I have infertility. Getting pregnant with my two children was difficult. Staying pregnant was even harder. I have three children in heaven, and I will always be a little sad that I didn’t have the honor of watching them grow up. I understand how hard infertility is. I’ve lived it.
What I don’t understand is a post going around on Facebook this week: “With April 1 coming up, PLEASE do not pull the ‘pretending to be pregnant’ prank on Facebook. That is a hard one for anyone dealing with infertility or who has gone through the loss of a baby. Be kind. (And especially with April being #infertilityawarenessmonth.)”
Over the last year or two, I’ve seen similar posts: “Don’t post about your spectacular date on Valentine’s Day. Single people will be sad.” “Tone down the Mother’s Day celebration. Women who aren’t mothers will be sad.” Is this really the approach we want to take?
The Sociology of Facebook
Whatever else you might think about what Facebook is doing to society, it actually is quite amazing. Look at how many people come together and develop an online cultural dynamic that most of us understand and abide by although we’ve never actually formulated the rules. We just know. A sociologist would call these cultural “mores.”
For instance, in 2015, when “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” opened, everyone I know went to see it, yet no one publicly posted about what happened to Han Solo. We all knew that spoilers aren’t cool, and nobody had to say it.
But at other times, we get edicts passed around like the ones above. On the surface, they seem so considerate, but they really aren’t. In fact, they are quite mean on several different levels.
They Denigrate the Community
Facebook is a type of community. In any community there are relatives and people who have very close relationships, and then there are people who don’t even know each other. My Facebook friends range from my husband all the way to people I have never met in real life.
People use Facebook to share information, opinions, and happenings. They also share jokes and memes, because laughing is a wonderfully human thing to do. All of these things maintain connections we might have lost otherwise, or had to work a lot harder to maintain.
Since those connections can be of different natures, some of the posts aren’t necessarily targeted at everyone the writer knows. Others just “overhear” what is being shared—information, opinions, happenings, jokes, memes, etc.
Even the jokes, selfies, and pictures of our dinners strengthen connections with some of our Facebook friends. Then there’s the important stuff: those we love. That’s what we are being told to censor.
It’s Facebook Newspeak. Eventually, it won’t just be second-class holidays, it will be every day, and these relationships won’t even be worth preserving because we won’t be allowed to say anything that reflects ourselves or see any statements that are truly characteristic of anyone else.
They Deny the Realities of Life
I’m clever enough to look at a calendar and figure out that a pregnancy announcement on April 1 is probably a joke. A person who wants to be taken seriously would wait until April 2. Whatever the motivation, I can also assume that the intent isn’t malicious.
If this woman really were pregnant, I know from my own struggles how precious a blessing she has received. I can be happy for her, and will pray that her pregnancy goes well. Babies are wonderful things. That’s why it hurts when we don’t have them. But I don’t want my friend’s baby. I want mine.
Life goes on around us. If we are single, we can’t avoid people in our lives who are getting married. If we are infertile, we see pregnant women and little children all the time. April Fool’s Day may be silly and Mother’s Day may be a hokey Hallmark holiday, but love, marriage, and motherhood should be celebrated. They are incredible blessings that shape our society.
Don’t Speak for Me
As my wise friend Alissa Ulmer said in a comment:
All these prescriptions for how to handle infertile women have been much more painful to me than just people acting normally. I am made more aware of my brokenness when I’m spoken to in hushed tones, or pulled aside before everyone is told so as to ‘give me time to prepare myself’, yet that is the very advice prescribed by some as how to handle us. I am excited over every baby announcement because babies are good! I may feel some grief, but grief is part of this fallen world. It’s much the same as the motherless or fatherless feel upon seeing a happy family, or the widow at a wedding. We are still part of this world, but sin has fractured it. Every gaze upon something good is tinged with the brokenness and wanting of what was or may not be. That’s not unique to infertility, that’s unique to humanity.
It is the person who is suffering who should decide how she interacts with the world. Even in our pain, it is disrespectful for someone to tell other people how they should talk to you. I want my friends to joke with me. I don’t want them to think I’m fragile and unapproachable.
After a loss, we might need time to heal, but at some point each of us needs to decide how to interact with the world. We can either choose to share in other people’s joys or we can choose to let those joys feed our pain.
Most of us choose the former. Some of us really struggle with our grief. If you are finding it hard to interact with the world, seek out the help of a pastor or counselor. Grief is hard, and we aren’t meant to go through it alone.
Stop with the Pronouncements
Celebrations make us human, even silly holidays like April Fool’s Day. Leave people alone.
If you tell me on April 1 that you are pregnant, I’m going to laugh with you (nudge, nudge, wink, wink). If you tell me on April 2, I am going to rejoice with you, because babies are a good thing and we should rejoice.
I’m not going to stop celebrating my marriage on Valentine’s Day because some people are single. Mother’s Day is still on, because mothers are good. I’m going to continue sharing my life on Facebook, such as it may be. And I’m inviting you to join with me in refusing to be offended by jokes that aren’t intended to be hurtful, even if they are backed by a hashtag movement.