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Pregnancy and Friendship - Part I

When your pregnancy threatens a friendship, what should you do?

Anyone who has ever longed to be pregnant and ultimately found herself in that joyful condition knows just how exhilarating that transition can be! You buy books about pregnancy, download apps about your baby’s development during those nine months, obsess about everything baby-related from layette to pediatrician to debating breast-or-bottle to mentally planning all of the right activities, schools, colleges, and careers for your child. This is totally normal behavior – however, it is also normal that someone who desperately wants what you have is likely to be a tad bit envious or even dumbstruck with resentment.

Unfortunately, not every female (or male) who would like to conceive is easily able to do so and some of are unable to so at all and wanting it keenly doesn’t usually change the situation. Seeing cooing babies and doting mothers can be emotionally painful – and researchers have proven that hurt feelings activate the same portion of the brain that physical pain stimulates, so seeing you fawning over and caring for your baby may actually cause your friend discomfort similar to physical pain.

Make Time Now before Baby Takes it All

So, what steps should you take for the best friendship outcome? Make time for your friend and you to do the things that you did together before you got pregnant, so long as you do not do anything harmful to your unborn child. Hang out with her and consciously focus on what is going on in her life. Your baby is going to be the center of attention for the rest of your life, one way or another, so enjoy what you have of this “pre-baby time” with your friend. Don’t let the bump get in the way of friend-to-friend closeness. Friends who are also pregnant or new mothers themselves will not be bored or resentful of your need to focus a majority of conversations on the pregnancy or care and feeding of the new life. However, friends who want what you have are unlikely to be such willing participants in these conversations. It can be good for you, yourself, to get outside the “baby bump bubble” and keep your hands in the world as you knew it a month or two or even nine months ago.

Just Making a Wish?

If your friend wants to be pregnant, but it is more about a wishful longing rather than a desperate desire, she may actually enjoy being involved in your preparations for the new person in your life. She may want to listen to you talk about potential names for the baby, shop with you for baby items, or even want to know about what being pregnant is like, week-by-week. When a friend reveals, “I wish I was pregnant, too,” that is a world of difference from “We have been trying unsuccessfully to get pregnant for over a year.” Pregnancy starts spinning a whole new group of hormones through your body; the purpose of some of these is to help ensure that you are ready to connect and tune-in with that new baby. Take advantage of the powerful oxytocin charge – that’s the “love and empathy” hormone - -and have some empathy and extra love for those friends who are sitting on the sidelines watching your coveted motherhood adventure begin.

Can the friendship survive the arrival of this new person?

This totally depends on how desperately baby-hungry your friend actually is. When her resentment keeps her from returning calls, wanting to spend time with you, and even making unkind or sarcastic comments when you are together, it may be time to let the friendship enjoy a "pregnant pause." After things settle down a bit and your friend conceives or comes to terms with her feelings about the current circumstances of your changing life, you may be able to re-establish and strengthen your relationship.

If she is merely a bit envious of you and wants to hear about the developments every step of the way, share your joy with her.

(You are invited to participate in a research study exploring adult friendship experiences. We are hoping to learn about the ways in which adults manage friendship conflict and the behaviors they value most in enduring relationships. If you would like to share your experiences, please click on the following link: Friendship Experiences Survey)

More from Suzanne Degges-White Ph.D.
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