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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.


1 Neeroc { 09.03.11 at 7:41 am }

Wonderfully put. I too experienced that momentary sting. Luckily(?) a few more updates rolled in in short order from unlikely sources which then sent my IT security brain searching for hacking/virus issues and Google enlightened me.
Thank you for this, it’s much more effective than my ‘fake fb Pregnancies make you a jerk’ tweets *g*

2 Meghan { 09.03.11 at 7:41 am }

I wholeheartedly agree. The whole premise is ridiculous. And given that I have one friend in the middle of a miscarriage and another who is at her missed due date I find it offensive.

3 Erin { 09.03.11 at 7:50 am }

Thank you for putting my feelings into words! That status game is just appalling to me. I am conisdering therapy to help me cope with all the negative feelings (anger, disappointment, depression) infertility has bestowed upon me. I hope I can learn gracious ways to handle cruel and insensitive remarks made by otherwise good people. Your book gave some great ideas; I think I’ll whip out my trusty highlighter and practice scripting.

4 Vee { 09.03.11 at 7:58 am }

Hear, hear!

5 Chardonnay { 09.03.11 at 8:04 am }

Your words completely sum up my feelings about the current facebook fad.Whoever decided this to be the way to express support for breast cancer has obviously never been through IF.

6 Finding My New Normal { 09.03.11 at 8:08 am }

I’ve been wondering what those posts were all about. Especially when my cousin who has had a hysterectomy posted one.

I can relate to feeling like the broken bitch. The one that people are tired of having to walk on eggshells around. I’m sure they wish we could just get over it already so they don’t have to think about us anymore.

I also think this idea is a stupid way to raise awareness about anything. But I also thought the color of your bra, and where do you like to put your purse ones were too.

7 Jen { 09.03.11 at 8:12 am }

So, so well said. What an absolutely stupid status update phase (personally, I don’t like the so called ‘raising awareness’ status things).

In terms of the whole issue of pregnancy and having to deal with it, I hear you. And I get it.

Much love to you. x

8 Shelli { 09.03.11 at 8:18 am }

Thank you Mel. I had a similar experience as you, but then realized it was a ill-thoughtout campaign. Annoyed that my emotions had been taken advantage of.

9 Chickenpig { 09.03.11 at 8:55 am }

My cousin actually posted on her FB page a protest to the meme that stated it was unnecessarily hurtful to infertile people. I think I’m going to steal it and make it my FB status. I’ve lost a number of ppl in my family to cancer, but not to breast cancer. I’m really sick of all the breast cancer awareness bullshit. Where are the reminders to get your prostate exam? Your colonoscopy? To wear your sunscreen? Whatever…only breast cancer hides in the darkness. Yeah right.

10 Erin { 09.03.11 at 8:59 am }

Thank you for posting this. I went through same thing you did when I saw these posts, and made my own status update (and lengthy blog entry) expressing my outrage. I hate these stupid breast cancer awareness games. They don’t raise awareness for anything. I just don’t get it!!

11 Kymberli { 09.03.11 at 9:01 am }

Considering the fact that about five friends had similar statuses at the same time, I clued it almost immediately that it was another Facebook DO THIS NOW OR YOUR COMPUTER WILL EXPLODE type of thing. My heart dropped a little when I read the first one, though.

I mostly just felt annoyed. The bra color awareness thing didn’t do breast cancer awareness any favors, especially considering how many women with breast cancer face or have had mastectomies. This ploy was even worse, because it’s like a one-two punch to two populations of women with health conditions. I especially feel for women who are faced with infertility BECAUSE of breast cancer (or any type of cancer).

12 It Is What It Is { 09.03.11 at 9:13 am }

Thankfully our impending move tomorrow has kept me off of Facebook enough that I haven’t seen any of these statuses. How lame and idiotic in itself but even more lame and more idiotic that women we know would actually succumb to participate. Blech.

13 MidwestMama { 09.03.11 at 9:26 am }

Thank you for this post. I too saw these status updates earlier this week and my immediate thought was well there goes people I’ll have to hide because I don’t want to read their status updates about happy pregnancies. Then I figured out what was going on and I was appalled at how ignorant people can be. It’s not even funny or relates anything to breast cancer. It’s just stupid. Sometimes I believe that intelligence goes out the door when people get on Facebook.

