Pretending You’re Pregnant Makes People Truly Understand Breast Cancer
A few friends announced their pregnancies this week. I was thrilled for them even though… you know… it stings. But genuinely thrilled nonetheless for them.
After this spate of pregnancy announcements, I saw a friend’s Facebook status later in the week. She wrote that she was 22 weeks and craving a Slurpee. And my heart literally froze as I read the words on the screen. I had just seen this friend a week earlier. She didn’t look pregnant, though I couldn’t remember what she was wearing. Had she been wearing something flow-y that could hide a pregnancy? Had she dropped hints? Did she try to tell me and I literally didn’t hear her? This wasn’t someone who was just sneaking into the second trimester, starting to tell people. She was 22 weeks along, closer to delivery than she was to conception.
I spent fifteen minutes combing back through the last few months of her blog, looking for a tiny clue that she was pregnant, seeing if I had missed something when I declared Google bankruptcy. There was nothing there.
But then I started wondering if all our other mutual friends knew. If they had known for weeks and had kept it from me. And I wondered if this friend saw me in the role of the broken bitch. You know the role of the broken bitch — it’s a place of pity, but they also hate you for it. It’s tiresome to have to walk around on eggshells around you, but at the same time, it’s just so sad that you can’t get pregnant.
And by that point, I was angry. I was furious because I not only am genuinely happy for friends, but I am outwardly effusive about their pregnancies within reason (I mean, come on, your pregnancy, like your engagement or your house search, is interesting to others but it’s INTERESTING to you. And you can’t expect everyone else to regard your news in all caps. Lowercase needs to be acceptable). I buy baby gifts. I babysit. I hold people’s babies. I touch their stomach. I hold in my tears until I can get to a bathroom and cry in private. And what was the point of all of that — of stamping down my own hurt to be genuinely happy for another person — if I still got screwed in the end?
I spent most of the day alternating between sad and embarrassed and angry — this pu-pu platter of unhelpful emotions that stopped me from doing work. I didn’t want to tell anyone that I didn’t know because I was so embarrassed that I read the news over Facebook when they had probably known for weeks. I didn’t want to tell anyone because I was afraid that they would tell me that so many of our friends thought this about me; dreaded telling me their news and therefore held off doing so. I get that it’s hard to tell it because I can tell you that from my end that it’s hard to hear it, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t say it so we can rip the bandaid off and get on to the part where I’m genuinely happy for you and plotting future cuddles with your future child.
And then I found out that she wasn’t pregnant.
Apparently, pretending that you’re pregnant as your Facebook status is supposed to somehow raise awareness for breast cancer.
Yes, nothing other than “how far along you are” and “what you’re craving” — no link to NIH’s page on breast cancer or the Mayo Clinic’s page; something, let’s say, helpful if you’re trying to find out more about breast cancer, you know, that disease that 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with during their lifetime. Literally, no information other than a pretend week count and a pretend craving. And that is somehow supposed to raise awareness for breast cancer.
Well, it didn’t raise awareness for breast cancer. I would hazard a guess that you didn’t learn anything about breast cancer if you saw one of those updates. But what it did raise awareness for was — hopefully — infertility, and this is what you can take away from this: 7.3 million Americans are diagnosed with infertility. That’s 11.8% of the child-bearing population. Worldwide, it comes out to be about 10% of the child-bearing population. It’s not that rare a situation.
We are your friends or family members. You may see us in the carpool line at school (yes, you can have a child and be infertile, it’s called secondary infertility) or alone at the supermarket. You can look at us and not even know that we have a disease of our reproductive organs because infertility doesn’t have outward signs of physical trauma. We may have never shared with you what we’re going through, even though you may wonder why there is such a large age gap between our children or if we meant to remain childless or why our children don’t look like us.
This post should tell you a little bit about how we feel when we navigate the fertile world. We know the rest of the world doesn’t need assistance to build their families, and we certainly don’t begrudge them that fact. People who are infertile would never wish infertility on another person, so we’re thrilled that you’re not making the hard choices we have to make, enduring the treatments we have to endure, filling out the paperwork we have to fill out. We’re thrilled that you do not have to experience all these various paths of invasiveness.
But we do.
So it would be wonderful if instead of pretending you’re pregnant on Facebook, you use that status update to raise some real awareness. You can make it about the original intention — breast cancer — and provide factual information so more women know when to start getting mammograms, do self-breast exams, and what are warning signs where they should contact their doctor. Or you can use your status to educate people about infertility if you learned something reading this post. Perhaps you didn’t know that statistically 10% of your Facebook friends read that fake pregnancy status and went through the roller coaster of thoughts I went through. That’s a fairly sizable chunk.
And that sensitivity can go a long way. You expect it from us. You expect us to ask about your pregnancy. You expect us to attend your shower and drop off a meal and hold your baby. It’s what a good friend does. But we need that sensitivity to be a two-way street. So now that you know that possibly 10% of your Facebook friends can’t build their families without assistance, can we please stop playing memes that don’t serve a real purpose; except to make hearts jump and make people doubt themselves.