This blog addresses various emotional aspects of experiencing infertility. It is written by a clinical psychologist who specializes in infertility counseling. Thank you for reading, and best of luck with your journey!

Monday, May 30, 2011

The great divide? "Us vs. them" feelings and infertility

Sometimes when things get ugly, your real feelings reveal themselves.

Such was the case during an argument I had with my husband when I was pregnant. I had my 20 week ultrasound coming up, and I really wanted him to attend the appointment--I was nervous I would find out something was wrong with the baby, and I also wanted him to be part of the experience. He wanted to go too--but his boss at the time had different plans. Although he had blocked the appointment time on his calendar out for a month, his boss was insistent that he go out of town that morning, and only that morning, to soothe the worries of a nervous client. To my husband, attending the meeting didn't seem like a good idea in any case, because he would not be available to work with the client permanently. When my husband explained both his general reservations, and that he had a personal obligation and could not attend the meeting because he had a medical appointment, his boss was not pleased. He repeatedly pressed him to reveal the reason for the appointment. When, under duress, my husband told him about the ultrasound, his boss was quiet for a moment. Then he said, "You know, I have four children, and I never went to any of their ultrasounds. I don't think that's very important. What's the big deal anyway?" He told my husband he needed to go home and think about his priorities.

You can imagine the argument that ensued later that evening. I was shocked that my husband began to question his own decision to go the appointment. "Is it really that important?" he asked. "Are you kidding me?" I responded. "Don't you remember what we've been through all these years? And what it took to get to this point? Half a pregnancy under your belt, and you are already thinking like a breeder!" The word, ugly, fell off my tongue.

Now it was his turn to look shocked. He paused and said angrily, "Don't you ever, ever, call me that again!"

That's when I realized it--"breeder" was now the most vile thing we could say to each other. It was the ultimate throw-down in our relationship. It was clear even though we were not conscious of it, because of my infertility, we both felt like we were in a minority group, separated from the rest of the fertile world.

To me, that's a real problem, because most of the people whom I love have no fertility problems whatsoever. I don't want to feel separate from them. On the other hand, I can't deny the fact that infertility is often painful and unfair, or that many times, people without fertility issues say insensitive and thoughtless things. Or worse, that some people, like my husband's former boss, take their fertility and good fortune for granted.

In my conversations with others with infertility, I know that my husband and I aren't alone in this struggle. Too often, the infertile folks feel left behind, out of sync, and separated from the rest of the world. While they are undergoing treatment and enduring disappointments, the rest of their peers are, seemingly effortlessly, having babies. The situation, by its nature, is divisive, with its "have and have not" undertones.

I have come to realize that one of the great tasks of life, at least from a psychological perspective, is to be able to honor your own unique experiences while simultaneously recognizing the different experiences of others. It takes a lot of emotional energy and maturity, and it is hard to do when we are in pain. However, I feel that even in the throes of infertility treatment, it is vital to try to do so. Although others may never be able to understand us and our experiences, we must still try to understand them. Without this, we risk being permanently cut off from the 92 out of 100 couples who do not struggle with infertility, even if it is in unconscious or subtle ways. This can keep us from fully dealing with our feelings of anger, grief, and loss, and can prevent us from moving forward after our infertility issues have been resolved.

Thus, although it is doubtful that my husband's boss could ever understand my feelings about my ultrasound, I realized I must try to understand his emotions. It seemed that he hadn't considered that there was anything to be nervous about during his wife's pregnancies, and that he was lucky enough that everything went well. That he didn't seem to fully value his own good fortune, and that he would clearly pick a client above his family, struck me as sad. I wondered whether or not, in the long-term, he would feel good about these choices. Seeing him as a person struggling with his own issues, and not just a "breeder", helped me to bridge the divide between myself and the fertile world.

I would love to hear about other experiences with this issue. Do you feel separate somehow from the fertile people in your life? If so, how did you deal with it?

Thanks so much for reading, and as always, if you have any questions, or have any ideas for future blog posts, please let me know!


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  2. Im with you my dear....I definately do feel separated from all my friends who all got married after me and they all have healthy babies now and no problem in TTC game..how can I share with them my IF journey when they simply do not understand...I could share but I am not prepared for dealing with their reaction at this present stage..just like your DH boss I cant believe he was so insensitive about family...any work place should have motto family comes first and obviously this boss does not have a significant relationship with his wife and kids to share that special moment..I would be devastated if DH could not make my ultra sound....I just think one thing that comes out of infertility is that your relationship between partner and yourself becomes so much stronger...Im so proud of my hubby to still stand by me even with my infertility issues and sometimes I push him on the outside as its me with the problem but hang on its us with the problem is how he sees it and we both deal with it different...
    When I do fall pregnant with my IVF baby I will stand strong and proud on how it was conceived and I will tell the world but Im not ready yet ...this journey is hard enough to deal with without everyone else inteferring..I say just select close few family and friends to support you ones you know will not judge you..
    I dont know if we can ever overcome dealing with others people insensitive and negative reactions to IF....like "well If I just sit in it I get pregnant..Im not ready to deal with telling people about my IF and they use it to make themselves feel better

  3. The great divide it truly is. Now that I am finally pregnant, I just can't help feeling continuously jealous of everyone else who is due around the same time as me. There seems to be a lot of them, and I am assuming they all got pregnant within the first couple of months (of course, I don't know this for a fact, but you can guess, based on the last big vacation they took etc). And i feel jealous of the fact that they are not as anxious as me, that they never went through our kind of struggles.

    I have to keep reminding myself of our good fortunes, that everyone has their own set of struggles, and that everything is not as wonderful as it looks on the surface.

    I try not to talk about our IF struggles with anyone, mainly because I get emotional just talking about it, and because they don't understand and would pass insensitive comments.

    Thanks for sharing your experience. I can imagine how hurt and angry you must have felt at the time. We expect others to understand, but the sad truth is, they never will.

  4. This is a great post. It is so difficult to retain compassion and empathy for people when, deep down, we envy them. I have shared my infertility with a few close friends, and in many cases, the ones with children who got pregnant easily have been the most compassionate and thoughtful. This has really helped bridge the divide in my own life.

  5. This divide has certainly impacted many of my relationships, both personal and professional. While I understand that most of my friends and colleagues (of those I choose to tell about my struggles) will never truly understand what I am going through, I cannot help but feel angry when I am expected to understand FULLY their various issues. Two years ago I walked through hell and back with a very very close family member who was diagnosed with terminal cancer. I turned my life inside to support her and my family during her treatments and hospitalizations. She is now in remission and after my miscarriage she told me I was "taking it too hard" and that as a single person, I "was doing this to myself" and "deserved what I got". I don't mean to unload that whole issue here (well, I guess I did!) but my point is that this very tender and painful issue of infertility and miscarriage/baby loss will never ever be understood by those who have not experienced it. The divide has a definite and sharp edge and there is no traversing it.

  6. yes. i do feel different. I am 29 weeks pregnant with twins. my RE and my OBGYN are in the same building. My mom drove me to an OB appt last week. I was complaining to my mom that it was hard when going to the RE to see so many pregnant women on the elevator. First she asked me what an RE was as if the past two years had just slipped her mind now that I'm pregnant. I told her it was the fertility doctor. Then she said she thought it would be encouraging to women going to the fertility doctor to see lots of pregnant women.
    I realized the woman who bore me and who loves me to pieces will still never get it.