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From a letter to a pregnant friend

A month or two back, two girlfriends of mine announced their pregnancies in a single email (knowing a couple of us from the old gang aren’t on Facebook anymore). Recently, a few of the gang who are still near our hometown got together for dinner, digging up some tensions which our group hadn’t really acknowledged beyond a few one-on-one conversations and back-channel emails. One of the women who’s expecting mentioned it in passing, sounding puzzled and maybe a little guilty that two other friends weren’t sharing in the joy. I wrote something like this back to her (names and some details changed). I think it finally captures some of the way I’ve been feeling about pregnancy announcements since my cohort’s twenty-one womb salute to heteronormativity started when we all turned thirty. And maybe it’ll help some other old groups of friends cope with their own divisions. So I’m posting it here.

Well, you know, a few of us are just in very different places in our lives right now. We feel how outside the norm we are. It isn’t easy — most of all for Octavia, who’s really feeling the effects of how unorthodox her career path has been, while at the same time it keeps her away from people she loves. Herbert and I are kind of settled in our decisions to live different lives — his in his tight community of bears and leather daddies — so we’re not feeling as anxious. But pregnancy still feels pretty alien. (I’m pretty firm by now that I’m going to adopt, or even foster. This has been driven home by how badly Cassandra has been reacting to the hormone fluctuations she had when weaning… that’s where all her panic about ebola has come from, if you’ve gotten an earful of that on Facebook.)

Pregnancy, I think, is a particularly hard thing for others to share if they’re not in it. I mean, it’s not even a social event; it’s very physical and personal. What am I supposed to do — crawl up in there?! Have a laying on of hands with your protrusion?! Even having kids is easier to share with others, because we can actually hang out with them! To be honest… having both you and Mary Kate announce at once gave me the kind of vertigo you get when you compare your life to others and things don’t match up, you know? Like looking through one corrective lens and a plain piece of glass? My immediate response was to send Octavia and Herb an announcement with a picture of my cherry tomato plant, which had just popped its first fruit. Which led to a pretty great conversation where Octavia accused me of eating my children. I’ve always been squicked by baby bump pictures, and don’t even get me started on gender reveal cakes when we all used to be such good feminists. (If the interior frosting in the blue cake is pink like that, Mary Kate, doesn’t that mean your fetus is intersex?! oh I’m so sorry you had to find out from a cake…)

So much of what our culture does around pregnancy is about boasting, and then making invidious comparisons to the boasters. And it’s hard for those who aren’t there, or for whom it’s not going swimmingly. Like Beth… I can’t imagine the searing heartbreak to have had a miscarriage at the wedding of a friend, who is now pregnant. Not being pregnant wasn’t a choice, for her….

I found this great post a while ago about staying friends with people across the child-having divide. It’s really, really smart. I think we all just have to be mindful of what we’re talking about, and how much stamina whoever we’re talking to has for details of life they’re just really far from. I think this has to include some reparative work with Herb… He’s already decided his life is SO DIFFERENT from ours that he doesn’t hardly talk to me at all anymore, and I have PLENTY of friends who are into fisting as an all-consuming social pursuit… I don’t know what to do to remind him what we all have in common. Maybe we should all do something to reaffirm those commonalities. Trivia nights always seem to help. I’m glad we’re going on a mini-retreat later this year, and planning it so new parents and non-parents can all participate.

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