14 Stimey { 09.03.11 at 9:27 am }

First, I am so sorry that you went through that roller coaster of emotions. But, second, this is such an eloquent, visceral post. So well said. Perfect. Thank you.

15 Sarah { 09.03.11 at 9:51 am }

I heard about this game on Twitter, and luckily haven’t seen it show up on FB yet…but give it time, I’m sure I will. As well as completely insensitive to those struggling with infertility, I think it’s doubly insulting to cancer survivors. What about those who are infertile due to their treatments? How must that make THEM feel?
I’m not a fan of all this “awareness” crap in general. Raising money for research is a noble goal, but most of this awareness stuff does SQUAT to raise money to prevent cancer or to help those who have it already.
My mother-in-law died after a long struggle with breast cancer 2 years ago, and I don’t see how she would have benefited from such silly FB games. How about asking the loved ones you know that are dealing with cancer if they could use some help getting groceries, cleaning their house, cooking a meal or walking their dog? Simple tasks that are incredibly difficult when they’re going through treatments…

16 Alana-isms { 09.03.11 at 9:55 am }

Thank you, Mel! I actually posted on this exact topic last night… I too was upset by the FB game and find it upsetting that people claim to raise “awareness” without any sensitivity to others. I’m going to add a link to this blog entry at the end of mine. 🙂

17 The Projected Progenitor { 09.03.11 at 10:02 am }

Thanks for this. You took the words out of my mouth. That about does it. 🙂

18 iamvulverable { 09.03.11 at 10:11 am }

My story about this meme is a happy one. I first heard about it because a bloggy friend – who is infertile as a result of childhood cancer treatment – posted a protest status calling out the idiocy of these memes, and making the connection with IF. I stole her status when the meme rolled into my inbox 10 minutes later, after sending a gentle message to the friend who sent it to me, explaining why I was posting what I did and trying to open discussion rather than making her feel judged and called out. Anyway, the response to the stolen status was great – many friends who haven’t dealt with IF said they agreed with me and were thankful I spoke up, and 3 other friends posted the status as well. So my friend’s brilliant status appeared in my feed 4 times, the meme only once, and the friend who posted the pregnancy status commented on her own post that she had realized how little these things actually do for cancer awareness. All in all, it felt like a triumph of reason and thoughtfulness. And a reminder that speaking up is always worth it, especially when we can do it gently and with kindness, because that allows for the most opening of people’s minds.

19 Lacie { 09.03.11 at 10:12 am }

So perfectly said. I am posting this to MY facebook.

20 Geochick { 09.03.11 at 10:23 am }

I fail to see how that at all raises awareness. I thought nothing could top the PETA vasectomy ad. I was wrong.

21 Angie { 09.03.11 at 10:35 am }

I’m with you. Luckily, I received a message on FB from someone advising all women to “play along” before I started seeing the messages. Needless to say, I did NOT participate, but it helped soften the blow of the other messages. I, like most of you, fail to see how this would help the cause for which it was intended. Thanks for saying what my heart already had.

22 JustHeather { 09.03.11 at 10:45 am }

Thank you Mel for this post. I’m sitting here in my hotel room bawling my eyes out (got this is stupid and I must be O’ing this weekend) because you have expressed exactly how I feel. I was fortunate enough to not see this game as an actual FB status first, but in a message to put it as a status. I couldn’t believe what it was actually asking people to do and I replied to the message as such. I’m torn between saying something on FB (not nearly as eloquent as you) and not saying anything at all. Maybe it is best to stay away for now.

23 Bea { 09.03.11 at 10:47 am }

Bravo. Bravo.

Also. *That* was what all the handbag comments were about? Boy. That strategy just sucked. I had no idea. At least that was a harmless sucking.


24 loribeth { 09.03.11 at 10:56 am }

The first such FB post that I saw was actually from a RL friend who has had four premature babies, one of whom didn’t survive. When I saw she was “six weeks & craving Skittles” my heart just dropped into my stomach & all I could think of was that I was going to have worry through yet another friend’s pregnancy (& with very good reason). Then I saw two more such posts shortly after that & clued in that it was some kind of status meme — although the point that it was to raise awareness of breast cancer (???) was completely lost on me. Thanks for this, Mel. You are SO right.

