Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“How Should I Tell My Infertile Sister I’m Planning to Get Pregnant?”

stork

My husband and I are planning to start trying for a baby in a few months. We are super excited and super ready and are just waiting for the right time in my career (i.e. my being eligible for maternity leave). Who knows if and when we’ll be successful, but I want to know how and when I should tell my so-far infertile older sister.

My sister, 5+ years older and married two years longer than us, has been trying with her husband for about three years with no success. From what I hear, specialty doctors suggest there’s practically no chance she can bear a child and probably needs either a surrogate (unlikely) or adoption (likely in a few more years once they qualify for the type of child they’d like to adopt). She’s done a great job showing excitement for all of her friends and extended family who have had children in the past few years, but I know it’s killing her on the inside.

I feel like I need to warn her before we start trying so that she can sincerely start coping with the fact that she might not have the first grandchild and her baby sister is beating her to it (she seemed to rush a bit to make sure she was married before I was).

Do I give her a heads up before or when we start trying? Do I wait until we are pregnant to tell her? Do I suggest to my mother that she give my sister a heads up? Any other better ideas? I want to make it as easy for her as possible assuming I am able to bear a child relatively easily.

I think a semi-casual mentioning from me in conversation is a lot better than something more formal (a note, etc). Maybe with her husband around or our other sister who doesn’t want kids herself but is good support and closer in age to the older sister? Maybe I tell my mom to have a heart-to-heart with her although she’s not a great shoulder to lean on? Maybe I get my husband to tell her husband who can share with my sister? I don’t know if I trust both of the guys to be sensitive enough for that one. — Pregnancy Hopeful

It’s really compassionate and thoughtful of you to be concerned about your sister as you begin planning the exciting steps toward having a baby. It probably won’t be easy for your sister to cope with her younger sister “beating” her to parenthood when she’s been trying so long to have a baby herself, but hopefully, your compassion will make it an easier pill to swallow. That said, I wouldn’t involve anyone else in “breaking the news” to her. This is really about your relationship and her feelings and the fewer other people involved, the better.

The truth is, since you got married, your sister has probably already started thinking about if and when you might have a baby and whether you would reach that milestone before her. It’s not going to be a huge shock hearing that a married woman of child-bearing age is thinking about having a baby. So, yes, a little warning might be a nice thing, but it’s probably not quite as necessary as you think it is. If I were you, I’d mention it very casually and in vague terms. “We’re hoping to be pregnant by the end of the year,” could mean you’ve already started trying… or it could mean you’re going to start trying at the end of the year and hope it happens right away. This is better than giving a specific time when you’re going to start trying because it won’t sting as much if you happen to be lucky and get pregnant right away.

I hope you ARE lucky and do get pregnant when you want to get pregnant. But if/when that happens, continue being compassionate with your sister and understand that the enthusiasm she’s been able to muster for friends and extended family may not be as easy for her to muster for you. It won’t mean she doesn’t love you or isn’t thrilled for you. It may just mean that until she is able to reach her dream of motherhood, your excitement might be better shared on an more intimate level with your mom and other sister and close friends. (And your husband, of course). Good luck to you!

***************

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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at [email protected].

45 comments… add one
  • GatorGirl

    GatorGirl June 16, 2014, 3:09 pm

    WWS. I definitely get wanting to take her feelings into consideration, but I feel like this is overthinking it. Personally, I would mention something casually or just wait till your pregnant to tell her. Each family is different, but I think my sister and SILs would all find it very weird if I just called them up and said “we’re trying to get pregnant!” Our relationships don’t work like that. Of course some do, so you’ll have to use your judgment LW.
    .
    I’m not really telling anyone other than DW and one bff we’re going of bc, and I’m only telling for advice!

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    • avatar

      ktfran June 16, 2014, 3:17 pm

      I agree. I think the LW is over thinking this just a little bit. I do, however, like Wendy’s way of mentioning it her the sister. That way, she won’t be totally shocked when an announcement is made. She’ll be expecting something at some point in the future, which will be easier to swallow.

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      • GatorGirl

        GatorGirl June 16, 2014, 3:26 pm

        What popped to mind when reading this was engagements. It would be odd, IMO, to announce you’re thinking about getting engaged. We where a little nervous when we got engaged and SIL was a little bitter about not being married, but she was super excited for us! So LW, your sister will likely be super excited for you!

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        ktfran June 16, 2014, 3:40 pm

        So, I might sound like a real asshole, but whatever. I honestly don’t get people being bitter that someone might “beat” you in certain life milestones. I just don’t. I get wanting something, whether it’s marriage or children, or a job or whatever, but nobody is entitled to those things and it’s not a race. I just can’t imagine going through life being angry and bitter and upset.
        .
        I’m not all saying the LW’s sister is this way, because she does manage to be happy for others who are getting pregnant. I’m referring to people who are generally miserable.

