In case you don't follow the Kardashian clan as closely as some of us do, Khloe, Kim's younger sister, has been very open about her more than two-year-long struggle to conceive with husband Lamar Odon. Last season on the family's reality show Keeping Up with the Kardashians, cameras were even on hand as Khloe learned from a fertility specialist that she hadn't ovulated that month, a possible explanation for her fertility woes.
Once news of Kim's baby-mamma status broke, however, Khloe was among the first in line to offer her congratulations, tweeting, "Keeping secrets is hard with so many family members! Especially when you are so freaking excited!!!!! LOVE is everything!!!!"
We're happy Khloe is happy. But as almost any woman who's dealt with infertility will tell you, even when it's a sister or best friend (or both, as the case seems to be with Kim and Khloe), finding out someone close to you is pregnant is often a trigger for some pretty messy emotions.
"Just like Khloe, my older sister became pregnant before me, though I had been trying way longer to have a baby," says Amy, 34, a web designer from Houston, Texas, who is similarly trying to overcome infertility tied to irregular ovulation. "I was incredibly happy for her, and also very, very jealous." These kinds feelings are completely normal, according to Lisa Rouff, PhD, a Chicago-area clinical psychologist who specializes in working with individuals and couples experiencing infertility.
"Finding out a close friend or sister is pregnant, especially without much effort, is often one of the more painful aspects of infertility," Dr. Rouff tells BabyZone. "It usually brings up an intense mix of emotions, including envy, jealousy, and sadness, along with of course happiness and excitement for this person for whom they care about a great deal."
Nebraska-based fertility counselor, Julie Luzarraga, LICSW, DCSW, founder and executive director of Omaha Integrative Care for Fertility, agrees. "[Hearing the news] can be particularly devastating for a woman trying to conceive because it not only is a reminder of how much she would like to be pregnant, but it also causes conflicting and uncomfortable feelings. Women want to be happy for their friends when they are pregnant, but those who have been struggling to conceive often have a hard time feeling this joy for their friend or sister. This difficulty then makes them feel very guilty and ashamed."
Luzarraga also finds that a real danger here is that infertile women, "tend to isolate because they feel so bad." On top of that, when the pregnant friend or sister senses something going on, she may not know how to respond. "Most women who haven't experienced infertility don't know what to say to someone who is going through it," she says.
The result? According to Luzarraga, this kind of miscommunication can put even rock-solid relationships at risk. The irony, of course, being that the friendship and closeness could fall apart right at a time when both women need it most.
But it doesn't have to be this way. For the woman experiencing infertility, Luzarraga says to know that it is OK to have the feelings you do because emotions do not define who you are. "We are not our feelings," she says, "and feeling sad or jealous does not make someone a bad person."
It can also help to set healthy boundaries. "It may be that instead of going to the ultrasound appointment with your sister, you send her some flowers or email her your congratulations," she suggests. "Sometimes this distance is important. At the same time, try not to isolate. Find support in someone who has experienced infertility or a support group. Self care is also key. This is a good time to practice mind/body techniques and relaxation skills." If you happen to be the mom-to-be in this situation, "ask your friend what would make the situation most comfortable," Rouff suggests. "For example, your friend may not feel comfortable hearing a lot about your pregnancy at certain points, or she might find going to a baby shower too upsetting. Give her space and time."
Perhaps most importantly, says Rouff, "Know that despite all the pain your infertile friend is experiencing, she still ... really cares a great deal about you." And celebrity or not, it's a good idea to make sure she knows the feeling is mutual.