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The pregnancy offriends is makingme depressed

Asked by Cathy, California

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I have been having infertility issues for over three years (including many failed IVFs, and miscarriages). Over the last year, I have had good friend after good friend announce her pregnancy. Literally, at least one per month. I am happy for them because I care for them, but each time I hear those words it hurts worse and worse. When I am around them they talk mommy-talk (as they should) but being around them just throws me into depression. I'm afraid to even see my other girlfriends who are "trying" because I know at any second they'll have "good news." How can I be supportive of them while protecting my heart, emotions and mental health?

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Mental Health Expert Dr. Charles Raison Psychiatrist,
Emory University Medical School

Expert answer

Dear Cathy,

You are in a tough situation, but you have a couple of important things going for you. The first is that you recognize clearly the link between your depression and the joy of others. What's important is that you don't just feel badly that your friends are able to get pregnant, but that you feel badly about feeling badly. You are bothered that you are not able to share their joy. This puts you in a very workable situation. It would be much worse if you did not recognize the role that envy is playing in your current emotional symptoms.

Let's set aside the pregnancy issue for a moment and talk about envy. It's not a subject we like to talk about much, because it is embarrassing. In fact, the sensation of envy is one of life's most painful feelings and has been linked time and again in studies to a risk for depression. In fact, some evolutionary psychologists think that a major cause for the increase in depression in the modern world is the fact that we are exposed by the media to the best of everything. Back in tribal times, when people knew 100 to 200 people during their entire lives, it was very likely that nearly everyone was the best -- or almost the best -- at something. Nowadays, we are bombarded constantly by images of people who are the best in the world, so we are constantly burdened with a sense that we are mediocre at everything -- even if we are talented.

It is a natural human tendency to want to recoil from situations that cause us pain. In your case this has led to you wanting to avoid anyone and anything that might become associated with achieving what you so desire, but have been unable to accomplish. This is completely understandable, but it is exactly the wrong strategy if you want to solve your problem. Instead of running from what causes us pain, therapeutic treatments usually involve us going directly into our fears. If germs give you the willies, a therapist will have you stick your hands in dirt for an hour. If you are afraid of flying, a therapist will put you on a plane. In each of these instances, a therapist will help the patient gradually work up to these accomplishments, but the way is clear: not away from the pain and fear, but into it.

So in your case I strongly recommend that you do exactly the opposite of what you have been doing. Make a choice to become as active as you can in the lives of your friends and their children. Go with them if you can on their prenatal visits. Every time you feel that twinge of pain, go toward it. Tell yourself that it is completely understandable. Let yourself feel bad about your situation, but don't beat yourself up about feelings of envy or upset. The trick is to become active against these feelings. So when they arise, go out and deal with them by consciously choosing to get as close to the happiness of others as you can. At first this will be difficult, but it will become easier and easier with the passage of time, and as it becomes easier your unhappiness will lift.

So, one important strength that you have is recognizing that envy is making you miserable. Your second strength is more physiological. If you have had miscarriages, this means that you and your partner are capable of fertilizing an egg. Part of what will help you, if you follow my advice about going toward the happiness of your friends, is that it requires action, and taking action against our problems is probably the single most powerful thing we can do for ourselves. In your case, if you've had the financial resources to go through multiple in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedures, you may have the means to consider working with a surrogate as a way of being able to have a child that is genetically yours. The odds of a successful outcome for someone like you would be very high. And by the way, I know what I'm talking about here: My wife and I have two beautiful baby boys born by surrogate; this after my wife nearly died from complications while pregnant herself.

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