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      • katie

        katie June 16, 2014, 3:43 pm

        yep im with you. its so weird to me. we have a messed up culture.

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        lets_be_honest June 16, 2014, 3:49 pm

        And to take that a step further, should we really be catering to that mindset? I get its thoughtful to think of how your sister might feel and to not like, have a parade in her backyard announcing your pregnancy, but I feel like other than being aware of not doing things like that, there isn’t anything more you should really do. Be aware, don’t flaunt, but also expect that they will embrace your good news. Curious what you guys all think.

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      • katie

        katie June 16, 2014, 4:07 pm

        yea i think it really is a form of babying, like i said in my post. people have to be able to live in the real world with the rest of us, and in that world, all kinds of stuff happens to other people and there is nothing you can control about any of it.
        .
        another question, why is it we only do this with assumingly positive things? tip toeing around baby announcements and engagements seems somewhat common. why dont we tip toe around announcing assumingly negative things like divorces, deaths, bankruptcy, ect?

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      • GatorGirl

        GatorGirl June 16, 2014, 4:10 pm

        I think some people do. I know my SIL was super nervous to let my in-laws know her bf is divorced. Like it was this big taboo. Also my aunts divorce has never been even mentioned, not that I think she should have announced it but it was just like one day she moved out and never told anyone.

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      • avatar

        bethany June 16, 2014, 4:21 pm

        I’m pretty sure most people aren’t shouting from the rooftops about their bankruptcy!

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      • iwannatalktosampson

        iwannatalktosampson June 16, 2014, 5:22 pm

        I guess my thing too is that why is being sad about your own state of affairs and being happy for someone else achieving the goal you want to achieve mutually exclusive? Why can’t people be happy for their friends/family while also being bummed out that they can’t get pregnant?

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      • avatar

        Simonthegrey June 16, 2014, 10:23 pm

        I agree in many cases, though I have a good friend with mild autism who has, in the last year or so, become hung up on the fact that she is not pregnant. She’s 28, has been with her boyfriend for about 2 years but they just moved in together, and doesn’t want to get pregnant till after she is married. Because of how she is, she focuses on it, and whenever a friend of hers gets pregnant, it’s like she mourns it all over again. I love her, but I’m 33 and plan to start trying for pregnancy. I will mention to her gently ahead of time (that The Ginger and I are hoping, etc) just because I know she will need time to adjust. I love her, but I know she needs to be eased into the news.

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      • Portia

        Portia June 17, 2014, 9:04 am

        I think sometimes we have this idea of what the worst case response will be, not necessarily based on what the person has done but what we’ve seen happen in pop culture and we brace for that.
        .
        I was talking with my sister about a pair of sisters that we’re close to, and she said something offhanded about the little sister not wanting to get engaged before the older sister. And I asked her why, she’s been with the guy for a while, why should she base her life decisions on the older sister? And the way she was responding it actually sounded like she was thinking of both this other sister pair and the two of us (I’m the older sister). So even though I thought it was obvious I didn’t care (she’s the one who’s more intent on me getting married than I am), I think she was still taking that into consideration about not getting married/engaged before me. WTF? I disabused her of that idea, just in case.

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      • GatorGirl

        GatorGirl June 16, 2014, 3:53 pm

        I’m totally with you. It’s not a race, and we (generally) should be excited for each others “accomplishments” (relationship, work, etc) even if we’re not quite hitting our own goals. I do think pregnancy is one area that treading lightly might be warranted, because if you have a medical issue out of your control…I just think that would be super frustrating.

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        ktfran June 16, 2014, 4:02 pm

        I do get the medical thing. I really do. And I honestly feel bad for people who desperately want children and aren’t able or have a hard time with it. That’s why I was hoping I didn’t sound like an asshole.

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      • GatorGirl

        GatorGirl June 16, 2014, 4:06 pm

        I don’t think you sounded like an asshole. I overall totally agree with you, we (general) have this ridiculous mentality to complete in our personal lives. I think infertility is the tricky one to deal with because you’re at the mercy of your own body, you know?

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      • avatar

        ktfran June 16, 2014, 4:09 pm

        Yeah, my heart completely breaks for people with fertility issues. I just had coffee on Friday morning with my friend who finally got the call that he and his wife would be getting a foster baby that will most likely lead to adoption. I’m so incredibly excited for them and hopefully their new daughter.

