Why Is Everyone Getting Pregnant But Me?
The Truth About Fertility in the Facebook Age
Getting pregnant is easy — at least that’s what social media would have you believe. When you are trying to start a family it can often seem like your Facebook feed is nothing more than a showcase for growing bellies and birth announcements; it’s natural to think that everyone you know is having babies — except for you.
The reality is it takes at least six months for the average couple (without fertility issues) to conceive. That means that even under the most ideal circumstances there’s a waiting period during which the couple experiences a cycle of emotions: excitement at the possibility of becoming a parent, hope that this could be the month, and finally disappointment when the result comes back negative. Each month the cycle repeats, and even if the couple finally does get pregnant, that doesn’t guarantee that they’re in the clear: 13 to 26 percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage, a result which makes the suffering at the end of that emotional cycle that much worse.
This reality is rarely revealed on social media, where the cycle of hope and disappointment that accompanies continued attempts to get pregnant is so often exacerbated by the rosy picture of life presented there. Most people don’t post about the many challenges faced by couples trying to get pregnant; instead Facebook frequently serves as a carefully edited personal highlight reel. And when all you see of another person’s life is a constant stream of good news, it’s nearly impossibly not to compare your own situation to what appears to be someone else’s fairy tale. It’s even more difficult when you see posts about something that hits close to home — something that you’ve wanted for a long time. The result is twofold: You keep your struggle to yourself, isolating yourself in your own despair of failed attempts and dashed hopes. And you might even start to feel jealous of other people’s good fortune.
It wasn’t until I tried to have a baby that I noticed all the people around me who had kids, or who were about to have them. It seemed like wedding announcements were the natural precursor to pregnancy announcements. One couple who got married a few weeks before us had their first baby right around the time we had planned on having ours. Another couple who got married a year after us announced their pregnancy just months after the wedding. I couldn’t believe how quickly it came for them. The more time that passed with no news of our own to share, the more jealous I became when pregnancy announcements and baby pictures appeared on Facebook. I couldn’t understand how so many women were getting pregnant so easily. Seeing other people’s happy posts was a constant reminder of my own struggle. Although the goal of social platforms is to connect with people, going on Facebook made me feel more isolated and alone.
Seeing other people’s happy posts was a constant reminder of my own struggle. Although the goal of social platforms is to connect with people, going on Facebook made me feel more isolated and alone.
Deep down I knew that behind every status update was a story, and likely a struggle. I thought that if I found out what that story was, I might be able to create a more personal connection — one that would assuage my jealousy and allow me to celebrate their wins. I chose five women from my social network who I didn’t know very well but who were either trying to get pregnant or were posting pictures of their pregnant bellies and babies. I arranged interviews with them so that I could learn about their backstories, about the things that led up to the one happy post I saw in my Facebook feed.
Pregnancy was a big part of each conversation. But to really get to know these women, I had to learn where they came from, the experiences that shaped who they are, their strengths, their weaknesses, and all the nuances that social media conceals. These are the intimate details that help us build strong relationships offline. Because most people carefully select the individuals with whom they share those vulnerabilities, rather than disseminate them widely on social media, it serves to erect barriers rather than build bridges. The more conversations I had, the more I realized that the people posting happy news were not all that different from me, and the more connected to them I became.
The more conversations I had, the more I realized that the people posting happy news were not all that different from me, and the more connected to them I became.
What follows is a summary of the conversations I had with five women from my social-media circle. These conversations forever changed my view of these women. But perhaps more importantly, they helped me untangle my own struggles and disappointments. I found that the more I got to know about these five women, the easier it was to celebrate their wins. When someone close to us posts a happy snapshot on Facebook, we appreciate it more because we know the backstory. We know the months of heartbreak she endured before the one happy post she put on Facebook. We were there for her when things didn’t go her way. We empathize with her experience and begin to realize that her posts on social media are punctuation marks within a broader narrative that exists offline, rather than inherent evidence of that journey itself. We experience firsthand her emotional journey — and that journey is ours, too.
