This is an excerpt from journalist Amy Klein’s book, The Trying Game: Get Through Fertility Treatment and Get Pregnant Without Losing Your Mind. Klein knows what it’s like to struggle with fertility — she became a mother after nine rounds of IVF and four miscarriages. Now, she’s written the book she wishes she’d had when she was trying to conceive. This is what it’s like when all your friends are getting pregnant, but you aren’t.
The phone call should’ve been a clue.
Who actually called anymore instead of texting? Especially for something as silly as asking me to get a pedicure. It’s not like Helaine and I were particularly good friends — we had a good friend in common who’d moved away, so we were close enough friends to get a mani-pedi, but not to chat on the phone.
“Sorry, I can’t go today,” I told Helaine. My husband Solomon and I were cleaning house — well, he’d cornered me into cleaning house. He was an anti-hoarder long before Marie Kondo, but instead of asking me what 'sparked joy,' he was pulling things out of the closet, asking, “Do you really need four pairs of sneakers?”
I stepped out of the messy room to hear Helaine saying she’d been wanting to talk to me. “I wanted to tell you that I’m pregnant,” she explained. “I know you’re having some difficulty and I wanted to tell you in person I was pregnant but since you can’t make the manicure...”
I stood in the hallway, tears streaming down my face, stifling sobs. Why was she telling me this? Why did she need me to know she was pregnant? And why the F was she going to tell me in person? Did she want us to sit there getting our nails done, where I wouldn’t even be able to wipe my eyes, let alone my nose, which had also started running, adding to this symphony of misery?
Solomon came out into the hallway holding a pair of beat-up tennis shoes, but dropped them as soon as he saw my raccoon face, nodding mechanically into the phone. Helaine was saying something about doctors’ visits and being nervous but I couldn’t hear her. All I could hear was my doctor saying, It looks like there’s no heartbeat. I gestured to him to help.
“Um, Amy — I need you here,” he called as if he were in the other room. “Now!”
God bless his soul, I thought.
“Helaine, I’m so sorry, gotta run, let’s get that manicure soon!” I said in a cheery voice that any real friend would know indicated trouble. “And congrats, great news,” I managed to squeak out before collapsing onto the messy bed, sobs coming in heaves. Solomon rubbed my back. “I cannot believe she called me!” I said to him.
“That was considerate?” he offered.
“Really? Why was it considerate? She just wanted to rub it in my face!” I said. “And I can’t believe she’s pregnant anyway. Isn’t she, like, 40?” I sat up, finally mad enough to start folding all the clothes on the bed. I would give them away, every single one of them. I would give everything away, everything, if I could just have a baby.
“Just lucky, I guess,” Solomon said tentatively. He knew if I was folding clothes, I was really pissed.
“Yeah, that baby will be lucky, with parents like that,” I spat out. Helaine and her partner were both successful and gorgeous but always travelling for their high-powered jobs. I couldn’t believe they got to be parents and we didn’t.
“It’s not like there are a limited number of babies in the world and they’re taking one away from us,” Solomon said. “Why can’t you be happy for her?”
Happy for her? Happy for her?
“Well, you’re a better man than I,” I said, throwing all my folded piles of clothes on the floor then storming out of our apartment. As I walked, the bitter winter wind froze the tears on my face and I thought I would even give him up to have a baby.
I’ve always considered myself a generous person, wanting the best for everyone: He got a movie deal? Great. She’s marrying a billionaire? Fabulous. I wished that was how I felt about other pregnant women. But it was not. I was not happy for them. I was so very, very sad for myself and my non-family, and therefore, I was sad about their pregnancies. To be honest, I was mad about their pregnancies. Their easy, no-charting, no-doctor, no shots, no-house-down-payment, “oops, we were barely trying” pregnancies.
When you’re trying to conceive, when you’re around $40,000 in the hole with no end in sight, let me tell you: It’s going to seem like every single person in the universe is with child but you.
And everything will remind you of your situation: Your friend, your sister, your sister’s friend? Check. They’re all going to be having babies and they are going to want you to be happy for them.
When you’re diagnosed with infertility, your world stops. Plans stop. The future stops. Your present has even stopped: Instead of girls’ nights out and steamy sex with hubby, your calendar is filled with tests, appointments, and long phone calls with your insurance provider. So it would seem like the rest of the world should stop. Guess what? It doesn’t. And that sucks. It’s not like you want everyone else not to have a baby, but you fervently wish they would Just. Wait. Until. You. Do.
As women, we’re trained to be good, to be positive, to be supportive. And we fear that the minute we aren’t, we become certifiable. It all comes back to Solomon’s question as I stormed out: “Why can’t you be happy for her?”
The question should have been, why should I be?
When therapist Ellen S. Glazer hears clients suffering from infertility say, “I’m really happy for my friend that she’s pregnant,” she counters, “If I were you, I would not be happy for her pregnancy at all. I would wish it would go away.”
Finally! Someone, somewhere, gets it! And she knows we’re not wishing anything horrible like a miscarriage on anyone. Glazer simply empathises with the desire to not have to deal with it. “I think it’s a natural thing, it brings up a whole category of ‘mean thoughts ” (she should copyright that!). “I think it just goes with the experience,” she says. “Mean thoughts happen to nice people.”
So before we decide on what you’re going to do with all these mean thoughts, bad feelings, and kidnapping fantasies, the first thing you’re going to have to do is honour them. Honour the green-eyed monster, allow it some space in your psyche. Engage in the “Who Deserves to Be Pregnant?” Olympics, make graffiti moustaches on those annoying holiday cards, and add a “Sorry, can’t talk now! @ fertility clinic!” autoreply to your texts to that one annoying friend complaining of her pregnancy symptoms, so that maybe, just for once, she will get the hint.
Once you make room for those non-beautiful thoughts, perhaps that monster will well, it might not die until you have a baby, but maybe you can learn to live with it and tuck it away most of the time. And you can stop feeling so ashamed about it.
Show yourself some compassion: You feel bad. You’re going through a hard time. You can’t be there for everyone right now. Think of it as one of the stages of grief — you’re way past denial and stuck between anger and depression — but it’s not your final destination.
From the book The Trying Game: Get Through Fertility Treatment and Get Pregnant Without Losing Your Mind by Amy Klein. Copyright © 2020 by Amy Klein. Published by Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.