25 Aisha { 09.03.11 at 11:30 am }

Idiotic plain and simple & why I deactivated.

26 Jennifer { 09.03.11 at 11:30 am }

I’ve read comments from real people who have real breast cancer who also are not so thrilled with these cutesy things either.

27 Julie { 09.03.11 at 11:32 am }

ITA, although luckily I didn’t “fall for it” because the first friend I saw post about it is someone who I know is definitely, definitely, DEFINITELY not pregnant, in so far as anyone can be “definitely not pregnant,” so I reasoned that one through pretty quickly. But it’s such a stupid thing and I hate when I get “secret” emails about it, like by virtue of being a woman we’re all in on some cheeky little game that isn’t even remotely about a disease that kills thousands and thousands of moms and daughters and sisters and best friends (and men as well). We can make it CUTE because it’s a GIRL thing!

28 Angie { 09.03.11 at 11:42 am }

I saw this blog posted on a friend’s facebook today and as someone who is currently struggling with infertility all I can say is: THIS! THIS! A MILLION TIMES WHAT YOU SAID! Thank you for so clearly stating what I felt when I first saw this meme. I’ve shared this blog on my facebook as well and others are already posting it to theirs.

29 Alexis { 09.03.11 at 11:50 am }

I hate most of these breast cancer awareness things. I’m the daughter of a male breast cancer survivor. Want to feel isolated? Be a man with breast cancer. You wouldn’t believe how many people don’t even know a man can get it.

30 Lori Lavender Luz { 09.03.11 at 11:56 am }

WHAT?? I am now COMPLETELY AWARE of EVERYTHING breast cancer thanks to my 49-year old facebook friend telling me she was 14 weeks and craving Twix.

Are you all idiots? Isn’t the link between [breast cancer factors, diagnoses, prognoses, treatments and outcomes] and [a random number and a random candy] completely, wholly, totally 100% OBVIOUS??


31 Liv { 09.03.11 at 11:58 am }

Oh what a relief! I had been searching for the words for exactly what you just described about the whole “broken bitch” thing. That is exactly how my in-laws view me. I’m the broken bitch that’s mucking up their family fun. I think I may just say that to them next time, oh wait, that wouldn’t be very helpful now would it?
Great post!!

32 Patience { 09.03.11 at 12:05 pm }

Thank you for posting this. I’ve had these silly status updates littering my feed for the past week and had the same reaction to the first one.

I was really thinking about what to post in response, but couldn’t come up with the words. So instead I posted a link to this post on my FB page. Thank you.

33 Jill { 09.03.11 at 12:07 pm }

Thankfully the first one I saw was “I’m three weeks and blah blah blah…” so I knew it wasn’t pregnancy and thought she was actually on a diet! Once I found out the real story I about barfed. Seriously? At least it didn’t say “97% of people won’t repost this” but that is about all I can say for it.

34 Shannon { 09.03.11 at 12:20 pm }

Thank you so much for saying so articulately what I often feel. Good to know I am not alone.

35 Kendra { 09.03.11 at 12:32 pm }

So beautifully written. xoxo

36 Warrior Woman { 09.03.11 at 12:33 pm }

Thank you for posting this. I just posted a response on my Facebook. You can check out what I wrote on my blog if you like. Luckily I got the email and knew what it was about, but I was disgusted by how insensitive this whole campaign was.

37 Gina { 09.03.11 at 12:39 pm }

I’ve seen these too and was blow away that women were sharing this information so soon and in such an odd way. Then I got the foward to post it myself. This was not something I was planning on doing but now I’ll respond back with this article. Thank you.

38 Tigger { 09.03.11 at 12:40 pm }

I have been debating writing a bitchy status about this. The first person I saw do it was someone I was pretty sure was “fixed” (her words!) and most likely wasn’t pregnant. It then proceeded to pop up in my feed about a dozen more times, and I got at least 3 invites to play along. It’s just so freaking stupid. Most of them are, but seriously? “Let’s all join in the land of pretend and mock being pregnant for breast cancer”. Sure thing. At least the bra one made SOME sense…

39 Tori Leigh { 09.03.11 at 12:45 pm }

Seriously, people?! I get that you feel some broken-ness over the idea that others have made these posts. But they’re not “faking a pregnancy”. The claim that this is true would require that they go around claiming to the world/public that they have been impregnated and this simply is not the case.

