
So back to how your actions are interpreted. An outsider, even one who is aware of your situation, even one who is a close relative, may take your absence to mean that you can only be happy for them when you are happy yourself. Not that it's true, but that's how it may appear if you always saw your cousin when you were on equal footing and are now avoiding her since she is happy. An insider would understand self-preservation and the fact that this isn't about the person per se but about the pregnancy. But an outsider is bound to take it personally because it's the only explanation they can fully understand.
Since mending a relationship is harder to do than simply spending an afternoon together at this moment in time (and I am assuming that it is an average chronic day and not a flare-up period where you're processing results from a test or a failed cycle), I would go. But I'd take an extra large umbrella with me and this is how it would look:
I would start by calling or emailing your cousin and being upfront about how you may react and why. I would explain how happy you are for her. Your heart separates the pregnancy from the person and while you can be really thrilled for her that she is six months pregnant, you can simultaneously be feeling an intense amount of pain coveting what she has. It's not that you don't want her to have her pregnancy--you just want a child too. I would admit that you may cry and remind her that it isn't something she is doing or not doing. I would ask her to help you enjoy the day (and here is where you'd have to fill in your own needs and what could make the day easier). If you start from a place of explanation, she has two choices. She can be a caring family member and follow your lead and give you what you need. Or she can be self-centered in which you tried and she failed. But I'm going to guess that she'll come through for you since she also has a relationship to protect for the sake of family and knows the rule of not shitting where you eat.
The second part of the plan is to get ready for the meeting with a friend or your husband/partner. With the understanding that they are helping you steel yourself. They're helping you look good and feel good so you can mentally go back to that space of feeling good when the emotions start to overwhelm you. Take a photo in the moment with your phone and if you have to, duck into the bathroom and glance at that picture for a moment and remember that a half hour earlier you were in this space where you were comfortable and in a few hours, you'll be back in a place where you're dry and comfortable. Right now, you're standing in the rain. And it sucks to be wet (because you'll probably get wet even if you're carrying an umbrella), but towels and blankets are waiting for you at home.
Now you (yes, you--I'm talking to you. The one reading this advice column) need to weigh in. Put yourself in Avoiding's shoes and employ a what would Jane do attitude to give her advice on this situation. Leave a comment for Avoiding elaborating or contradicting my advice--just do it in a ladylike or gentlemanly way.