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      • avatar

        bethany June 16, 2014, 3:58 pm

        I certainly didn’t care who was the first one to get married out of me and my brother, or even me and my cousins (who I am pretty close with)- I didn’t mind that any of them “beat” me. But I can kind of understand being a little disappointed in not having the first grandchild. It’s just a really special thing for a family. My brother doesn’t like kids, so I’m sure that I’ll be the one to give my parents their first grandchild, and I can’t wait to tell them. My mom might actually die of happiness when the time comes. So, I can understand a little disappointment (not bitter, that’s taking it a little far), not that it’s a contest to see who can do it first, but just that it’s just something that generally brings so much joy to a family, it would be fun to get to the the one to make that happen.

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      • avatar

        spark June 17, 2014, 7:35 am

        I completely agree with you. (And I’m shocked that you got so many down-thumbs for this genuine opinion.)

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  • katie

    katie June 16, 2014, 3:15 pm

    yea the whole “announcing that you are trying to get pregnant” thing is odd to me. like i could definitely see just talking about it, like a “oh yea we pulled the goalie last week, how was that restaurant you tried?” but to like to make it out to be this big thing is just bizarre to me. and i get that you are trying to be really sensitive to your sister, but its still just bizarre to me, even in that situation.
    .
    personally, if i was in your sister’s spot, i wouldnt want to be treated differently anyway. like dont baby me about the subject, you know? id hate that. so maybe think about that angle as well.

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  • avatar

    bethany June 16, 2014, 3:17 pm

    LW, I think it’s really nice that you’re concerned about how your sister will cope with your theoretical pregnancy. I would do what Wendy said and casually, vaguely work wanting to have kids it into conversation. There’s no need to have a sit down talk about it. That’ll just put her on the spot and make her feel awkward.

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  • avatar

    jlyfsh June 16, 2014, 3:34 pm

    I’d be interested in hearing from people who are or were infertile and how they dealt with announcements, especially from siblings. I don’t think a formal announcement is necessary, but something casual during conversation like Wendy said and telling her about the actual pregnancy separate from a giant announcement might be appreciated. I’m sure she’ll want to be excited for you, it might just not happen immediately after finding out.

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    • honeybeenicki

      honeybeenicki June 16, 2014, 4:29 pm

      We’ve been trying to conceive for over a year (using a donor and more recently fertility treatment for me) and haven’t been successful so far, so here’s how I look at it:
      A) I wouldn’t want to be handled with kid gloves. I have no need for my sister (or anyone) to take me aside before they even get pregnant to tell me they’re going to try. First of all, I’m a big girl so I can handle it and secondly, I don’t want to picture you having sex.
      B) I am always happy for people who get pregnant. I had a friend struggling with fertility for about a year who is now 6 months pregnant and I’m obnoxiously excited for her. First, because it’s awesome and second because it’s like a way to give me hope that it can still happen.
      C) While I wouldn’t want to know beforehand that they’re trying, I would appreciate a quick not-big-deal talk when they got pregnant. I wouldn’t want to hear it for the first time with a bunch of others around during a huge announcement.

      LW, I’m sure your sister is going to be happy for you. I don’t see a need to tell her in advance, but you know your sister and i don’t. If you’re comfortable with it and it’s ok with her, maybe get her involved in some way once you are pregnant (helping paint/picking colors/helping figure out a theme for the nursery/etc). Show her that you need her to be there as your big sister and future baby’s aunt.

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  • avatar

    lilyinTO June 16, 2014, 4:15 pm

    I’m not sure if I’m the only one, but the LW seems a teensy bit passive-aggressive and sounds a little gleeful that she has something over her older sister. My younger sister always occupied her time thinking of ways to show me up, which included announcing things that didn’t require a formal announcement. Everything I did was another (unspoken) challenge.

    This paragraph was the most telling of this dynamic: “I feel like I need to warn her before we start trying so that she can sincerely start coping with the fact that she might not have the first grandchild and her baby sister is beating her to it (she seemed to rush a bit to make sure she was married before I was).”

    If her older sister is anything like me, making such a fuss over such an everyday occurrence will only make the LW’s histrionics more noticeable rather than show a genuine concern for the sister’s infertility. I further believe that over-thinking how the message would ultimately be delivered is just another way to hide her underhandedness.

    If she is as concerned for her sister as she appears, then their relationship would be close enough that it would not require walking on eggshells. Again, I’m just getting a gut feeling there’s more to her motives than genuine sympathy.

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    • avatar

      Sara June 16, 2014, 5:09 pm

      I thought that something was off there, too. LW claims that the older sister had to “rush” to win the get married race. But her sister has been married two years longer than the LW. That doesn’t sound like a time-line that was rushed to me.

