Fertility envy: It should be the greatest joy you can share with a friend, so why does pregnancy often drive such a wedge between women One writer tells her story
00:58 GMT, 8 October 2012
From the moment the positive pink lines appeared on my pregnancy test, I couldn't wait to share my news with family and friends.
At 32, I had prepared myself for the fact that I might have problems conceiving, but when it happened as soon as we started trying I couldn't believe my luck.
Ever cautious, my husband urged me to wait until we'd passed the three months mark before I told anyone — and I reluctantly agreed.
Ateh Jewl – pictured with her twin daughters, Adanna, left, and Ola, right – did not receive the support she had hoped she would when she announced her pregnancy to her friends
I crossed the days off until I could finally pick up the phone to tell my best friends that, not only was I going to be a mother, but I was having twins.
I pictured them screaming with delight, desperate to hear every detail. After all, there had not been a time in my life — from getting my first job to buying my first flat — when they hadn't been there for me.
'Many women tell me they're happy for their pregnant friends but they also can't help feeling upset, jealous and angry at the unfairness of the situation'
But, as I announced the news to my closest childhood friend, I was met with a stony silence then a barrage of aggressive questions.
'Why didn’t you tell me you were trying' she wanted to know. 'Why now I thought you were going to move house before you started a family.'
The silence returned before she muttered her congratulations and made a hurried excuse about having to go. But as she put down the phone I heard muffled tears and a sob.
I felt confused and hurt. What had I done wrong When I called her again a few days later, she broke down. Unbeknown to me, she had been trying to get pregnant for nearly three years and was now forced to start thinking about IVF or adoption.
My good news was salt in her wound — and the fact that it had happened so quickly made matters worse.
I felt terrible to have upset her and
guilty that I hadn't known what she’d been going through.
We'd met at
primary school and been through everything together: first boyfriends,
dodgy hairstyles and an embarrassing obsession with Britney Spears.
teenagers we'd shared our dreams about getting wed and having children,
and laughed about how much fun it would be if we did it at the same
The fact that I didn't
even know she'd been trying for a baby highlighted the huge gulf that
had formed between us — and now it was only going to get bigger.
it wasn't just her. My pregnancy caused hidden — and sometimes
not-so-hidden — tensions with many of my friends, some of whom were
struggling to conceive or had gone through the silent anguish of
'People struggling to have a baby can be in a desperate place and are in some ways not themselves'
One friend who I'd worked with for seven years suddenly told me she was on her third course of IVF. My news prompted her to break down and blurt out: 'Why should you be able to have two babies when I only want one It's not fair. I have to go through weeks of needles, injections and surgery, and I might not even get a child at the end of it.'
I didn't know what to say. She was right; it wasn’t fair — but it also wasn't my fault. We'd planned our careers together and always encouraged each other work-wise, yet when it came to babies she couldn't accept that it came more easily to me than her.
In fact, the only friends who were excited for me were the ones who were single or not interested in starting a family yet. I thought they would be the least likely to want to meet up given the fact that now I was pregnant I was 'boring'.
Obviously I couldn't go out drinking with them in the same way as before but that didn't matter — they were overjoyed for me and came round with pregnancy books and presents from Baby Gap. The difference was they had no reason to feel angry and resentful.
'I also felt scared and alone. Being pregnant with twins was challenging in itself; the morning sickness lasted all day and I was constantly exhausted. More than ever I needed my support network'
While I was totally unprepared for the reaction my pregnancy prompted, experts say that it's very common for friendships to be affected by fertility issues.
'When couples first try for a baby they're very optimistic but if they don't succeed they can start to feel like they are the only people on the planet it's not happening for,' says fertility expert Zita West.
'It's no surprise that they then dread friends and family announcing their pregnancies. Many women tell me they're happy for their pregnant friends but they also can't help feeling upset, jealous and angry at the unfairness of the situation'.
After pregnancy itself, infertility is the most common reason for women aged 20- to 40 to see their GP.
For some women, it's not even possible to be pleased for their expectant friends — their own feelings of failure and heartbreak about being unable to conceive are so primal they simply cannot put on a brave face.
'People struggling to have a baby can be in a desperate place and are in some ways not themselves,' says psychologist Lucy Beresford.
'Friends you expect to be supportive may be unable to put their emotions aside, grit their teeth and be pleased for you. It can be very hurtful and cause a huge gulf in friendships.'
Another good friend, who'd had numerous rounds of failed IVF, told me quite candidly that she wasn't sure our 15-year friendship could survive my pregnancy.
'When couples first try for a baby they're very optimistic but if they don't succeed they can start to feel like they are the only people on the planet it's not happening for'
She wrote me an email saying that she felt 'our lives are about to go in two very different directions.'
