The family expert: How do I handle 'baby envy'?
Fertility treatment offers highs and lows and emotions in buckets. Although most of us can handle envy and jealousy, there are some emotions that are difficult to deal with. One of these could be baby envy.
09. september - 2022
We are brought up to believe that envy is a shameful emotion, but baby envy is nevertheless quite a natural feeling for a lot of people in fertility treatment. Ninna Kofoed from the fertility Association RO (Ro means ‘calm in Danish) gives some advice on how to deal with this feeling.
One of the beautiful things about being in fertility treatment, if one can put it like that, is this common language between those who have either been or are undergoing treatment. We know what each other means and can talk about anything - even with a stranger, if we are aware that they have also undergone treatment. There can be a community that for some is the key to survival, and even if you wish you were not part of that "family”, it is nevertheless important to have someone to turn to - someone who has the same frame of reference. Especially when we need to counter those slightly more "forbidden” emotions that can arise along the way. That’s what we’re going to deal with here. But first, let me make it clear... No emotion is forbidden! Although they can feel forbidden as they arise in situations that are usually meant to be beautiful and happy. One of the emotions you may experience is baby envy and it can be difficult to know what to make of it.
About the writer:
Founder of the RO fertility association.
She and her husband have been through a
year and a half of fertility treatment to
have the couple's daughter.
Baby envy can occur when you’re out walking and see one wobbly pregnant belly or pram after another. It’s just about all you see! It's a bit like when we buy a new car. Once you’ve decided to buy a Skoda, you see Skodas everywhere. Maybe you imagine you should be the one pushing then pram. Maybe you have a partner who feels the same nagging envy. Maybe you give each other a look or squeeze each other's hand... Either way, you wish it wasn’t like that. We were brought up with the fact that envy and jealousy are shameful feelings. Perhaps it feels embarrassing, wrong and maybe a little mean-spirited, but it is quite natural for a lot of people in treatment. I want you to know this.
When we want what we just can’t get.
I would venture that most of us take it for granted that we can have children. When we’re young, we never imagine that one day we might contribute to the statistics of involuntary childlessness. We consume what we want and feel immortal. That's why it hits even harder when we have to work with the idea that we might not be able to have the children we had dreamed of. It triggers what may be your life’s biggest existential crisis, because what is life without children, if that is what you dream of? You have to reinvent yourself, your life. It’s all down to the way we deal with our emotions and is also why it is quite natural that we get the whole lot at once. Sadness, envy, but hopefully happiness in the long term. But having a child is one of the most beautiful, purest and holiest things we can do. It's actually a small miracle – whether it happens with or without help. And that's why baby envy feels so mean-spirited, because the dream is so pure. And in reality, it's not other people's children we want, it's our own. But how do we separate all the emotions? How do we turn around something we think is dark, difficult and maybe embarrassing? How do we find a way to be more open, honest, true to ourselves - and vulnerable?
"I wish I was happier for you..."
Could one remove oneself from situations where such feelings can arise? When you reach a certain age, you are more frequently confronted with other people's pregnancies or children. Among colleagues, siblings and between friends. It's almost impossible to avoid. You may find yourself getting involved in your friends' joy and thoughts about the future, but a small distance can also begin to creep in. On one hand, distance can be useful - because it may be the only thing you can lean on in the situation. It can be the "easy" solution - the distance rather than the confrontation. But on the other hand, you want to be a part of the community. Both the community of friends and that of motherhood.
But maintaining distance can become quite dangerous. It can work, but sometimes you might need to take a deep breath, because it mustn’t take over or you may end up feeling isolated and excluded - whether you have chosen it yourself, or have it inflicted on you by your well-meaning women friends thinking they are being (possibly mistakenly) considerate. Be sure to make it clear to your friends that you need space in your relationship with them and let you have a moment for yourself when it becomes difficult. That your feelings well up, so you need a bit more space at times. And if you can, be honest with them. It can strengthen your relationship - not that it's your responsibility. But they want you close and they usually want to help you find your way through it. If I’m completely honest I was really envious of my women friends pregnancies and I wished it was me. Not that it affected our friendships. But it can be extremely difficult to accommodate the joy of others in the midst of your own great sadness.
How do you bear the contradiction of your own grief and the joy of others?
First of all, you need to listen to your body and your mind. You must be true to yourself, loyal to your feelings and not try to take others into consideration before taking care of yourself. Your feelings are not those of the ones you hold most dear.. Your feelings are your own. It also means that while your loved ones can't be held accountable for your feelings, it can also be rewarding for them to know where you are so they can best support you on your journey.
There will be days when you can feel that you have the energy to open and share out the innermost. Maybe in a letter, maybe in a specific situation where it just feels completely natural, maybe in a text message. But there will also be days when you need peace and time - so retreat. It's not either or, and you don’t have to share on demand or because others ask you to. It is so important that you take care of the many bits of yourself, because there must also be a you left for the treatment. Choose who you share yourself with.
Remember, you’re not on this earth to satisfy everyone else.
And if you're going to be something to your family, friends and maybe a partner, then you need to be true to yourself first. You know what they say in aeroplanes: oxygen mask on before you can help anyone else.
Read more aboutRO here.