As a clinical psychologist who specializes in working with infertility issues, one of the things I’ve learned is that every person’s story and situation is truly unique. Infertility is one of those life experiences that usually pushes a lot of emotional buttons. Everyone has different buttons, and thus responds differently.
But there is one thing I’ve heard from almost everyone facing infertility at some point in their journey (including myself), and it’s some version of this---that infertility is somehow God’s/the universe’s/karma’s (insert spiritual force of your choice here)’s little way of telling you that you shouldn’t be a parent because you are somehow, or were somehow, bad.
Everyone has their own personal spin on this story, too, when it comes to the details of their alleged horribleness. Often, people seem to struggle to come up with an actually plausible reason for their punishment, because the truth is that they haven’t ever even come close to doing something that would deserve that kind of response. What would, really? Some of the explanations, if the whole situation wasn’t so sad, would actually be pretty funny. Also, almost everyone is able to acknowledge that this is irrational and that all manner of people with glaringly obvious challenges to their parenting skills are able to procreate freely.
But they all still believe that it’s somehow their fault anyway.
Did I mention I myself am not immune to this sort of magical thinking? I remember telling my first RE on more than one occasion that my infertility was a punishment for something I had done in a former life. I also remember being pretty shocked when one day he agreed with me, saying, “I don’t know what you did in that former life, but it must have been really, really bad!”. Not the treatment prognosis you really want to hear, but more on that whole situation another time.
So why do we do this? Why do we torment ourselves even though we rationally know it isn’t, can’t be, our fault?
My theory is that it is our attempt to create meaning and order in a painful, chaotic experience. That somehow it seems more painful to realize that most infertility is probably the product of some random chemical and/or cellular mishaps over which we have no control, because then we must admit that we have, at best, very limited control of the outcome.
This phenomenon is not exclusive to dealing with infertility, however. People often have a very hard time admitting they don’t have complete, or sometimes even partial control over their bodies and their destinies. This purpose of type of defense is to help us function in everyday life. We all walk around every day with all sorts of fictions and denials designed to prevent our realizing, say, that at any second, there is a small but possible chance that we, or a loved one, could be in a car accident, be diagnosed with serious illness, a victim of violent crime, etc. The possibilities for peril are endless even if they are, thankfully, unlikely. But if we constantly hold these possibilities in the forefront of our minds, we would be paralyzed by fear and we wouldn’t be able to function. One way of coping is to create fictional beliefs about our control, such as “I won’t be in a car accident because I’m a good driver.” Although this may not actually be true—being a good driver may reduce one’s chances of being in a car accident, but as accidents can be caused by other drivers’ mistakes, it does not eliminate the risk—it allows us to get behind the wheel and drive to our next destination.
When it comes to situations like infertility, this coping mechanism starts to work against us. Because we have limited conscious control over the inner workings of our bodies when things go awry, we are forced to “go negative” to create a fictional belief that allows us to have the fantasy of being in control. This is where thoughts like “I must be a bad person”, and “I do not deserve to be a parent” come into play. Since we can’t control it physically, it pushes the explanation into the karmic, moral and spiritual realms.
The good news, though, is that once we realize that these negative beliefs about ourselves are not true, but just a misguided way to feel like we are more in control of the situation, we can start to let ourselves off the hook. And being fully aware of the truth of the situation—that we (or our doctors) ultimately have limited control over what our hormones, organs, and cells will do—allows us to take a different perspective on ourselves and our treatment. Once we can get our self-esteem and cosmic self-worth out of the equation, we can make better treatment and life decisions for ourselves. It is so much easier to decide what is best for you, your family, and your future if your worth as a person is not tied into it somehow.
So you if you are reading this, and you’ve been blaming yourself on some level for your infertility, please know that it is very common, and that you are certainly not alone. Try taking a more skeptical view on your own ideas about what you’ve done wrong, or why you think this might be happening to you. Most likely, you will realize that these thoughts and beliefs aren’t so much about your current situation, but instead stem from your wish to have more control over the situation than is possible. It is important to remind yourself, often repeatedly, that your worth as a person and your ability to reproduce are almost always completely separate things. In so doing, you may be able to free yourself from feeling bad about yourself and doomed in your situation, and develop a fresh perspective to help you succeed with the challenges that come your way.