how to respond when your friend announces she's pregnant. again.

I am going to preface this post with the clarification that I am currently, absolutely, decidedly not pregnant.  I just need to throw that out there.  My womb is between renters right now.  I am but one person walking around in my skin.  I don't know how else to reiterate that I am speaking from a place of neutrality today.  Okay.  Let's consider that cleared up.

I would also like to preface this by saying, if you are struggling through a story of difficulty conceiving, or infertility, please ignore this post.  This advice isn't for you, sweet friend.  You are known and loved by those around you, and your friend will completely understand if you need a bit of space to process and even grieve. 

When your family starts growing beyond the typical two to three kids, people start getting weird when you announce a new pregnancy.  Sometimes the things people say are fine, sometimes they're awkward, and sometimes, I'm not going to lie, they can be hurtful.  When I announced I was pregnant with Laurelai, someone close to me just shrugged and responded, "I figured."  When I announced I was pregnant with Rocco, someone else's very first response was to tell me to 'not expect free babysitting.'  Um... ouch. 

Now, I understand that comments are not always intended to be mean.  Sometimes people are excited, but aren't sure what to say, so they say something weird.  That's totally fine.  It really is on the shoulders of an expectant mom to assume the best about people's intentions - if I get offended by something someone says, it may just be a 'me' problem.  Other times, people are just genuinely confused or curious.  That's fine, too.  We get that large families aren't for everyone!  If you have sincere questions, feel free to ask!  But sometimes, people really are purposefully withholding excitement, or have grown apathetic, and that can be deeply hurtful.

I feel like it needs to be said: a fourth baby is as exciting as a first baby.  A fifth baby is as exciting as a first baby.  A sixth or seventh or eighth or twentieth baby is as exciting as a first baby.

Each one of these birth stories was wonderfully unique, but they were all humbling, amazing, and miraculous.

So I thought I'd give you a few ideas you can use if you're ever at a loss for what to say or do when a friend announces she's pregnant.

1. Say, "Oh my word, I'm so happy for you!  How exciting!"  I mean, go ahead and use your own words.  Stuff like, "congratulations" and "that's wonderful!" and "what a huge blessing!" and "that's great news - the world can always use more of your adorable children walking around!"  are all tried-and-true winners.

2. Clarify what you mean.  Things like, "oh, wow." and "really?" and "another one??" are too ambiguous, especially on social media.  Follow it up with something from Tip #1: "Oh, wow.  Congratulations!" or "Really? That's wonderful!" or "Another one? What a huge blessing!" are better ways to express your surprise and excitement.

3. Do NOT treat this baby like 'old news' before it's even here.  Say something.  Do not say nothing.  If you're staying silent because you're having a hard time saying something nice, or because you honestly don't care, maybe you need to examine yourself and ask why.  This little life is no less miraculous and wonderful than the first baby was.  If you think it's overkill for her to be having so many babies, you may need to adjust your attitude.

4.  Only ask family planning questions if you're on her team.  Honestly, I don't care when people ask if we're done having kids.  I don't find it offensive.  It's a 'life goals' question, like asking someone what they want to be when they grow up, or if they like what they do for a living and plan on doing it for a while.  Go ahead and ask!  What I have found offensive are the occasions when people express concern for my obvious stupidity when I say my hopes for the future don't line up with what they think I ought to be hoping for. 

I have had family members ask me, in front of my kids, why I "absolutely insist on having so many."  I have had people literally ask, "You would never have another one, would you?"  I have had people ask if we know there are surgeries we could have to prevent future pregnancies.  The implication with all these questions is that I should wise up and quit procreating.  The insinuation is that I'm making poor choices.  The conclusion seems to be that at least some of my children, born or yet-to-be-born, aren't worth as much time, energy, or excitement as the first few, and that I should somehow see that.  That is offensive.  Even if you don't get it, even if you wouldn't pick it for your own life, be on your friend's team.  Do not have some horse in the race for her to stop having babies. 

5.  Steer clear of boiling her child's existence down to a number.  A baby is more than how much it costs to raise it.  It is more than how much it eats, or where it will sleep, or what it will wear.  If you're sincerely concerned with how she'll pay for it, maybe pick up a Target gift card for her the next time you're out.  Be constructive.  Which leads me to my next point...

6.  Offer to help. Yes, she probably already had a baby shower or two in her tenure as a mom.  But by the time kiddo #4 rolls into town, much of what she got at that time is in rough shape.  Many of the same kinds of things she gratefully received as a first time mom would be gratefully received now.  Or if she's still good to go on clothes and gear, offer to throw a diaper shower.  Or pick up a pack of onesies on clearance, just to show her some solidarity.  Take her kids to a park for an hour so she can maybe get a nap in, or at least barf up her saltines and ginger ale in peace.  Go with her to a doctor's appointment and sit in the waiting room with her kids so she doesn't have tons of tiny eyes staring up her exam gown.  Put together a care package with a frozen meal and/or things to keep her kids occupied for a bit.  Just be thoughtful.  Be a friend.  Don't forget about her or her pregnancy.

