If there is one piece of mail that every infertile woman dreads getting, it is the pastel-colored invitation with pictures of diapers, baby carriages or pacifiers. For most of those who go through infertility, a baby shower is not a cause for celebration. Instead, it is a reminder of painful realities: that other women get pregnant easily while we suffer for months to get a positive pregnancy test; that they are transitioning to a new phase of life while we are remaining behind; that they are about to join The Mothers’ Club – in which we have been denied membership and to which, we fear, we may never belong.
The baby shower is a festivity devoted to all that makes us sad: pregnant bellies, birth stories, frilly clothes and infant toys. It is a reminder of how much our society glamorizes and sometimes even fetishizes mother and baby. And we, as silent witnesses to the celebration, are torn. A part of us, too, rhapsodizes over motherhood – why else would we pursue it with such fierce commitment and persistence? A part of us, however, fears we may not attain it – or at least not in the full genetic and gestational way we had initially envisioned.
So, we know that attending the shower may make us feel sad, hopeless, isolated, anxious, and – more than anything – terrifically envious. And still, the pregnancy celebrated is often that of a woman we love: a sister, a cousin, a dear friend. She is someone whose well-being we cherish and upon whom we would never wish any pain, least of all the pain of infertility. So we find ourselves swirling with complex emotions: bitterness and jealousy, apprehension and sorrow, resentment and despair. Emotions that confuse us, and that make us feel guilty and ashamed, and that leave us feeling freakishly different and utterly alone.
And so, with the pastel invitation, there arrives a time of fretting: to go to the baby shower or not to go? To honor another woman’s joy or to respect our own vulnerability? To join our community in celebration or to protect ourselves from the possible scrutiny and probing questions of curious friends and family members?
I’d like to offer you a few rules-of-thumb to guide you in the decision:
Consider not going if:
- Your relationship with the expectant mother is relatively superficial and will not be significantly damaged by your absence
- Your relationship with her is close and she will lovingly understand and respect your choice to abstain from attending
- You are in the middle of a treatment cycle or on the heels of a painful loss
- You don’t have emotional support among the other guests – either because they don’t know about your infertility or because they don’t understand it.
Consider going if:
- Your absence from the shower will be highly visible and result in enduring damage to an important relationship
- You are in a period of hiatus from treatment, and are more focused on catching up with life than on pursuing motherhood
- You have been skipping a lot of baby showers and you don’t like yourself as a result
- You anticipate an future invitation to an event that will trigger you even more (e.g., a first Christmas, a baby-naming, Mother’s Day) and at which the guests will be same as at the baby-shower. In this case, consider going to the shower and saving your “Get Out of Jail Free” card for the more painful occasion
If you decide to go to the baby-shower, plan ahead and consider the following survival strategies:
- Have an excuse ready in case you become overwhelmed and need to leave early.
- Find an ally who will be attending the shower and who will be willing to run interference for you, should you be put on the spot with questions or comments. Establish a code-word to let them know they need to help out.
- Put someone who knows about your infertility (your partner, a close friend, a therapist) on high alert. Ask them to be available for calls or texts during the shower. Consider retreating to a private spot periodically and checking in with them throughout the event.
- Prepare a few canned responses that you can pull out of your sleeve on short notice, should anyone ask you nosy questions. Practice delivering them in a neutral, matter-of-fact fashion.
- Ask your partner, mother or a close friend to shop for the baby gift. Otherwise, shop for a “neutral” gift such as a picture frame, which you can buy online and away from baby boutiques or children’s stores.
- Arrive late and leave early, preferably before presents are opened. If you have to stay during gift-opening, busy yourself in the kitchen, go to the bathroom (and text or call your support person) in order to minimize the time you have to spend gushing over the baby stuff.
- Bookend the baby shower with some pampering and self care. For instance, go to a yoga class before and to a movie after. Enlist your partner’s support and ask them for extra TLC before and after the event.
- Reward yourself for having gone and survived the shower by buying yourself a small gift.
Ultimately, remember, that infertility is one of the most significant crises you will encounter in your life. And as such, your priority is to get through it with resilience and grace. Stay true to yourself (and carry a big umbrella).