Managing pregnancy envy: how to spot and handle jealousy while trying to conceive
Maybe you’ve felt pregnancy envy while trying to conceive (TTC) — that heart-stopping moment when you see a friend’s social media pregnancy announcement, and you’ve been TTC for over a year. Or maybe you’ve had to navigate potential pregnancy envy after finding you are unexpectedly pregnant and have to share the news with your best friend who has had a difficult TTC journey.
Here we unpack pregnancy envy — what it is, how it can feel and how it can impact friendships. We also share some advice on how you can manage these feelings, creating even stronger bonds.
What is pregnancy envy ?
Pregnancy envy is a complex mix of often-painful emotions that swirl around two factors: 1) someone is pregnant and 2) someone else wants to be pregnant. And although pregnancy envy is a very normal experience, no one wants to feel it, so it can often create a sense of guilt or shame.
In the U.S., about one in five people are unable to get pregnant after one year of trying,1 and about one in four have difficulty carrying a pregnancy to term.1 Just as having difficulty getting pregnant might be more common than you think, it’s very likely someone in your life has dealt with pregnancy envy at some point.
Where does pregnancy envy come from ?
Studies show that TTC can lead to feelings of anxiety and depression.2,3 Those struggling to conceive also report feeling a loss of control and isolation, in part because they often don’t share their stories with family members or friends.2 Additionally, studies have shown that when sharing TTC stories, family members and friends may say or suggest things that cause more stress, resulting in those who are trying to get pregnant reducing their social interactions.3
As an added layer, the heartache that can accompany the TTC journey is unique in that it’s often cyclical. Among friends, this can be especially difficult. As the calendar pages turn, one friend’s belly grows while another friend receives crushingly sad news, again and again. While this dynamic may feel impossible, there are some ways to smooth this sometimes-rocky path.
How does pregnancy envy feel ?
Pregnancy envy can create intense (and unwelcome) negative or difficult feelings about yourself and/or the other person. These feelings may come up unexpectedly but are easiest to recognize when you have a strong reaction to learning about or being reminded of the pregnancy.
How pregnancy envy can feel if you're still TTC
For some people, pregnancy envy may exist as a little tug at the heart every once in a while. For others, it may be a constant, quiet ache. It also may show up unexpectedly. Here’s what pregnancy envy can look like when TTC:
- Wondering why it’s taking you so much longer to get pregnant in comparison
- Inexplicable feelings of anger upon seeing a stranger who is pregnant
- Feelings of sadness or irritation when a baby-related commercial comes on
- Dreading the thought of attending a gender-reveal party or baby shower
- Annoyance that someone got pregnant “without even trying”
- Feeling judged by family members or friends that you aren’t pregnant yet
- Desperately wishing your experience could look like someone else’s
- Feeling like something is wrong with you
You may have some strong feelings about yourself when thinking of a friend’s pregnancy. You may feel flawed in comparison. If your friend knows you are TTC, you may feel self-conscious. You also may feel vulnerable, sad and even, perhaps, ashamed. Pregnancy envy can feel like many different things. Whatever you’re feeling is OK and normal.
You also will likely have strong feelings toward your friend who is pregnant. While you are likely happy for your friend, that happiness may be tinged with (or overwhelmed by) feelings of jealousy. You may feel angry. You may feel one way one minute and another way the next minute — mixed emotions are to be expected.
How pregnancy envy can feel if you're pregnant and a friend is TTC
If you are pregnant and your friend is TTC, you may be hyper aware of pregnancy envy, perceived or real. If you’re pregnant and you suspect a friend may be experiencing pregnancy envy, it can look like:
- A close friend suddenly becoming a bit more distanced
- A friend disengaging from social media
- A friend declining invites to pregnancy- or baby-related events or to more general invitations
- A friend saying things that seem surprising or even hurtful in the moment
- A friend who doesn’t ask you how you’re feeling
- A friend who seems anxious and/or sad
- A friend who changes the subject when pregnancy comes up
While you may feel excited to share your news, you also may feel a lot of apprehension. You may feel nervous about how your friend will react, or sad that your friend hasn’t been able to experience pregnancy yet. Your feelings are valid and important, too.
All these feelings can make anyone wonder, what will this do to our friendship? The first step is recognizing pregnancy envy. The second step is managing it.
How to deal with pregnancy envy
A few proactive measures can go a long way in managing pregnancy envy, especially within a group of friends
Be honest and open about communication.
You and your friends likely have shared many intimate details about your lives. A simple conversation, in person, on the phone or via email or text, can help you talk about these complicated feelings candidly. Clarity and honesty can help you both figure out what changes you can make to help alleviate the emotional struggle of pregnancy envy.
Without clear communication, it’s likely the other person doesn’t know what you’re feeling. If you have a friend who is talking about pregnancy a lot in your presence, it’s likely they don’t realize how these topics are affecting you. If you have a friend who seems to be withdrawing from you now that you’re pregnant, talking to them can help address the situation much more effectively than guessing or making assumptions about their needs.
