Friday, July 6, 2007

Singing in the Rain

Dear Jane:

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

Dear Avoiding:

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.


Patience said...

Ooh Avoiding - this is a hard and tricky one, and one that I've had to endure too many times.

And my assvice is - don't go if you don't want to. All of the best intentions in the world won't help you if you are not in 'that space' right now, and torturing yourself isn't going to help you either. We do so so so many things in this life that are for others, supporting friends, family, doing the right thing, etc etc, etc, that sooner or later - one day - you have to start looking after yourself.
You may feel differently in 3, 6 months time, or not. It doesn't matter. Grief doesn't have a users manual - there is no 'right' thing to do or say.
My advice, look after yourself. Spend the day at home, pamper yourself, get a pedicure, manicure and a killer bottle of wine.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for the advice. It all makes perfect sense. So what did I do????

Well, I am sitting at home while my husband has gone off to the family gathering, I didn't go.

I know I should have for all of the reasons that "Jane" gave but in the end I wasn't ready.

But I will start to work up to the inevitable baby shower that will take place. I will start to ask about the pregnancy and take an interest, maybe even see a picture of her first. It's weird but I don't have these strong feelings about other people I see who are pregnant. I guess it's the family thing.

Well, I am going to spend the afternoon doing the things I love and enjoy the day. Thanks again for your help.


Kami said...

I would go, but only after setting the expectation that I may be leaving after a very short period of time.

It is very freeing to realize it is your choice to decide when and with whom you spend your time. I have gone to these types of events and stayed for the duration (and even found some enjoyment), I have left early and I have even pulled up to the house only to pause for a moment and turn around and go home. I will NOT be talked into staying longer than is comfortable. "Thank you for inviting me. I had a lovely time, but I really must leave."

Another positive consequence of attending, but only for as long as it feels ok, is that you may find you are stronger than you think and that can be very empowering.

As for long term consequences, this can be good opportunity to train your family. Eventually they will get used to - even if they don't truly understand - that you attend these events at your will and not theirs. You also leave when you are done. As time goes on you will get a lot less of, "Oh please stay!"

And just because Jane brought it up, not because you are anywhere near this, you CAN chose a new family to hang out with. Many, many people do and I have to some extent. I even have a substitute mom who, when I am having a bad day, will hold me and say all the right things - something my original mom can't seem to do.

I hope, no matter what you choose, it goes better than you expect.

The Town Criers said...

If you weren't ready, you did exactly the right thing. More important than anything else is listening to your own gut. And not pushing beyond your comfort zone into a discomfort zone.

Hope you enjoy the afternoon and good luck for when you do finally come together with her.

niobe said...

I think you did the right thing by staying away. I don't know how many events involving babies and happy pregnant friends and relatives that I've forced myself to go to, thinking something along the lines of "You have to show your love and support for this person" or "It will mean so much to your family/friends" or "It probably won't be as bad as you expect."

Sadly, every time it's not only worse than I expect, but usually about ten times worse. I end up crying bitterly in the bathroom and leaving early and having to endure everyone's anger for weeks and months and hating myself for my inability to deal with the situation. In my case, everyone would be much, much happier if I never went in the first place.

Bea said...

I know it's all been and gone now. Just reading through the responses:

I think if you're going to fall apart in a way that will make others grumble about your "ruining the day" it's better to stay away.

Yes, plan an escape route! For the whole event and for moments (a wing man who can lean in and scoop you out of a conversation in a natural way by making smalltalk is gold).

Trying to go on as normal, as much as possible, will help you keep friends and family in the long run. It will also allow you to expect good support in return.


MLO said...

Family who really care about you will understand that you need time to yourself. Honestly, I have cut certain family out of my life and am much happier for it.



Anonymous said...

Report from husband upon returning home:
Someone else at the gathering was pregnant (i don't know her), and another relative "announced" her new pregnancy to everyone. My husband was told by a very nice and well meaning family member that we are now off the hook for a while. Meanwhile, original pregnant family member was being showered with baby gifts. God am I glad I didn't go! I think part of my anxiety was that I first learned of the news 3 months ago while visiting the in-laws at their house! I sat in the bathroom for an hour crying, it sucked so much. Now I think I have lost my nerve to handle situations like this. I never realized I would need so much therapy to get through this process. Thank you everyone!


Karaoke Diva said...

I think your advice is spot on, Mel. As much as my gut wants to say that she should hide away and wallow in her feelings of sadness and jealousy (which is what I would want to do in this situation), that act would not be perceived well by the family.

They won't think "Oh, poor Avoiding. It must be so hard going through infertility treatment, I completely understand her need to stay away." Instead, they will think "Gosh, what a bitch. She's so selfish she can't even wish her cousin well."

They don't see self-preservation, they see selfishness. It's a sad truth, but a truth none the less. So you're going to have to just take Mel's advice and get through it somehow.

Karaoke Diva said...

Obviously, I wrote that comment before I read the other comments!! :-)

akeeyu said...

While I wholeheartedly agree that living in Seattle is akin to a chronic problem, I do take exception to one part of the comparison: We don't carry umbrellas much up here. Mostly, we just get wet, frizz, mildew, then scoff at umbrella carriers and say "Ha! Tourists!"

Also, since the success of a fertile's babyshower is almost never dependant on the presence nor absence of a single infertile woman, I say fuck it. By all means, don't go. Send a lovely card along with your best wishes and a present.

The fertile will understand, and if they don't, they're certainly not worth suffering for, are they?

Avoiding, I'm glad you didn't go, too.