Random header image... Refresh for more!

Facebook Status Updates and Infertility

Just a heads up — this post is not going to be nearly as funny as Julie’s post on it (which just might be my favourite post ever).  By which I mean that it won’t be funny at all, but I was giving a quote for an article and it made me think through the whole situation.

WashPo did an article about Facebook updates and infertility a few weeks ago, and many places did a follow up post, and — as you’d expect — the comments were a mixed bag of “thank you for reminding people to be sensitive” and “these damn barren bitches need to get over themselves.”

Because apparently, asking someone to practice circumspection is a little bit too much to ask.

Circumspection is very different from not speaking about it at all.  Circumspection means that you think about how your words may be perceived and you tailor them to the person.

I gave news of my engagement differently to different people:

  • Some people got: “Josh proposed and we’re getting married in November.”
  • Other people got: “Josh and I got engaged, and this is how it went down…”

In other words, single friends who I knew might be happy for me but sad for themselves got the bare facts.  I gave the news, they processed the news, and if they wanted to know more, they asked for it.  Add widows to that category too.  I wanted them to know what was happening in my life, but I have to believe that it’s painful to hear about someone else’s happiness when you’re grieving your loss.

Oh, and add everyone not particularly close to me in that list as well: my co-workers may think I’m swell, but few needed to know more than “Josh and I are getting married” even if I was so excited that I wanted to talk about it incessantly.  It wasn’t about me, you see.  It was about me operating within a larger whole, where it can’t all be about me.  Just because something is exciting in my world doesn’t mean that everyone else is going to find that news exciting enough to hear more than a cursory amount of facts.

But here’s the thing, engagement announcements rarely come out of the blue.  You know the people are dating and you know it may be coming in the future, so if you’re sensitive to those sorts of announcements, you brace yourself for it.  Pregnancy announcements are different because most of the time, you don’t know when your friends are ovulating or if they’re trying to procreate.  Pregnancy announcements can come at 5 weeks or they can come when the person is 6 months along — you just never know.

I like to think of engagement announcements like spiders — when you see them on the wall, you know they’re going to move up or down or left or right.  Whereas pregnancy announcements are more like crickets: they jump out at you and you never know where they’re going to land.

Part of what people are missing with the infertility example is that — like most health issues — it’s wholly outside of your control.  Think about it this way: if your friend just lost her legs, would you put up a status update that says, “I just ran 5 miles and it feels so good.  It’s amazing to have legs and I’m so blessed!”  Or would you put up this more sensitive update: “Just ran 5 miles.  Going to shower now.”

In both updates, you convey the information, but with Facebook — unlike a blog where you might not know the audience — you do know who is possibly reading your feed.  You can save the detailed, gushy news for personal emails rather than broadcasting it to the larger audience.*

Which is also to say that if infertile men and women want a little sensitivity thrown their way, they need to be upfront.  People only know what you tell them.  And beyond that, there are other options beyond schooling someone when you’re unhappy with the way they deliver news — you can hide their feed or unfriend them on Facebook (though hopefully keep them as a friend in the face-to-face world).  It has to flow in both directions with people realizing that the way they deliver news may affect how the news is taken AND people realizing that if we all walk around on egg shells around each other, the world will be a very uncomfortable place.

And what people need to understand about the WashPo article — WashPo ASKED infertile men and women how they dealt with their friend feed.  Infertile men and women didn’t go to WashPo and say, “please let the world know this because we think they need to change.”  Instead, WashPo wrote the article, people were honest in their quotes, and now, it’s up to people who read the article to decide how they want to comport themselves.  They know the truth about how people are reading their feed.  Or not reading their feed.  Which is very different from your friend calling you up and saying, “you, Person X, need to change the way you write your feed.”  WashPo’s article was simply presenting how people approach Facebook.

And on that note, posting an update to Facebook is just about the worst way to deliver important news.  Some people are on there daily.  Some people go on monthly.  And some people on your friend list don’t actually go on at all.  If you have important news to share, share it directly.  Send an email or make a phone call to ensure that the person knows rather than posting it to a social media site.  If the news is so important that you want people to know about it, then take the time to actually ensure that they know about it.  The only people who should be finding out important news (such as the fact that you’re pregnant) via a social media site should be peripheral people that you wouldn’t mind if they stopped reading your friend feed.

So why get your panties in a twist if they stop reading it?

* This, of course, assumes that your Facebook friend list is a mixed bag of people.  If everyone on your list is in your family, carry on as if you were sending a group personal email.  If your list is made up of a few co-workers, a few old college friends, a few random people from your neighbourhood, and your great-aunt Rose who happens to be an Internet junkie, then treat your status updates like the subject line of an email — you don’t gush all the news there; you just provide a taste.


