The evil diagnosis known as PCOS runs very strongly on my dad’s side of the family. Almost every female in my generation has PCOS and has had trouble getting pregnant, from having to take Clomid, to injectables, to IVF. For whatever reason, I have never felt jealous of any of my cousins who have been able to conceive, perhaps because I had first-hand experience with the battle they had overcome.
My question is this: After three long years and a miscarriage along the way, I am proud to be expecting twins after IVF. During the whole infertility/miscarriage phase, I drew lots and lots of support from all of my family, but particularly from my cousins, who have also suffered and knew what I was going through. Now that I am somewhat safely in the third trimester, I feel like celebrating.My mom has planned a huge double baby shower for myself and my sister (who is expecting after using Clomid to overcome PCOS), and I am really looking forward to it.
The problem is that there are still two cousins who are down deep in the trenches of infertility. How do I make them feel comfortable? I have only spoken to one of them since becoming pregnant, and I know it was a very hard meeting for the both of us. She was happy for us, but at the same time, sad for herself--a totally normal experience. I was also fraught with worries about another miscarriage at the time, so that colored the meeting as well. I would totally understand if they did not want to or were not emotionally able to attend the shower, but at the same time I do not want to exclude them if they want to come. So my question is, if they do come, how can I make the day easier for them, yet still enjoy it for myself? And if they don’t come, should I offer a word of support or acknowledgment that it’s okay, or should I just leave well enough alone?
Signed, Sensitive Mama-to-Be
Showers of any sort--bridal or baby--have the potential to fall into the dual extremes of sense or sensibility like Jane Austen's famous novel. On one extreme you have the neoclassical "sense" which includes moderation, sensitivity, and thoughtfulness sometimes at the expense of personal enjoyment. On the other end, you have romantic "sensibilities" of passion and excess sometimes without being mindful of how your guests are enjoying your joy. Jane would caution you against either extreme in any aspect of life--the best celebrations come from those that balance sense with sensibilities and set-up their bottle-shaped balloons and onesie painting stations somewhere on the middle ground.
That's what Jane would do.
Now what should you do?
I think you should take a page out of Jane's book. Sense is whispering to you that you shouldn't hold a party at all because you're thoughtful enough to realize that it may upset your two cousins. But sensibility is telling you that you've waited long enough for your turn and it's time to celebrate your hard-won children-to-be. How do you find that middle ground?
You have the unique ability to easily slip into their shoes. You know how sad you can be for yourself and your own situation while simultaneously being happy for another person. You also know from being in the infertility world that not everyone has the ability to muster up that happiness for others and it's not a reflection of the love they have for that person. It's simply infertility kicking their ass a little too hard and different coping mechanisms. Infertility teaches us quickly that we gain nothing by judging another person.
If you don't invite the two cousins, you set them apart as pariahs of the family. At the same time, once you take a step on that path, you may take people off the party list who really wanted to celebrate with you and leave on those who would rather be anywhere else than a baby shower. The reality is that you don't truly know how other people--even those with children--are viewing your shower. Perhaps they had to stop before their family was finished and they're still mourning their fertility though they have children. Maybe they wanted twins and are jealous that they had a singleton while you hit their jackpot. Maybe they simply hate parties or when anyone else is happy. You just don't know.
Which is why I would extend the same "out" to anyone I invited if I had fears about how they were going to react to my celebration. I would do it lightheartedly because this is a party and I would make it an insert that you stuff into certain invitations. Perhaps everyone who is of child-bearing age if you want to be really thoughtful. I've included an example below--feel free to take it and personalize it (and perhaps shorten it) and use it with invitations. And after you've done your part, relax and enjoy your shower. Many times when I have done this, I haven't changed a thing about the party, but people view it differently because they know they are there by their own volition instead of through social or familial pressure. So keep the baby-bottle balloons and onesie station for yourself--it's still a celebration and it's your hard-won celebration.
The Longest Baby Shower Invitation Addendum In the World
This is the baby shower invitation addendum we all wish someone would send us when we're in the throes of cycling. Trying to conceive with PCOS just sucks. It doesn't matter if you need a little assistance or IVF: seeing that period month after month is heartbreaking. I have spent too many times dreading showers or having a brief cry in bathrooms during parties to subject anyone else to that. Therefore, this is your out.
There, I said it. You have an out because I completely understand. I know if you don't come that it's not a reflection on how you feel about me--it's just hard to see the big belly and pink and blue balloons without thinking about how much you want it too. If you already have children, it may still dredge up painful memories from the past. I know that it's the baby shower and not the person. In other words, I know you love me and I love you too.
That said, I'm inviting you because I really want you there. Because you're my cousin and I love you and I want to celebrate with you. I'm not telling you this so you feel guilty if you use the out--I'm telling you this precisely because I want you to use the out if you need it.
You have given me so much support already and even if you don't feel up to the shower, you're with me all the time through the sensitivity and concern you taught me through your support. If I'm being overly sensitive right now, it's because I was bombarded with thoughtfulness.
I'll never be offended if you can't be there. I'll miss you a lot, but I'll never be offended.
Now you (yes, you--I'm talking to you. The one reading this advice column) need to weigh in. Put yourself in Sensitive's shoes and employ a what would Jane do attitude to give her advice on this situation. Leave a comment for Sensitive elaborating or contradicting my advice--just do it in a ladylike or gentlemanly way.