7.  Do not assume she has it all together.  Yes, she's had a few babies before.  But motherhood is motherhood: it stretches you to your maximum capacity, whether you're mothering one or ten.  It can be overwhelming.  You never know exactly what you're doing; you're just trying your damndest and hoping for the best.  Regardless of how many kids she's had, she needs support.  She needs love.  She needs friendship.  She needs help.  Maybe some of the 'how-to's have been ironed out, but she is mothering many, and that comes with its own challenges and moments of sheer terror.  Do not assume she's an expert.  Do not assume she doesn't need anything.

8.  Ask her how she's doing.  Ask her how this pregnancy is similar to or different than her previous ones.  Ask her what she's most excited about.  Ask her what she's most nervous about.  Ask her if she needs to talk about anything.  Ask her how she felt when she discovered she was pregnant.  Ask her about her birth plan, or about how her other kids responded to the news.  Ask her what has surprised her about being a mother to so many.  Ask her to tell you the unique things she loves about each of her children.  Ask her what she wishes other people knew about her life.  If you have genuine questions about life or pregnancy or mothering a large herd, ask them.  And then listen to her answers.

We all know that pregnancy is fraught with emotions on all sides.  Both the mom-to-be and the people around her have emotional baggage that comes with the hard, hard work of conceiving and carrying and raising babies.  Announcing a pregnancy can be a vulnerable thing for everyone involved.  We should all be sensitive to this and try our best to rejoice with those who rejoice, and mourn with those who mourn.  We all have seasons in our life where we're the rejoicer, and other seasons where we're the mourner.  A true friend joins appropriately in each season.  And your friend will do the same for you.


Emily said...

There was a while where I might not have responded to pregnancy announcements from any friends on social media because the hurt of years of infertility created envy and all kinds of ugly sin in me. I'm sure I still congratulated those who told me in person and managed to smile until I ran away to cry, but I scrolled past social media announcements as fast as I could. So if I missed congratulating you and your family on any of your children, I sincerely apologize. Fortunately, God has been working on me over the past year to show me that I was believing the lie that He had been good to someone else, but not to me. What an awful thing to believe! He gave me salvation through Jesus! Getting my head and heart right in that has made me truly joyful and happy for friends who announce pregnancies and able to congratulate from the heart. And it makes me thankful for the husband and son I have.
I'm glad that you can extend grace to those who respond poorly to announcements. Some are just coming from hurt people who need God to heal them.

paige said...

Such a good reminder, Emily, and I really should have been more clear in this post that this was not aimed at the hurting. Any friend who knows you're hurting would understand a response like you had. Mourning with the mourning is also so, so important in a friendship. It can be difficult to navigate the relational waters during times when God is doing such seemingly different things in each person's life.

I think the key difference that I should have clarified was one of the heart. When you were struggling through your own story and seeing others' announcements rubbed at that wound, your heart was (and is) in a place of acknowledging that children are a good, good, desirable gift. There is nothing hurtful to a mom about acknowledging her kids are a gift. I think the place at which it becomes hurtful is when others stop seeing her children as good things, and speak and act accordingly.

Emily said...

Definitely. We live in a culture that tends to see children as a burden rather than blessing. You and Todd do such a great job demonstrating that they are a blessing.

Heather said...

I love this and I so feel you. And even though when we added our 4th and 5th kids through adoption and were given accolades (which is a whole other very yucky thing), I still feel shifty and awkward when someone I've just met asks how many I have... because when I say, "Five,"... well, heaven knows what kind of response I'm going to get.

todd said...

This is so spot on and hopefully helpful, heeded wisdom

todd said...

also, I love the side by sides of you with each of our kiddos after their births.

Caitlin said...

Yes, yes, yes! My MIL even commented to me the other day that I'm finally out of the baby stage. Yay! I'm done having kids now? I hate telling people I'm pregnant (even though I am excited), so I make my kids do it. Real mature over here.

Amy Attridge said...

Such good advice! :)

ohcitycity said...

I follow your blog avidly and I'm so glad you put a little warning at the beginning for those who are having difficulty conceiving. So I listened to you and did not read this post even though it pains me because I love your writing. I've been struggling with infertility for 20 months and the crazy thing is, literally right before this post on my Facebook was another post from one of my friends announcing her pregnancy. This is literally the 6th friend in the past few weeks. It's so hard to be happy for other's joy in the midst of this heart breaking struggle. God is teaching me patience and faith through this though. I just wanted to say thank you for your words, I'm sure they were beautiful and spirit driven, even though I didn't read them today. Someday, when it is God's time, I will come back to read this.

todd said...

Joel Vint wisely observed that:
"the Bible tells Christians to mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who tejoice but envy does that exact opposite. it's urges you to mourn when others are rejoicing and to rejoice when others mourn."