At a petite 5’1”, dark features, and small frame, Sabrina might not appear particularly intimidating. But Sabrina’s small stature stands in stark contrast to her strong personality. If you ask for her opinion on something, she’ll speak her mind. I had worked with her for two years but aside from her sarcastic sense of humor, I never got to know her very well.
My husband and I had been trying to get pregnant for several months when Sabrina announced her pregnancy at work. The news set off a stream of gossip in the office about who might be next. Our team even created a Google Doc where you could vote on whom you thought the next person would be to have a baby. Nobody knew I was trying to get pregnant but having been married for a couple of years, I was a prime candidate so several votes were cast in my direction. It was right at the peak of all that gossip that I had a miscarriage.
I didn’t want to talk about my pregnancy with anybody. I didn’t want to post baby bump photos that you see on Facebook because I was so freaked out. I was so scared, all the time I was so scared.
After Sabrina returned to work, I asked what it was like being a mom. Her response: “It’s great. You should try it sometime.” It was not the answer I expected. She was so upbeat about the whole thing that I figured pregnancy and motherhood had come easily for her. When I sat down with Sabrina, I didn’t know her story, and she didn’t know mine. My conversation with her was the first glimpse I had that the social-media, for-public-consumption story was not the complete one.
I was the most social-media envious of Delshad. She was active on Facebook during her pregnancy, posting regular updates about the growth of the baby and the impending birth of her daughter. Since I didn’t know her very well, my only point for comparison was her progress on the pregnancy front and my lack thereof. It was like watching someone head off on an around-the-world trip while I ran down the jet way, ticket in hand, just in time to watch the plane doors close.
Every month you’re like all right, we’re doing it plenty of times. This has got to work … and month after month other people are getting pregnant.
Our conversation is perhaps the best evidence that the simple act of getting to know someone is enough to create a bond that breaks the social-media barrier. Delshad is very matter-of-fact. She talked freely about being adopted, supporting her mother through cancer, and having a miscarriage. She was very empathetic about my story and talked about how she, too, had experienced the Molotov cocktail of emotions that came with trying repeatedly, thinking you’ve finally become pregnant, and discovering that you’d miscarried. Even through her most recent pregnancy, which included several ordered bed rests and an emergency cerclage, she wasn’t prone to worry. Of all the women, she had the most faith that things would work out, for both her and me.
The week that I finished editing the video of my interview with Delshad, I saw a Facebook post announcing the birth of her daughter. For the first time, I felt pure happiness while looking at one of her posts. The feeling was welcoming for a multitude of reasons: It felt good to celebrate someone else’s good news without letting my own struggle get in the way. But it also proved what I suspected all along — that behind the curated Facebook posts and smiling family photos are people with similar life experiences who can empathize at a much deeper level than the social-media barrier allows.
Of the five women I interviewed, Aleyna is the only one who didn’t have any trouble conceiving, and so far she hasn’t experienced any complications with her pregnancy. Initially, I was worried that I would have a harder time connecting with her because my experience had been so different — we didn’t share a common struggle that could easily unite us.
It was just the opposite. We bonded over a common passion: travel. Sitting with Aleyna was like having a cold beer with an old friend. Her easy-going attitude and free spirit made me feel right at home in her living room. We sat there, on a hot afternoon, telling stories and laughing. We talked about growing up in the Midwest, going to Catholic school, attending college in the Rockies, traveling the world in our 20s, finding partners with the same sense of adventure, and marrying men who are several years younger than us. Our commonalities transcended the differences between our pregnancy experiences. The conversation was so natural and engaging that I felt like I’d known Aleyna my whole life.
We just announced on Facebook for the first time that we were pregnant and there was this big fear that we didn’t tell somebody we should have told personally before putting that announcement out there.
When I left Aleyna’s, I felt the kind of inspiration I only get from my closest girlfriends, the ones who inspire me to live life with passion no matter where I am in my personal journey. It reminded me that it’s futile to compare my path to that of anyone else — even when Facebook tempts me to do otherwise.
