12/03/2014 05:52 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2015

The Gift of Omission


Recently, I made a video for other women who are navigating infertility and pregnancy loss. I talked about what to do when you get invited to baby showers and feel ambivalent about going. On the one hand, there's an inclination to protect yourself from all the uncomfortable feelings that might come up... on the other hand, there's a strong urge to participate, see friends, celebrate with the mother-to-be and be easy-going about your current situation, even if you're feeling particularly raw, resentful, angry, or sad. I suggest a few solutions in the video, including letting your pregnant friend know where you are emotionally, if you feel that she might understand. If having a conversation doesn't feel possible for you, I also suggest honoring your own feelings (which may mean that you decline the invitation), whatever they are, and even if they might potentially offend someone else.

After making this video, I found myself in an interesting situation. I had been invited to a "girl's night" for a close friend who was pregnant and close to her due date. The organizers of the girl's night (also my friends), had shared that our pregnant friend wanted to have a fun night with friends before things get crazy, i.e. going into labor. She already has a 2-year-old, so she has a decent sense of what's to come in the very near future.

Before the event, I started to get the feeling that this wasn't simply a girl's night -- an evite went out, and the text included the very sweetly intentioned line "feel free to bring a small something for the party gal in utero." Hmmm, I thought. This girls night sounds like it's turning into a baby shower.

In the weeks that followed, I forgot about the baby shower vibe and, the day of the party, made some cookies and drove to the host's house. There was a delicious spread, lovely decorations and a long dining room table overflowing with baby gifts. I felt a pang of guilt when I saw the table. I had brought cookies and a contribution to my pregnant friend's group gift (she had a recent birthday), but I hadn't brought a baby gift.

I shrugged off the gift table... until the point in the evening came where everyone sat in a circle, two women grabbed clipboards to record the gifts and my friend commenced to opening presents, and everyone (including me!) began to ooh and aah at each gift being opened. I need to preface the following by saying that I absolutely adore my pregnant friend and don't blame her for what I felt. I also adore the friends who organized the party/shower and know that they meant well. They planned the event with love and made it fun and beautiful, and I don't blame them either. However, several minutes into the gift opening circle, I felt sick to my stomach. I felt a sense of dread. I felt anxious and sad and angry. I can't and won't pretend to speak for every woman who has had failed pregnancies or is having a difficult time conceiving, but it felt really uncomfortable to sit there and watch while each of my three miscarriages flashed in front of me. I got up to go to the bathroom and texted my husband, Mike. I then found my way back to the circle, and of course, I survived the discomfort.

Later in the evening, a sweet woman who has three children told me she'd been reading my blog and admired what I wrote and how I expressed myself. She told me about her friends who were also dealing with infertility and how she wasn't always sure what to say or do that could be comforting. I gave her some suggestions with the caveat, of course, that every woman is triggered and comforted by different things.

When I got home, I told Mike that when I'm lucky enough to have someone throw me a baby shower in the future, I will insist that we don't open presents at the party. I'm not going to insist on no gifts, (I'm excited about getting baby gifts and I'm not going to pretend to be the "no gifts" person) but I'll open them after people leave. Why? Because first, even if infertility and pregnancy loss is the furthest thing from your mind, and it never happened to you, or you don't think it affects any guest at the shower -- it's an outdated custom that takes up a lot of time at a social gathering. And second, in the worst case scenario, it could make someone in the room feel really uncomfortable.

This is one of the things under the umbrella of infertility and pregnancy loss that no one talks about, and that's exactly why I'm writing about it. If anyone out there is planning a baby shower for a friend or relative, I would love for you to understand what this custom may unintentionally stir up for someone who attends your shower. Again, I can't speak for all women who are facing infertility or pregnancy loss... but I'm willing to bet that if the gift circle made me uncomfortable, there is probably someone else out there who has experienced a similar feeling. There might be other things about baby showers that are difficult for women who are experiencing infertility, or had one or more miscarriages, but I have a hunch the gift opening is a common trigger.

Undoubtedly, someone reading this might say "I don't give an F about what might make some guest feel bad! It's not about that guest! It's about the woman having the baby!" If that's you, I hear you. And if you absolutely love the "opening presents in a circle in front of all the guests" custom, or need to see your friend or relative opening your gift in front of an audience, writing this blog post isn't going to change your mind or take that away from you. But if someone you care about has ever experienced infertility or lost a pregnancy, and you didn't know what to do or say or how to minimize their pain, I'm suggesting a really easy way to do just that.

I am all for celebrating the phenomenal beauty of a healthy pregnancy. After losing three pregnancies, I'm likely more appreciative than the average person of what a remarkable miracle a full-term pregnancy and healthy baby is. By no means do I want baby showers or celebrations of pregnant mothers-to-be to end... but in a world where over 50 percent of fertilized eggs don't go on to become full term pregnancies, and the World Health Organization estimates that one in four couples in developing countries is affected by infertility, it's time to finally recognize that there are easy ways to make the celebration more inclusive of and sensitive to, everyone's experience.