1 cgd { 11.09.10 at 7:57 am }

Great post. I tend to get annoyed in general about FB posts that are particularly provacative or insensitive (about IF or not).

2 Lucy { 11.09.10 at 8:14 am }

I read those comments in the follow-up post, and I just tear up…and I’m so very fortunate to have a 6-month old son now. I don’t know why I ever read those comments, since they always tend to be so heartless and ignorant.

When I announced our pregnancy on FB, I did it hand-in-hand with announcing our infertility and IVF. It stinks that being pregnant or having a baby can make it easier to admit you are infertile, but somehow, it is easier. I was out about being IF to my close friends and family anyway, but it was important for me to make the announcement to the wider world–an awareness thing that mattered to me.

Now, I unabashedly post pictures and updates about our son, but I also continue to update, as appropriate, about infertility stuff, too. I hope that tempers it, but I know people may need to hide me, and I’m okay with that–I hid people. I never had a close friend on FB pregnant while I was struggling with treatment, but I had others who were, and I always hid them. That was how I took care of myself.

3 Tara { 11.09.10 at 9:00 am }

Very good post…thanks, as always, for presenting an issue in such an articulate way. I’ve been stuggling with my blog posts lately because even though I am excited about being pregnant & want to express that, I know some of the women who follow me have had recent losses & I don’t want to be insensitive to them. It’s a fine line…

4 Shelli { 11.09.10 at 9:02 am }

I hate FB for this reason, and also the reason I stopped posting updates of my own. In fact, I think I am just having an all-over bad reaction to anything that is overshared on FB. I even pulled all my photos (except for my profile) primarily because I am starting to have regets with even using FB at all.

I must admit, I still can’t control my rage when I see ultrasound pics in an avatar. And my own family has FB bombed me with pg announcements and worse, complaints about pg. I’ve resorted to just hiding people in FB for that reason.

Pretty soon, I’m sure I’ll just raise the white flag and pull down my profile for good. It just creates stress for me.

5 Tigger { 11.09.10 at 9:13 am }

I messaged the few *known* infertile friends that I have on FB with my pregnancy announcement before actually posting it. I put TRIGGER in the subject, so they could prepare for reading it instead of being blindsided. Why did I message them there instead of email? Well, I don’t HAVE their email addresses anymore, and I wanted them to know it was coming. Getting an email, getting gut-punched, and then going to FB and seeing it again just seemed redundantly painful to me.

The problem I have now is that most of my updates have something to do with the pregnancy. There isn’t much else going on in my life – I work, I sleep, I eat, and I’m pregnant. Before being pregnant, most of my updates were about work – and my updates still contain work, but in a slightly different tone. I don’t know if any of my friends have hidden me, but they’re still my friends so I’m ok. I hope like hell I’m not hurting them, but there’s only so much I can do. FB is the easiest way to reach many of the out-liers in my life. It also allows me to keep in touch with the other pregnant friends I have, all at once.

6 Michelle { 11.09.10 at 9:52 am }

Thanks for this post Mel. Besides reading the orginial article, I have been reading some of the follow up posts/articles and comments. I wish I could link all those that said “it’s facebook, don’t go on if you don’t want to see baby pictures” to this article.

Thanks again for an awesome post!

7 Eve { 11.09.10 at 9:59 am }

I didn’t do FB while ‘actively’ infertile…and I still don’t do FB now. But I think your article points to a deeper issue that is the difficult task of being infertile and public about it vs how others handle a person’s infertility. During my infertility, all of my friends of child-bearing age swore an oath to tell me first of any pregnancies so I didn’t get doorsmacked with the news when I wasn’t prepared.

And yet I’ve been on the other end…having to bite my tongue at my own pregnancy joy when a good friend was struggling with TTC. I’ll be perfectedly honest…it was hard.

I’ll not read those comments in the post your referred to…it hurts my heart to read such gross misunderstanding and judgement from those who have (I’m assuming) no idea.

8 Geochick { 11.09.10 at 10:04 am }

In my opinion FB exists soley to make our inner narcissist rear it’s head. Of course I’m on there throwing up photos of our fabulous vacations. Our friends with kids are jealous of our vacations…if they only knew. At this point I don’t even know if I’ll announce a match/adoption on FB. I have two friends who are waiting now and I know it’ll sting a little.

9 Lin { 11.09.10 at 10:24 am }

Excellent posts! I had so much trouble with FB when we were TTC. Pregnancy announcements on FB didn’t give me anytime to prepare…just BAM! Knocked the breath right out of me…every time.

