Coping With Feelings Of Alienation When You're Struggling With Infertility
The struggle with infertility is in many ways a journey. Perhaps a journey that you don’t necessarily wish to be on, but nevertheless, one in which you gain a greater insight, a deeper intuition, and an evolved self-awareness, regardless of how painful it may be.
Part of what you learn about yourself is how you interact with and respond to others — the people who don’t know what you’re going through, those who haven’t been in your shoes. They may harmlessly comment, or perhaps unintentionally say something wrong, and because you are consumed by this quest to conceive, you interpret their words through the medium of your pain. As far as your interrelationships go, infertility becomes the nearly insurmountable subtext.
I remember that time in my own life well, that period during which I came to resent those who didn’t understand the anguish I felt at not being able to conceive. I was just another woman trying to get pregnant and having a hard time of it. This was my vulnerability summed up by what I intuited as a couple of callous sentences.
They didn’t know — they couldn’t know — but I still blamed them. Plagued by an ongoing internal dialogue associated with having to navigate social scenarios in order to avoid being asked the dreaded question, “Are you planning on having any more children?” I shrank further and further into the background, while my anger and jealousy seethed over into the foreground of my being.
Shame and feelings of defectiveness dominated my journey. I could not conceive. Something that should be so simple, so basic a practice for any woman, and yet here I was, my body unwilling and/or unable to perform as it should. Slowly, I removed myself from many social situations, especially those that involved being around big round bellies and babies. I came up with excuses as to why I couldn’t attend a gathering or make a party. I started avoiding playdates for my 2-year-old daughter.
I projected my yearning and feelings of inferiority onto those around me, including my own 2-year-old daughter. She wasn’t even talking in full sentences yet, but I was certain that she was asking for a sibling. I was filled with feelings of jealousy, guilt, and fear.
My world became very small and narrow. I was only able to experience things through the lens of a woman who couldn’t conceive, even though ironically I had this beautiful little girl by my side. And yet, I frantically thought, what if there were to be no more? What if I could not produce a brother or sister for my child? Without another baby, I was somehow not good enough. This seriously impacted my relationships. It affected the way I perceived myself and how I thought others perceived me: the woman who couldn’t have more than one child, the woman whose body wasn’t sufficient enough to carry a baby.
Fertility treatment after fertility treatment came and went with the same humiliating result: no pregnancy. The implicit condescension of the negative test results made me just want to retreat further into myself and away from people who now had the proof to label me as defective.
After over a year and a half of fertility treatments, I did finally get pregnant through in vitro fertilization with twins. They are now 6 years old. My story ended with the most amazing blessing possible — blessings to be exact. For some, however, this sadly may not be the case.
My experience is not a unique one. Interpersonal relationships and dealing with “the other” while struggling with infertility is one of the most popular topics in the mind-body fertility groups I lead. It comes up in every session, and the women are eager to acquire the tools they need in order to ease the negative feelings associated with their various social relationships when struggling to conceive.
I refer to the phenomenon as the “fertility inferiority complex” — such as is characterized by having a lack of self-worth, coupled with feelings of doubt, uncertainty, and not measuring up to the status quo. The thinking goes something like this: “I can’t seem to get pregnant, so therefore, I am worth less than you.” This incredibly penetrating feeling has a particularly virulent sting, as we are dealing with our body and its supposed natural abilities.
For women who are actively trying to conceive, it takes very little to trigger this complex. Perhaps the glimpse of a pregnant belly, a mother pushing a stroller, two toddlers playing in a sandbox, or even a simple, albeit unintentional, fertility-based remark from a good friend, can immediately cripple the woman and send her into that helpless despair, locked inside the prison of her own negative thinking. There is no escaping the fact that you can’t do what you so yearn to, and so you project, blame, and eventually just shy away from others.
Perspective is key.
People are by nature social beings. However, when we are met with the challenge of infertility, walls get built up rapidly, walls that don’t show any signs of crumbling in the foreseeable future. And though it may seem a monumental undertaking, I found that heightened perspective was absolutely essential to my survival during this trying time.
Perspective is critical when it comes to removing the projections and creating new ways of relating. It is often our own paranoia, our own feelings of jealousy, and our own deep insecurity that trick us into conjuring those thoughts that we believe the “other” to possess. But ask yourself:
Were people really constantly thinking about my fertility journey?
Is that all they see when they look at me?
Am I simply a barren vessel carrying no other value to these people?
No. Probably not.
Perspective is what ultimately allows us to realize that this fertility subject is incredibly super charged for us, but not so for them. The others have no clue. Or maybe they do, but trust me, they are not focused on our “incompetence.” Sure, they may say something that we take as careless or insensitive, but this is most likely just the fertility inferiority complex kicking in. Regardless of what anyone says, even if it was well-intentioned, we are bound to react and will probably take it personally. People mean well. They really do.
Loving kindness to them.
Loving kindness is actually a powerful meditation that can be used in relation to dealing with the other when you are struggling with infertility. It is a meditation that actively wishes the other person well. Saying the meditation before a social event or interaction can help break down the underlying negative associations, thereby creating a more balanced perspective. You can repeat the mantra several times in relation to specific people in your life. It brings a feeling of calmness and relaxation that can at least temporarily quell the complex. This is the mantra:
“May you be happy. May you be well. May you be safe. May you be peaceful and at ease.”
Telling our truth and making ourselves vulnerable certainly isn’t comfortable. No one likes to feel that exposed, and very few people like to put themselves out there in any sort of emotionally significant or deeply meaningful way. At first, we may be worried about how others will react, but truth telling and putting it out there breed more than potential support. For many it is freedom. For others, it is a release from the internal struggle. And for still others, it can be the salve that lets you connect with people again.
In the end, this journey toward a family is about you, not them. It’s easy to be hard on ourselves during stressful times, to wallow in the negative feelings of self-deprecation. But self-compassion and self-care are extremely important; we need to fortify our internal world and create a solid and steadfast foundation within our own heart and soul, thereby allowing us to better deal with ourselves and those around us.