Dear Carolyn: My husband and I are expecting our first child in January. We are thrilled about this and are excited to be parents.
I am struggling because I have a sister seven years older who cannot have children. Whenever I get excited about the upcoming birth, my mother is quick to remind me my sister will never have this experience. Ive tried hiding my feelings around them because I want to be sympathetic, but I also dont want to feel guilty for how I feel. It has gotten to the point where I dont even want to include them in the baby shower.
How can I acknowledge their feelings but still enjoy this time in my life? Feeling Guilty for Being Pregnant
Answer: Wait around them? And their feelings?
If you meant your sisters feelings, then thats understandable (with sympathy, not guilt) — and if your mother issues these quick reminders because your sister is nearby and still grieving and youre missing signals that your sister is losing her composure, then thats understandable, too.
But if you meant that exactly as you wrote it, that your sisters feelings and your mothers are one and the same; and neither of them is able to feel your joy through the weight of your sisters misfortune; and you feel guilt for healthy pleasures; then theres more here than a childlessness story. Theres also a story of a mother overinvolved and overinvested in one daughters emotional life plainly at the expense of the others.
Where is your mothers joy and excitement at your pregnancy?
Life is complicated, humans are complicated. Were equipped to hold contradictory thoughts and feelings. Happy anticipation of one childs future can and does, every day coexist with sadness about anothers.
Some situations interfere with that ability, like depression or trauma. Thats why your sister herself gets 90 percent of a pass on this, with the 10 percent reserved for common sisterly courtesy. Such as: Im genuinely happy for you, and sorry Im in such a bad way right now that I cant properly show it.
But, again, when theres no apparent boundary between one family members feelings and anothers, and when the entire family is expected to live and talk and feel utterly in service of an Alpha Feeler, then its time to start reading up on codependency.
Better yet: Since your family of origin gives off that burned-rubber smell of dysfunction, and since youre at Stage 2 of spinning off into a family of origin for a child, it might behoove you to talk through this guilt youre feeling with a skilled family therapist. The better grasp you have of the history that brought you to this moment, the less likely youll be to repeat it.
And hey congratulations. Im really happy for you.