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  • bittergaymark

    bittergaymark June 16, 2014, 4:22 pm

    I’d get pregnant first… before entering into a bunch of drama. Who knows? You, too, may find yourself having problems. That said, what is it with sisters and making EVERYTHING a fucking race? God knows, I don’t know any dudes actively trying get married first. It’s all just so incredibly odd…

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    • avatar

      lets_be_honest June 16, 2014, 4:25 pm

      I don’t get this either, and I have 3 sisters. Then again, I already have a kid and am scared of marriage, so maybe that’s why.

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      • honeybeenicki

        honeybeenicki June 16, 2014, 4:31 pm

        I don’t understand it either. I have a bunch of sisters and I don’t get it. I was the first to get married, but two of them have kids and none of it has ever been a “race” for us. I mean, we each live our lives at a different pace so it doesn’t make sense to me. Now, I probably wouldn’t be excited if certain sisters got pregnant, but not because I want to do it first… it’s because I don’t think either of them should be allowed to have goldfish, much less babies (and one already has a kid).

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        lets_be_honest June 16, 2014, 4:34 pm

        Ha, yea, I initially wrote I’d be thrilled if they announced their engagement, but then deleted it because I probably wouldn’t be, but not because I want to get there first!

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        Simonthegrey June 16, 2014, 10:34 pm

        My sister and I are so far apart in age that we never hit milestones at the same time. That said, she technically did get pregnant before me, and chose not to keep it. I wasn’t trying to get pregnant at the time, so it was no race.

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      ktfran June 16, 2014, 4:39 pm

      No race here. I’m the oldest of three girls. The youngest is married with two girls. The middle one just got engaged. And I am truly joyful for both of them.
      .
      We had on older sister that passed away when I was a baby. I always wanted to name my hypothetical daughter after her. When my little sis was pregnant with her second, she kindly asked me if she could use the name. Without hesitation, I said yes. I just really don’t care about that stuff and it’s useless being angry or upset about it.

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      • avatar

        lets_be_honest June 16, 2014, 4:53 pm

        SEVEN!

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        ktfran June 16, 2014, 4:55 pm

        I’m like what? I’s? Is that how many I used.
        .
        I’m super self centered. Duh.
        .
        FOUR!

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      • avatar

        lets_be_honest June 16, 2014, 4:59 pm

        No, no. The Seinfeld episode where George finds his friends at the hospital giving birth and yells at them for trying to steal his baby name idea of 7 Costanza.

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      • avatar

        ktfran June 17, 2014, 8:49 am

        Wow. Totally missed that. I suck. Sorry.

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      • Portia

        Portia June 17, 2014, 9:07 am

        Rhymes with a part of the female anatomy?

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        lets_be_honest June 17, 2014, 11:00 am

        Mulva?

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      captainswife June 16, 2014, 4:53 pm

      I never understood it either, but I wasn’t planning to marry (let alone have kids)…and I can tell you that when I had the GALL to get engaged when my elder sister didn’t even have a BOYFRIEND, there was a serious shitstorm.

      So I guess it didn’t really help that I had the first grandchild, either…

      But really, guys, we’re all different, and any mature person will realize that things happen to people at different times. You’re not trying to get pregnant “at” her. And if/when it happens, it in no way changes her possibilities of conception.

      You could at some point say (if she talks about her struggles) that you guys want to “expand” your family…deliberately leaving it vague because, (a) she doesn’t want to picture your doing what it takes to get there and (b) it demonstrates that you understand that there are many ways to create a family…via foster, adoption, conception, etc. “Expand” is in quotes because I’m not very happy with the word but I’m not in the mood to come up with a better one. Maybe something along the lines of, “Yeah, I totally understand your desire to be parents” (non-committal, and gives the idea that you’d also be interested)?

      In any case, I would give her the benefit of the doubt and assume she’s mature. It sounds like she has been so far.

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  • avatar

    SasLinna June 16, 2014, 4:47 pm

    IMO the most important thing is not treating her like she’ll break down upon hearing the news. Assume that she’s aware of the possibility and just tell her calmly once you’re pregnant. Maybe mention that you realize it must not be easy for her to hear about other people’s pregnancies & that you are rooting for her to have child, too. I would also make it really clear that you value her input and that you hope she’ll be involved in your child’s life. Then if she has a negative reaction, give her some space and don’t hold it against her if she takes a while to deal with things.
    And just leave out any detailed about how long (or short) you were trying.

