My favorite comic book artist has a name for people whose wardrobe and habits scream “look at me!” Urban Attention Seekers. You know: the guy who rides a unicycle in a Speedo with a cobra around his neck.
I’m, like, the antithesis of that. Even among friends, I don’t like to be the object of attention or scrutiny. Especially when I have something to share that’s traditionally met with a great fuss, like engagement or pregnancy. If my friends like to make a fuss over those things, bless ’em. But I always hope the moment will pass quickly.
So I waited as long as possible to announce my pregnancy. My husband was ready to tell people at three months. So we told our parents, our bosses, and then everyone else. I told my oldest friends first. And the first reactions were:
“How did that happen?”
“I thought you didn’t want kids!”
My husband encouraged me to recognize my responsibility for these reactions. When we’re out with friends, he pointed out, I’m the first to bristle at a stranger’s kid’s tantrum. I don’t volunteer to hold babies. I’ve run out of excuses for missing kids’ birthday parties. And the most significant reason for my friends’ shock is that I’ve kept discussions with my husband about children private.
He has always wanted one. I had been uncertain for years. Obviously, we came to a decision, acted, and I was now ready to acknowledge it—-I wanted to announce it with my mouth rather than with my ever-enlarging abdomen.
Well, I thought the fact that we’d come to a decision would be obvious, now that I was saying it out loud. But friends whose first reaction was “I thought you didn’t want kids” made it clear that they couldn’t believe I had done this on purpose.
When I was met with one friend’s shock, I just said “uh-huh,” and I found that he could answer his own questions if he kept talking long enough; he finally said “I guess things change,” and then moved on to his new assumption that I was now a celibate pregnant woman, which was surely taking a toll on my home life, right? Umm. . . riiiiiiight.
Another friend told me I had once said I didn’t want kids because I had wanted to do other things. I’m fascinated that she retrieved this nugget within seconds of learning my news. I may have given that rationale before I’d had any professional accomplishments-—which I expect I’ll have more of. But I’ve known her for 25 years, and in that time I’ve said lots things—-much of which I’m sure I wouldn’t like to be reminded of. (I talk a lot of shit.)
An acquaintance joked that kids are so hard, I should “reconsider” (a.k.a. abort). A relative made it clear that he’d sooner believe I was divorced than pregnant. Friends who don’t expect or want kids are deafeningly silent. Folks who stopped calling after I got married have now stopped returning calls.
Good thing I didn’t want a fuss. Mofos was fussin’, but in the wrong direction. As I saw the now familiar sight of my friends’ faces sinking into their dinners, I told them we could change the subject. They didn’t want to. They wanted to understand. Who had abducted their free-wheelin’, shit-talkin’, hard-workin’, wine-lovin’ friend and turned her into a teetotaling mom? The culprit sat before them. I felt pitied and resented.
I have painfully evaluated my reactions to some of the more surprising pregnancies among my friends. I cringe as I recall a charitable response to my not-as-tactful-as-I’d-thought question about the planning of the baby. (Hers was “unexpected joy,” as I had assumed; I don’t know why I had to ask.) I wondered if others had felt unsupported as I silently shirked baby showers—-but I sent gifts, so that made it OK, right? (Um, no.)
This was the price for having shrouded my thoughts and family discussions in privacy; for having shrugged off any recent questions about kids, rather than admit “we’re talking about it.” I take responsibility for the confusion; it’s a big leap from “we don’t know” to “we do.”
What would have been different if I’d made that admission earlier? Say, once we were sure we wanted a child, but before we’d conceived one?
I would have faced many of the same questions (or declarations, really, since “I thought xyz” is not technically a question). I still would have been on the spot, and for longer. My friends still would have expected answers. And all that talk would have been moot if I’d been unable to conceive—-a fear that also held my tongue.
To any friends who happen upon this and recognize themselves in these descriptions: I’m sorry. I’m not calling you out! You weren’t the only one to react the way you did; I got the same verbatim reactions from many people.
I’m sharing this for all the other ladies out there who finally decided to have a baby, and who’ve Googled “friends disappointment pregnancy” and found nothing else of value. Hopefully this showed up to let you know you’re not alone.