When we got pregnant, I tried to be aware of what my friends (unbeknownst to me) may be going through. I tried not to inundate my wall posts and profile with too many pics and updates.

Now that our beautiful baby boy is here, I struggle with how to deal with FB, though. I want to share updates and pics about him and our new life together…and my family and many of our friends have told us that they want us to post even more.

It’s much more difficult to balance now. I completely understand if friends need to hide me for awhile, though. Been there, done that…

10 It is what it is { 11.09.10 at 10:40 am }

Thanks, once again, for a well balanced post.

The world, Facebook included, could use a sensitivity and/or common sense course. While one cannot expect the world to completely insulate them from whatever may cause them grief (I have an inordinate fear of flying, but planes go over my head, airlines advertise, my FB friends are always in airports or flying hither or yon, folks even ask me to pick them up at the airport) we can certainly hope that those who are dear to us will attempt to be sensitive if they know what causes us grief (and, if they find out after the fact, we hope that they’ll extend a little compassion). Life does go on, though, regardless, and we do manage to wade our way through all the things that bring us harm, words included.

11 Kir { 11.09.10 at 10:48 am }

great post as usual Mel, you always know just what to say. I walk a very very very fine on my facebook status. Sure there are tons of pics of my kiddos…and while I wish I could change the way things are viewed, I also know that FB for the good friends of mine that are far away is a great way to keep in touch. I just hope that it’s not hurting anyone’s heart.

12 Justine { 11.09.10 at 10:51 am }

It would be helpful if people learned how to use the features of Facebook that allow you to customize who sees your status posts … this can be done for everything you post, on a post-by-post basis, not just in the privacy settings. When I have something to share, I think carefully about who should see it, and if there are people who shouldn’t see it, or to whom I should deliver the news in person, I make exceptions. The tiny little “lock” icon is the most underused feature of the application, and I suspect it could save quite a few relationships! Either way, people simply need to think more carefully about the way they communicate, and with whom.

13 Sarah { 11.09.10 at 11:31 am }

I quit FB last week and am not regretting it one bit. I ONLY had close friends and family as friends, with a few old Army buddies and 2 friends from HS (one IF’er as well, but not out), and I realized that if people wanted to communicate with me they could pick up the phone or email me. I had started hiding everyone who went on and on about pregnancy/parenting/children and it was getting to the point where over 75% of my friends were hidden. That’s what happens when you have a larger, fertile family…
So, I’m happier without the daily torture of status updates and the guilt over having to hide people. Now, I can just concentrate on maintaining those relationships in a more meaningful manner – with direct, personal contact.

14 Minta { 11.09.10 at 12:08 pm }

We’ve been discussing this a lot ’round our house lately because we just found out that G’s brother’s girlfriend is pregnant via Facebook. Double insensitive, and hurtful. But, I think a lot of younger people (G’s brother is 24) have their entire real life network on FB and don’t have a ton of those miscellaneous contacts that build up as you get older, and feel that FB is an appropriate venue for major announcements and event planning. Maybe they’ll change their minds when they have former co-workers and people they haven’t seen in 10 years on their lists, too 🙂

15 Roccie { 11.09.10 at 1:12 pm }

I clicked through and caught a couple of those comments.

My disdain for the stupidly fertile just multipled.

Bonus: it did make me forget the 2WW. For a minute, but, ahhh, what a minute it was….

16 aisha { 11.09.10 at 1:33 pm }

Facebook can hurt in so many ways, beyond IF and marriage. I feel like many people use it to show others what an amazing life they have. Updates like “heading for a vacation at the islands with my honey” can sting someone who is laid off, or can’t afford to take a vacation. “Just made a dish in advance for every day of the week! My kids call me super mom! LMAO” hurts people who are just trying to keep the present day together, the lunches packed- the dishes washed. I think theortically facebook is awesome, but the way its used, can hurt in more than we know. I removed myself from facebook b/c of this. I’m back on, but trying to limit my use- I enjoy reading articles people share and I enjoy sharing articles sas well, sharing advice, etc-

Its sad that its come to this- that we update major life announcemnts on an internet server as opposed to real connecting.

17 Somewhat Ordinary { 11.09.10 at 1:36 pm }

Great post and very timely! I just saw a staus update from a HS acquaintance who has had fertility issues over the years and is very active in a support group announce (rather graphic) a possible miscarriage that is currently happening. I scrolled back through her page and didn’t see a pregnancy announcement anywhere. Just felt it was very odd.