Part of getting to know these women was asking them about their past and what experiences have contributed to who they are today. Through these stories they revealed their strengths, weaknesses, and vulnerabilities — all the characteristics that make someone more human, and precisely the things that social media often obscures.
Christine’s life story was one of the more shocking. She was born in the U.S. but was raised in Lebanon during the civil war. Although she has very fond memories from childhood, most of it was spent under the constant threat of attack. In one year alone, the building she lived in was the target of 24 bombs. Perhaps as a result of these experiences, Christine is compassionate and empathetic. She is the kind of person who instantly puts you at ease and builds connections with people to their core. As she said, “Life feels so good when you come out of something that’s so scary; you just want to do so much.”
I saw the ultrasound and it looked very different than with Ethan at that age. The arms were wrapped and there was no movement.
When it came to her pregnancy, Christine surprised me again: she suffered a miscarriage well into her second pregnancy. She had taken the same roller coaster ride that I had — but, of course, none of that was apparent from her Facebook feed. What I saw on social media was a woman who had everything she ever wanted. In reality she felt withdrawn and alone as she struggled with the loss of her second child.
Elizabeth’s story reminded me that every couple has their own set of challenges when it comes to getting pregnant. For Elizabeth and her wife, Amy, it involved a steep learning curve in which resources were scarce. Even though they wanted to get married before having kids, they had to start planning for their pregnancy before the wedding took place. As a same-sex couple, they had to meet with a fertility specialist to find out what their options were for getting pregnant, they had to choose between using an anonymous or a known donor, and then they had to pick the donor. Elizabeth has always wanted to have kids and since she’s a little older than Amy they decided she would be the one to carry first, so they started tracking Elizabeth’s cycle to determine the best time of month for implantation. Even after the initial research, they have continued to be diligent in their efforts to conceive. Elizabeth, an engineer, is calculated and risk averse. Already in impeccable physical shape, she has been even more strict about her diet and exercise routine over the last two years in the hopes that one of the IUIs will take. She has even taken up meditation. She has put so much love and energy into the process of getting pregnant that I found I wanted it more for her than for myself.
“It’s gotten me to a point where I’ve gotten really pissed at God. What did I do that I don’t deserve to get pregnant?”
With her analytical mind as her guide, Elizabeth devoured all the information she could find. She quickly discovered that there were few places where lesbian mommies could go for information or support that’s specific to their experience. This dearth of information inspired her to start a podcast called LezBeMommies, covering topics related to lesbian pregnancy, parenting, and health. As a result, she’s become a resource and a source of comfort for others.
Even beyond the struggles of becoming parents as a lesbian couple, Elizabeth and Amy faced a larger hurdle: Elizabeth is the one woman out of the five I interviewed who is still struggling to get pregnant. She expressed very clearly and simply the same emotions that I had been grappling with for the past year. My conversation with her confirmed that no matter what your struggle may be, there are people beyond the social-media walls and feeds who know exactly how you feel.
You’re Not Alone
Every time we feel isolated and alone, there are ten more people smiling back at us from our Facebook feeds whose lives resemble ours. These people seem to have achieved handily what we strive for daily. But often they have faced similar struggles, experienced the same emotions, and felt the same isolation. Before I started this project, I felt like I was the only woman ever to struggle with a drawn-out period of trying to get pregnant, much less miscarrying. As it turns out, of the five women I interviewed, four of them had miscarriages. Three of them experienced an extended period of trying to conceive during which they wondered why it wasn’t happening for them when it seemed so easy for their friends. And all of them experienced some or all of the cycle of emotions that I struggled with during my own attempts to get pregnant.
That’s the social-media deception: the picture online makes life seem simple, happy, and straightforward. People post what they consider to be the good part of the story — the punch line. But just like a good joke needs an introduction, a great story needs context. What makes good news so good is what it took — good and bad — to get there.