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  • iwannatalktosampson

    iwannatalktosampson June 16, 2014, 4:47 pm

    I was reading this and was like “what kind of sister would be mad that you got pregnant? Are people really that self absorbed?!” But then I remembered all the letters and forum posts we get about friends and family “beating” LW’s at pregnancy and was like – oh that’s right – people really are that into themselves.

    LW – you sound really compassionate and like a very good sister. Because of this I’m guessing you two have a very supportive relationship – so I’m sure she will consider your happiness her happiness to share. Also, you never know, you might have issues getting pregnant too, so I wouldn’t mention anything until you are pregnant.

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  • lemongrass

    lemongrass June 16, 2014, 5:22 pm

    So I’m kind of in your situation. My older sister has been trying to conceive her second child for over a year now. She knew that we wanted a second, I didn’t keep that a secret from anybody. I didn’t make any big announcement about it, just when people asked if we were thinking about #2 I said yes. When I told her that I was pregnant I did it at her house when it was a little visit and no other family was around. She said that she was happy for me and I took that at face value. I’m sure it did sting a bit but a mature and loving person would be able to put that sting aside and be happy. When she asks how I’m doing I say good, maybe a little tired and then move the conversation on to other things.

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  • avatar

    Laura Hope June 16, 2014, 6:24 pm

    You want to announce that you’re planning to start trying to have a baby in a few months?! How do you know how long it’ll take. Could take years. May not happen at all. Why would you stress her out over something that hasn’t happened? You don’t have to worry about any of this until you do actually have an announcement to make.

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  • avatar

    Paperwhite June 17, 2014, 3:13 am

    There’s something about that phrase “trying for a baby” that makes my brain translate “we’re f$!&ing like monkeys”. Just ask her how she wants you to speak about it should you become pregnant in the next few months.
    She may wish to share the joy, she may wish you would keep it off the discussion list. But spare her the mental picture of you with your knees behind your ears!

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    • avatar

      jlyfsh June 17, 2014, 9:48 am

      I guess my friends and I must have a weirder relationship than I thought. I’ve known when all of them went off birth control and decided they were ready for a baby. I mean I get not everyone is like that. But, I didn’t once think about the trying. Except for joking, because I mean again that’s how we are I guess, yay more sex. We talked more about the fun stuff (besides sex) like paint colors and nursery themes and names.

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  • avatar

    csp June 17, 2014, 10:54 am

    LW, I am dealing with this right now. My infertility has become a family affair. My brother and sister are both younger and married. So, my suggestion is mention it over the phone on a random day after work. My sister in law told my husband that they were going to start trying in 6 months on Christmas Eve. Christmas was hard enough because it was the 3rd Christmas that we were trying and since we had miscarried twice, we couldn’t help but think that we could have had two babies by then. So my husband cried all the way home that night then we both cried ourselves to sleep. It wasn’t that we didn’t know they would eventually try or that we weren’t happy for them. It was just way too much pain for one day. My point is that you need to tell her then give her time to process this information without you staring at her. If she needs to cry, let her cry alone. Other people are writing here about her not being happy for you. It isn’t that, it is a profound sadness for her own situation and the realization that time keeps marching on without you. a phone call is the best because I have had very good friends not tell me about pregnancies and I found out on facebook. That is blindsiding. it would definitely soften the blow by telling early that you are hoping to get pregnant soon and then when you make the announcement that you are pregnant, she can respond positively.

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  • avatar

    juliasarahelizabeth September 12, 2014, 2:36 am

    I have to say that I completely disagree with those who said the woman asking the question is over thinking it. I have lived with infertility and now major health problems for 13 yrs. I went through the grieving process although I had no idea that I was grieving. That took several yrs. I came to terms with my infertility, my precieved lack of value as a woman and as a wife, and I thought I was done with the entire saga. Got the triology in the boxed set to prove it. Recently my brither announced he is getting married. The feelings I thought were dead and buried have resurfaced. I am happy for my brother. I would never, never wish infertility on anyone. However, those feelings of my parents fawning over the first grand child, having to sit through conversations about baby names, and realizing that I make baby shower favors formy customers, but never myself; has been a hard pill to swallow.

    To the woman who asked the question about your sister . . . You are very kind to be concerned. If I were in your position, this is what I recommend: sit down with your sister and ask her where she is at on the emotional side of infertility. Yes, warn her that changes are coming which is what Wendy suggested. Then listen to her. Let her talk and no matter what she expresses (anger, joy, grief, depression, or all of those at one time); don’t be shocked. Ask her how much involvement she can handle. Finally, understand that the times when she has to walk out of the room to have a good cry says nothing about your relationship with your sister. She is just overwhelmed.

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