By Lisa Manterfield
As I continue on my own journey of healing, I find it hard sometimes to write about the issues that used to cause me such discomfort. It’s amazing how the human brain can dull past pain. So I appreciate when readers contact me with ideas for topics they’d like to see discussed.
Recently, one reader sent me this question about envy within families:
“I see a lot of people post about the joy of having nieces and nephews. Well, my brother’s wife is pregnant and I’m feeling completely pushed of out the picture. It may be because I reacted with shock and sadness over their first pregnancy. But I did write a lengthy, heartfelt apology and when that resulted in a miscarriage, my husband and I were the first to make it to the hospital and we stayed 11 hours with them. Now, my sister-in-law is being really removed from me.
I really want to have the connection with my niece or nephew, but I’m afraid I won’t. And honestly, I’m envious.
I wonder if others have similar experiences?”
A new baby in the family is a really difficult situation to navigate. There’s such a mixed bag of emotions involved. You’re trying to deal with your own grief, while also feeling alone because others don’t understand what you’re going through. Then a cause for celebration gets thrown in on top of that and, as much as you know you’re supposed to be happy for the new parents, all you can feel is resentment and envy that it’s not you. So, guilt and shame for being a bad sport get piled on top of that.
I also know that other people don’t know how to handle us when they have good news. I recall a friend being extremely uncomfortable about telling me she was pregnant. She dealt with it by sitting down, explaining that she knew this was difficult for me, and asking me how much or how little I wanted to know or be involved. I really appreciated her being open and it allowed me to be honest with her about how I felt. I’ve also had the experience of a friend saying, “Guess what?!” and then launching into every detail of how she found out and how it feels to be pregnant, while I sat and squirmed. Often people don’t know what to say or how best to handle us “volatile” folks, so they pull away and say nothing.
How about you? Have you experienced envy over new babies in the family? How have you dealt with it? Have you had a good experience with a friend or family member handling their news with aplomb?
When my sister in law told us she was pregnant, I was shocked, because I didn’t even know she wanted kids. As soon as my nephew was born, the envy stopped, as I was overflowing with love for him. Still, when I look at him there are times when I ask myself why it is not happening for me (I’m childless by circumstance, I just didn’t meet the right guy, I’m 45 now and have more or less come to terms with my childlessness). But I am a devoted aunt and now after almost 2 years I don’t feel as left out as I did during her pregnancy. I hope that it stays that way.
Hi Lisa, it’s not clear to me if the miscarriage was the letter writer’s? Or the family member’s?
Yes, I’ve had gobs of envy over the years at fertile myrtle family members who seemingly get pregnant at the drop of a pin. The envy normally doesn’t last long. Eventually I’m happy for them.
The ones that drop the news aplomb are rather shallow and predictable anyway. All of a sudden, they decline alcohol. As somewhat self-absorbed folks, it wouldn’t enter their mind to be sensitive about much, so I don’t expect sensitivity from them.
I generally found pregnancies much harder than when the children were here. Pregnancies are full of expectation and promise, when people dote on the mother, and when it is particularly isolating. And of course, there’s all that belly-rubbing. I hate it!
When the child is here, it’s all about the child. There is a reality to the situation too – the long hours, sleepless nights, worry about the child – that reminds us that this is not the child we had wanted. This is especially so when you look at the child – they’re not ours, not the one we wanted. When the child is here, we can build a relationship with them too. It is not the same as a mother-child relationship, but it can be special nonetheless, and gives things to the child that the parents often can’t or don’t give, simply because they’re the parents.
I envy a friend who is also childless. Her immediate family all live in the city, and so she’s had very close relationships with her niece, and now her niece’s child. She gets to do things with them on a weekly (or more often) basis that I only get to do once or twice a year, if I’m lucky.
I think too that the relationships come when we least expect it, and just as we can’t run away from a relationship with a child, we can’t force them either relationships.
Brandi Lytle says
I agree with the ladies who have posted above that the envy usually subsides once the baby arrives. When my SIL announced her pregnancies, there were feelings of envy, jealousy, and being bitter that she was able to get pregnant so easily. But once my nieces arrived, the focus completely shifted to them & I love them with all my heart.
I think the LWB reader needs to try and be honest with her family. It is difficult to talk about, but we have to try to allow others to understand our feelings. They don’t always. (My cousin was not understanding at all about the fact that I cried when she announced her pregnancy at a family gathering. And I, too, apologized via a long letter afterwards.) But we at least need to give them the opportunity even though we can’t control their reactions anymore than they can control ours.
I do hope that once the baby arrives, she is allowed to fully embrace her role as an aunt. It is truly a joy and has filled a void in my childless life.
My younger sister (37) is currently expecting. Due November 27th. As I come to terms that I will never be a mother (age 40 – never met a suitable partner); I can’t help but be envious and cry.
I have a difficult time looking at her belly, ultrasounds …. and declined to be at her baby shower.
I’m terrified that when the baby does arrive – I hope that it is true that when baby arrives it will get easier for me. At the moment I’m not even sure I can deal with holding the baby