When “Congratulations” Brings Unnecessary Anxiety

Sometimes it’s tough being a woman.*

Sometimes it’s tough being a woman who is struggling with infertility, just graduated from seminary, and is overweight.

Allow me to build my case.

First, I posted on Facebook that a friend had brought graduation to my house in the form of a cap and gown and snacks since I wasn’t able to fly across the country to attend my commencement ceremony. A lot of people liked this status on Facebook (also, a few people loved it, because we have that option now–thank you, Facebook!). A lot of those people attend the church where I am an associate pastor. So a lot of those same people will congratulate me when I see them at church tomorrow.I will appreciate that they are celebrating with me my completed the ThM because it was hard, and cost a lot, and took a long time.

Second, nearly every woman of childbearing age on staff at the church (or who is a wife of a man on staff) is pregnant or nursing and I’m struggling with infertility. My husband and I have been trying, unsuccessfully, for several years to get pregnant with child #2. It’s difficult enough, at times, to be surrounded by these women in all their pregnant glory, but it’s worse when people’s gazes shift inquisitively toward my midsection or when people have assumed I’m pregnant (either because I’m overweight and look like I could be pregnant or because people can’t seem to keep us ladies–the ladies who are on staff and the ladies who are married to men on staff–straight).

And so my fear is that tomorrow, when everyone is congratulating me on my graduation, the casual observer will assume it’s because I’m pregnant (because I am a women of childbearing age and I would bet that, statistically, that’s what we are congratulated on more than anything else, certainly more than graduating from seminary. I am not downplaying this, it is hard work to get pregnant–for some of us–and it is a very exciting thing–for most of us). I am anxious about the fact that someone might misinterpret someone else’s “Congratulations!” regarding seminary as a “Congratulations!” regarding pregnancy. I don’t know if I’m more anxious about the possibility of someone thinking I’m pregnant and not saying something to me or about the possibility of someone thinking I’m pregnant and saying something to me.

I would not have to worry about this is if I were an overweight male of childbearing age. And the sting wouldn’t be so bad if I wasn’t struggling with infertility.  And none of this would be an issue if I weren’t expecting to be showered with congratulations in a large church lobby tomorrow. But I am a woman of childbearing age who is overweight and struggling with infertility who will probably be congratulated a lot regarding my graduation. So tomorrow, when I go to work, I will be building relationships, answering questions, helping with baptism, and hosting a foster care awareness lunch while wrestling through a complex mix of emotions including joy at graduating, sorrow at being infertile, shame at being overweight while trying to convince myself that I shouldn’t think about or worry about what other people may or may not think.

And that is why I say: Sometimes it’s tough being a woman.

*I know that sometimes it’s tough being a man too. But the challenges in this post are particularly related to the fact that I’m female: bearing children, looking pregnant, people focused on my fertility, etc.