These internet fads are often thought up by younger women who may or may not have gone through breast cancer and/or IF. I happen to know of TWO currently circulating. The other involves inches and minutes. (eg: 7 inches, 90 minutes)

The fads are meant to show a strong alliance of people against breast cancer and for a cure. They are intended to seem provocative (like the “I like it on the floor” fad last year), while not holding any sexual meaning in the long run.

I think it’s highly obnoxious that instead of looking upon the incredible amounts of posts made by women who are joining the fight beside us, you feel the need to complain about what’s IN the post.

Don’t like it? Hide the status. Facebook has an option for that.

Absolutely ridiculous, people.

40 Amanda { 09.03.11 at 12:55 pm }

Thank you for posting this. I’ve been going out of my mind these last few days with all these FB posts and finally understand. And I would have NEVER guessed it was BC related!

41 Amy { 09.03.11 at 1:41 pm }

I’ve received the message 5 different times about putting this as my status…and I refuse. I’m too aware of how many people can’t conceive easily (or at all) and I refuse to add to their hurt. I’m sorry you experienced this…

42 Chickenpig { 09.03.11 at 1:43 pm }

Tori, that’s complete and total BS. You really think that there isn’t a girl alive who doesn’t know about breast cancer at this point? It’s cliquey and its silly. You want to bring breast cancer to people’s minds? How about a simple “I got my mammogram today, when was your last? Get checked today!” You don’t get young people to think about cancer by thinking about their bra color. It’s bullshit. You tell a young woman to get a mammogram she’ll laugh it off. You tell a young person to ALWAYS wear their sunscreen, they shrug and say yeah, right. (my mom had skin cancer, and my grandfather). You tell people to get a colonoscopy and they say eeeeew gross. (my father died of colon cancer, at a young age I might add). There are a LOT of cancers that need awareness, playing silly games with a serious disease helps no one. And meanwhile, these status updates DO hurt people. No help and marginal awareness/ pain to infertile people. It sounds like a lose/lose to me. You want to raise awareness? TELL PEOPLE TO GET A MAMMOGRAM AND TO DO SELF EXAMS. Otherwise, shut up about it!

43 Nikki { 09.03.11 at 1:52 pm }

Lurker here. You are the best. Thanks. 🙂

44 Tigger { 09.03.11 at 1:53 pm }

Chickenpig, thank you. I, too, was upset at Tori’s comment but wasn’t sure how to respond.

45 G K { 09.03.11 at 1:58 pm }

you posted exactly what my friend and I were talking about yesterday! Thank you for writing about something that I was too mad to write about.

46 April { 09.03.11 at 2:10 pm }

I had to blog about this very topic yesterday. What appalled me most of all was that I got the chain letter about it from an infertile friend who knows I’m infertile. And after I posted a scathing status update (courtesy of Elphaba at eggsandsperm.com), I had to joke to DH that that one status got more attention than everything I posted throughout NIAW. Thank you for this post.

47 Roccie { 09.03.11 at 2:12 pm }

I knew I could count on your response.

48 Kimberly { 09.03.11 at 2:25 pm }

And here I thought I was the only one who had to deal with this and these feelings towards it. It honestly wasn’t until one of my mother’s close friends in her fifties announce her weeks and her craving did I realize that this must be some silly meme. Here I am, feeling stupid about being all emotional about a meme on facebook.

49 Lizz { 09.03.11 at 2:26 pm }

This could be considered a humbling experience though. Just when you thought you didn’t have any stupid friends, there you go. Wondering which ones of your friends are dumb? Just add Facebook.

50 Jen { 09.03.11 at 2:47 pm }

Thank you for this. I about had a heart attack when I saw 3 relatives post this as status updates. I went all sorts of crazy and then saw an older relative, who is much *much* to old to be pregnant and I knew something was up.

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