18 Sushigirl { 11.09.10 at 2:15 pm }

Excellent post.

I think use Facebook and think it’s ok if you stick to certain general parameters. Like not posting too much – I don’t want my page spammed. And not always posting on the same topic – parents are the some of the worst offenders, but I’ve also got a friend who has daily, rather sickly-sweet posts about her kittens, and I find that gives me the boak as much as any tmi pregnancy stuff (if she ever gets pg she is being hidden from my feed immediately!). Also, I think it’s important to try and think about how your post will be interpreted and try and make people smile, rather than just always boasting about your kids/holiday/partner, or whinging about your job.

Also, more specifically, I think people should give it a break with the pg stuff if they know someone on their feed has just had a miscarriage – at least give them time to hit “hide”!

Maybe I’m being too grumpy about the whole thing. Or maybe over time there will become more accepted rules of Facebook etiquette!

19 BigP's Heather { 11.09.10 at 4:17 pm }

I love love love that you liken it to a cricket. Knowing how much you love crickets and all.

20 Mic @ IF Crossroads { 11.09.10 at 6:37 pm }

Oh Mel. I love your take on this. Seriously, I do. I got into a big argument today on a message board about this very topic (the WaPo article) and I feel ashamed that I wasn’t able to explain myself as eloquently as you did in this post.
This is my favorite line:
“Part of what people are missing with the infertility example is that — like most health issues — it’s wholly outside of your control”
I let my “argument” work me up to the point where I let it ruin my day. And the I came home and read this post and all is right in the world again.
What would I do without your words?

21 Mic @ IF Crossroads { 11.09.10 at 6:38 pm }

and your other quote “these damn barren bitches need to get over themselves.”
yeah, that’s pretty much what I was told over and over again when I attempted to defend myself.

22 Mali { 11.09.10 at 9:49 pm }

Nicely said. I agree with Justine. If only people thought about who they wanted to read each status update. Some of the friends I have on Facebook I met through an ectopic pregnancy website. And some of them have gone on (as most women do) to have children afterwards. But they know I haven’t. Yet even today, from a friend I read regularly I saw this update: “Is there anything more yummy than carrying your sleeping, small child to bed, when they cuddle into you and then you listen to them snuffling.” All she needed to do was to click and hide that update from me and a few others in the same situation. But she didn’t. And so I have yet another “Ouch” moment. I don’t know if it was wise, but I made a point of “liking” her update. She’ll see that. And I hope she will in fact realise what she posted. Let’s see.

23 a { 11.09.10 at 9:55 pm }

Here’s what I don’t understand…what is it that people want to see on FB? You don’t want to see my game updates. You don’t want to see my status updates. You don’t want any family news. You don’t want to see my fabulous vacation pictures. What do you want to see? I think people take FB too seriously. It’s not an oasis of pleasant things – it’s people’s randomness, minutiae, conflicting ideas, toilet updates, restaurant picks, games updates, poor spelling and grammar, drunken episodes. I say, if you go on FB, you should really expect to be offended by at least one thing you see. If it becomes too much, stop going.

That said, I completely agree that the audience should be considered when making any kind of post on FB. Sensitivity is extremely underrated and underused in our society.

Also, spiders jump. Just so you know.

24 one-hit_wonder { 11.09.10 at 10:00 pm }

what a coincidence. (not a happy one, unfortunately.) this week i was forced to ‘come out’ about infertility and IVF (i got outed on purpose by a family member, as i detail on my blog).

i made a general post about our reproductive history on my facebook because i didn’t want to explain it 100 times to the world because it hurts me too much to talk about it.

25 Rebecca { 11.09.10 at 10:31 pm }

Ugh fb, such a blessing and curse all at once. I have had to hide a few people in the past few months, women who were within a couple of weeks of my due date with Lily. After her death it has been so hard to see their happy updates about their pregnancies and now their babies births. It’s like a car wreck though I know I shouldn’t look but I torture myself and I do it anyway because the wondering just gets the best of me.
Great post, as always…I wish more people in this world could be a bit more compassionate and sensitive towards others in general.

26 Bea { 11.10.10 at 7:45 am }

Yeah, facebook, facebook. I still don’t really have the hang of it. I don’t check it enough for it to be really useful. When I do go on it’s usually because someone sent me a message or because it’s my sister’s preferred method of instant message these days, and I don’t actually read much in the way of status updates. And yet, I have been asked to post birth news there by people who use it differently and who use it as their point of contact, so, I don’t know.