How much you want to talk about pregnancy with each other is personal. This is a different season of your life, and it makes sense to adapt to what you both need from the friendship. Don’t be shy about checking in and figuring things out together.
Communication tips if you're feeling pregnancy envy
If you’re experiencing pregnancy envy, you don’t have to be shy about telling your friend what types of things may be too difficult to talk about right now. You may not have much patience for your friend’s grumblings about nausea or the price of maternity pants, or for listening to the story about how easy it was for them to get pregnant. If you’ve recently experienced pregnancy loss, conversations about a baby on the way could be especially painful.
Talking to your friend about how you feel is often the best first step. You know your friend well, so look for a way to talk to them that will make you both comfortable. An open conversation about how their pregnancy updates are affecting you can be illuminating for them and help you both strategize about how to proceed.
Communication tips if your friend is dealing with pregnancy envy
If your friend is struggling with their feelings about your pregnancy, give yourself permission to struggle with that, too. It’s OK to feel confused or even hurt to learn that a friend isn’t always happy to hear about your news. An important step to healing is to let them know how much you want to work with them to figure out the best way to prioritize your friendship during this period.
Once your friend knows you’re pregnant, try taking your cues from them about when and how much to talk about it. You can also let them know that this is your default plan, so they have a good idea of what to expect. Keep in mind that this is about navigating your friendship together, not “fixing” a difficult feeling. It’s best to avoid cliches like “everything happens for a reason” — even though you mean well, responses like this can do more harm than good.
Set boundaries with each other.
Boundaries are rules or limits that you define for yourself to help you feel safe and secure, and to protect your emotional and mental well-being.4 The following suggestions are some boundaries to consider when dealing with pregnancy envy.
Boundaries if you're dealing with pregnancy envy
It’s always OK to say no and take breaks as needed. This might mean declining invites to gender-reveal parties and baby showers. Or it could look like hiding pregnant friends on social media so you don’t unexpectedly see a post when you’re feeling especially vulnerable. This also might mean skipping outings with friends where you expect a lot of pregnancy talk.
While you don’t owe anyone an explanation, you may find it helpful to say why you’re stepping back for a few months. Declining a baby shower invite, for example, could look like this: “I won’t be able to attend, but please know that I will be there in spirit.” If the event requires a gift, you can have one shipped (but know that it’s OK to set boundaries there as well — there will be plenty of gift-giving opportunities in this child’s life in the years to come).
Boundaries if your friend may be feeling pregnancy envy
If you are pregnant and you have a friend who is TTC, be mindful about invites. Don’t assume your friend won’t want to attend your baby-related parties, but consider tactfully asking your friend how they feel about it before sending an invite
Try to be understanding, too, if your friend isn’t as present as before. Their boundary setting may be necessary for their mental health during this time, and respecting their boundaries is one way you can be a good friend to them.
Embrace vulnerability and messiness together.
Pregnancy envy can fluctuate, and what you need to feel good about yourself and in your friendship may shift. Authentically sharing your experience will help your friends better understand what you’re going through. Give and be open to receiving kindness when either of you do or say something you later feel bad about or regret.
Vulnerability and honesty when you have pregnancy envy
If you’re TTC, the pregnancy envy you feel today may not be the same pregnancy envy you feel tomorrow. Maybe last week your friend’s ultrasound pictures hanging on their fridge made you smile. And this week? Well, let’s just say you should have gone with waterproof mascara. It’s all OK and normal. Your friends love you for being you. So be you.
Vulnerability and kindness when you're pregnant
If you are pregnant and you have a friend who is TTC, expect the unexpected. Trying to get pregnant is filled with highs and lows, and it can be difficult to know what your friend is feeling on any given day. The best you can do is enjoy your pregnancy while being mindful of your friend’s feelings.
When dealing with pregnancy envy, you may feel guilty for not being 100% happy and present for your pregnant friend. Your friend may say something hurtful without thinking. Allow for empathy and vulnerability, and try to listen more than you talk. Know that you will likely make a mistake, and so will your friend. We’re all human, after all! But simply recognizing pregnancy envy for what it is and taking steps to manage it with care — like you have by reading this article — will help you maintain healthy friendships and create that interpersonal support system that’s so important when TTC.
Related Blog Articles
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Infertility FAQs. Updated March 1, 2022. Accessed January 17,2023. https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/infertility/index.htm
- Rooney KL, Domar AD. The relationship between stress and infertility. Dialogues Clin Neurosci. 2018;20(1):41-47.doi: 10.31887/DCNS.2018.20.1/klrooney. Accessed January 17, 2023. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6016043/
- Simionescu G, Doroftei B, Maftei R, et al. The complex relationship between infertility and psychological distress (review). Exp There Med.2021;21(4):306. doi: 10.3892/etm.2021.9737. Accessed January 17, 2023.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7885086/
- Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. 8 tips on setting boundaries for your mental health. Accessed January 17,2023. https://www.dbsalliance.org/support/young-adults/8-tips-on-setting-boundaries-for-your-mental-health/
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