While I love a good prank, I strongly believe that no joke is so funny that it's worth causing pain to any person or group. (Sexual assault jokes? Yeah, hard pass.) And in the age of social media, it's important to remember that even a joking status update or quirky tweet can reach a surprising number of people. To me, this means that as human beings we have an increased obligation to think through our online utterances and the impact they might have on others. Which means the one April Fools' joke you should never do is something to keep in mind because it's thoughtlessly cruel, and affects millions.
If you've ever considered or actually gone through with a fake pregnancy announcement, my guess is that you didn't realize that 7.4 million people, or one in eight couples, have struggled with infertility, according to RESOLVE. Or maybe you didn't understand the overwhelming grief that infertility engenders for those who face it. Before you play that April Fools' Day prank, you should know that the hurt is deep, and already exacerbated by social media where pregnancy announcements are common reminders of loss for many.
The way I see it, pregnancy fake-outs pop up on Facebook only because pranksters take their ability to get pregnant (should they want to) for granted. Sadly, not everyone in a social media circle is likely to have the same luxury — and it's not just people struggling with primary infertility who might take offense. Couples who already have a child and can't have another experience severe distress over secondary infertility, and cancer survivors often deal with fertility issues as a result of life-saving treatments. Blogger Becky Thompson talked about how cruelly pregnancy pranks strike people who experienced miscarriage, and Amanda Smith, writing at The Mighty, noted that pregnancy jokes are offensive to those who have lost a child, too.
In our culture, infertility and miscarriage are extremely private matters — life experiences often kept even from very close friends. The chance that someone in your social circle has struggled with pregnancy loss or infertility in some way is high, and their pain is as complex as any in the human experience. Not long ago, while working on a story about childhood cancer survivors and infertility, I interviewed Dr. Ariadna Cymet Lanski, a clinical psychologist specializing in reproductive health issues at Fertility Centers of Illinois. She explained that pregnancy announcements can be especially hard on those having trouble getting pregnant.
"Just in general for women, whether it’s through cancer or infertility, that feeling of feeling less than — I think this is one of the hardest pieces," she says in an interview with Romper. When friends see others having babies and starting families, "there's a sense of inadequacy," she says.
In fact, because of the intensity of these emotions, Cymet Lanski often counsels fertility patients to go off Facebook completely. "Most of us were raised to be nice people," she says. "When we have a lot of negative feelings, when we hear all these baby announcements, we’re supposed to be happy. And when we don’t feel that way ... we feel bad because we’re not excited. We feel like there’s something even more wrong with us. It’s a double whammy."
Infertility is a loss, Cymet Lanski says, and it's normal to feel upset. In our society, however, it's often unacceptable to acknowledge suffering or unhappiness in public, and that places an added burden on people to keep their loss a secret. While you shouldn't feel badly about posting a true announcement on Facebook — it's inevitable that you'll want to share, after all — a pregnancy prank is nothing but thoughtless and cruel to those who dearly wish for viable pregnancies of their own.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.