I do think you have to consider that you don’t really know your audience well (unless, er, you do) and that anything might be going on (unless you are sure it isn’t) and be duly respectful and, you know, humble and shit. It’s not to say you can’t ever talk about anything ever, but being oversharing and OTT and generally acting as if the whole world is on your page all the time is just… off. It’s rude, is what it is.


27 Millie { 11.10.10 at 12:22 pm }

I kind of agree with “a.” People use FB in different ways and if we decide to friend them we are setting ourselves up to see what they have to post. I haven’t seen anyone post about pregnancy yet (maybe I’ll feel differently once punched in the gut) but I do see photos of kids who have been born in the time I’ve been infertile. It’s painful but it also is helpful for me. My brother’s wife is pregnant right now and I wish they were on FB. I can’t bring myself to ask them anything, I’m extremely sensitive. Because of that, I don’t know anything. I didn’t know the sex until I got the baby shower invitation in the mail (that I didn’t go to). If they were on FB I could see what was going on without worrying if I was going to break down in tears. In front of my own computer I can cry all I want. Furthermore, I post mostly about my cats and vacations, usually just a photo or two and a caption. I use twitter to anonymously spout whatever oddity comes into my brain, the strange thing is, I don’t want people who know me to know the inner parts of myself, especially when it comes to my infertility. That’s what anonymous blogs and twitter is for. FB is for gloating, I’m sorry but it is. Look at my cheerleader daughter. Look at my new house. Look at us at this amazing party. I think it’s fine, when I click on it, I know what I’m getting.

28 Kristen { 11.10.10 at 6:06 pm }

Seeing pregnancy & family posts on FB can certainly be painful for those TTC and that’s completely understandable, which is what the WP article was pointing out. It’s sad/interesting to read some of the comments of people who walked away with a completely different and negative take on it.

Personally, I think everyone is going to have a different view how to handle this issue on FB based on they way each individual using it. I use FB primarily to keep in touch with old friends and family we don’t have the chance to talk to or see frequently. I put up pictures of our family and post silly things the kids say and talk about what our family is doing. I understand that for my divorced friends, my friends TTC and my friends waiting to adopt that sometimes those posts/pics may be difficult and painful to see and I wouldn’t be offended at all if someone chose to hide or de-friend me for that reason. Also, if I was announcing a pregnancy or our adoption travel call, I would contact privately anyone I thought might be upset by that news before making a general annoucement just to show them I respect their feelings.
However, I dont think its fair of people to complain about the type of posts someone is writing on FB. This is not just directed at those TTC, but to people in general. If you don’t want read what someone is posting – whether that be b/c they write 10 posts a day about their pregnancy or b/c they document everything they eat while on a diet – then you can hide their posts or de-friend them (though hopefully stay friends IRL).

29 Megan { 11.14.10 at 10:46 pm }

Maybe part of the problem is that infertility is still a taboo subject. A lot of the people posting the pregnancy announcements are completely clueless about the hardships many of us have gone through. Most of us don’t post about our progesterone suppositories, miscarriages, dates with the hootchie wand, etc. Do a search on infertility or IVF on Facebook and see how much you find (the answer: very little). This world is immediate and omnipresent for us, but so many are blissfully ignorant.

30 Katie { 12.06.11 at 11:29 am }

I would like to chime in as someone who does not struggle with infertility but is very sensitive to it because of a good friend who does. I have guilt DAILY that I was able to get pregnant, twice, so easily and she cannot. I’m 12 weeks and haven’t made a peep about it on FB. She, of course, knows already – but I feel like a public announcement on FB would still sting regarldess. Maybe she already has me on hide. I don’t constantly post about being pregnant, but I would like to let the rest of my friend-list know. She would never tell me and sadly, we don’t talk much now because I know it just hurts too much for her, but I don’t want to cause her anymore pain. On the opposite side, I cannot pretend that I’m not pregnant nor can I live my life around the idea that everything I say could potentially hurt someone’s feelings. I wish there was an easy middle ground. Maybe there is – maybe NOT posting a bunch of stuff about my pregnancy is the right way to go but occasionally mentioning it is okay? I just don’t know. It is tough.

31 Leanne { 02.23.13 at 6:10 am }

I do understand where you are coming from, but stop going on facebook if you get that annoyed by pregnancy updates.
It’s a time in a womans life that is so exciting and doesn’t happen very often. Gush all you want about it all over the place I say.
Same with wedding planning & getting engaged.
I do not know the heartbreak of infertility (ive been blessed with children) but there are plenty of things I’d like in life that I’d like thst I cannot have, I don’t expect people to filter their happiness.

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
The contents of this website are protected by applicable copyright laws. All rights are reserved by the author