I was shocked — when I got married she helped me to organise everything from the ceremony to my hen do and I'd done the same for her.
While I respected the fact that she was brave enough to tell me how she felt, I was heartbroken that the happiest news in my life upset her so much that she couldn't bear to be around me.
I also felt scared and alone. Being pregnant with twins was challenging in itself; the morning sickness lasted all day and I was constantly exhausted. More than ever I needed my support network.
I craved people to talk to — and not just about my pregnancy. I still wanted to gossip and discuss EastEnders but my three best friends in the world couldn't even bear to speak to me.
As my bump grew, some friends made excuses when I tried to arrange to meet up. One was honest, and admitted that it was because looking at my growing tummy was too upsetting.
'I can’t even walk past playgrounds, pregnant women in the street or a buggy without bursting into tears,' she said.
My heart broke for her, but while once upon a time I would have told her it was all going to be OK, that was the last thing she wanted to hear from a pregnant person. Any advice from me simply sounded smug.
I started planning a baby shower but then envisaged myself sitting alone surrounded by pink cupcakes and teddy bears. In the end I felt I had to avoid talking about my pregnancy to certain friends.
I downplayed things I should have been excited to tell them about — like feeling the girls' first kicks, picking out my first pram or going to ante-natal classes.
Instead of talking about my latest doctor's visit or ultrasound — as I was desperate to — I would listen to hours of their conversation about IVF and then share my own good news with taxi drivers, or people in shops who I knew wouldn’t get upset.
One in ten couples of childbearing age have trouble conceiving.
I remember going to buy some body oil for my stretchmarks and being asked by an old lady in the queue when I was due.
I broke down and spent the next hour telling her about how scared I was about the birth and whether both babies would be OK.
I got really teary because I realised I should have been able to discuss this with friends I'd known for years rather than a stranger in Boots.
My husband was very protective of me and thought I should avoid or even ditch the friends who were being so negative. He simply couldn't understand why my friends were behaving in such a way. But I wanted to maintain the relationships — being pregnant made me feel vulnerable and I needed them more than ever.
Also, I was too racked with guilt about my own good luck to tell my friends how I was feeling about their reaction. On one occasion I did confront a friend by saying I felt like she changed the subject any time I mentioned anything to do with the baby. She acted surprised, but afterwards I received a seven-page email with links to articles on how to handle infertile friends.
'With hindsight, I can see that I was so excited about being pregnant that I may have been insensitive to them – It's hard not to get caught up in all things baby, and I think I was guilty of that'
I wasn't being sensitive enough to her needs, she wrote. 'But what about me' I wanted to scream. I didn't, of course. Instead, our calls became fewer and fewer until we lost touch and I silently grieved for our old friendship.
Bit by bit, I spent more time with people who could be happy for me — my friends who were already mothers or the single friends who couldn't wait to be surrogate aunties to my little ones.
Again, this is common, says Beresford. 'As much as you might care for your friends and want to be there for them when they are having such an awful time, the reality is that when you are pregnant looking after yourself and your unborn baby needs to be your priority.
'Spend time with people who support you and are delighted for you.'
Confronting your friends about the
situation is not likely to help, says Beresford. As far as they are
concerned you have won the lottery and they will never understand why
you are upset.
'It's given me huge joy to see some friends who struggled to get pregnant now have healthy babies themselves'
'Sometimes the best thing is to just give each other space. It doesn't mean you can’t come back to your friendship later on,' she says.
It's now 15 months since my beautiful girls, Adanna and Ola, came into the world. Since then, it's given me huge joy to see some friends who struggled to get pregnant now have healthy babies themselves.
With hindsight, I can see that I was so excited about being pregnant that I may have been insensitive to them. It's hard not to get caught up in all things baby — and I think I was guilty of that. Now I can see that this was too much for friends struggling with infertility to cope with.
With some I have fallen back into the natural rhythm of our long-standing friendship — both of us relieved the storm has passed without any permanent damage. With others, the pain and hurt caused over the nine months of my pregnancy is still the elephant in the room.
From my side, it's not easy to get over feeling abandoned and betrayed. I know, however, that it will have to be acknowledged and discussed if our friendship is to survive — but these conversations are not easy.
I was lucky to be able to start a family so easily and I can only imagine how devastating it is to not have the child you so desperately want.
Falling out over fertility is so raw and visceral there is nothing in your past friendship to compare to it.
It's not like the envy you feel if one of you is given a designer handbag or whisked away for a romantic weekend.
When one of you is pregnant and the other is struggling, it's about life itself.