In an earlier post, I discussed some of the issues that can occur when a person with a "type A" personality style experiences infertility. In this blog post, I would like to focus on one particular aspect of that experience; namely, the emotional experience of treatment failure. Failure is endemic to infertility and infertility treatment, as the failure to produce a viable pregnancy starts the whole process.
By the time a person with Type A personality typically gets diagnosed with infertility, they have already been deluged with feelings of failure. Failure to get or stay pregnant is distressing to everyone, no matter their personality style. However, it seems to be particularly stressful for those of us who are more on the type A side of things. To me, this is best expressed by this equation:
Type A personality + treatment failure = uncomfortable recognition of lack of control.
One of the biggest motivations for being type A, e.g., worried about the details, anxious about potential obstacles, is that it can provide a faux sense of control. Someone with a more laid-back approach to things may have a basic belief that although things are out of their control, they will work out well in the end. This is not so for people with The A personality style. Simply put, they do not feel lucky. Not only do they not feel lucky with infertility, they do not feel lucky in any aspects of their lives. The underlying assumption is that the world is not a safe place.
It's pretty uncomfortable walking around being anxious and worried about the future all of the time. Thus, if you have this basic belief, you will need to develop a psychological strategy for minimizing these feelings. That's where a type A personality style, with its emphasis on working hard to manage all the details, can come in very handy. You can get so busy organizing, planning and working that you can put your feelings of anxiety about the world out of consciousness.
The Type A strategy of managing anxiety is usually adaptive in most situations. However, in a situation like infertility treatment, where success or failure usually rest on several factors beyond anyone's control, it all falls apart. A treatment failure isn't just a profound disappointment; it is also an example of the person's worst fear come true. It is a concrete reminder that no matter how hard they might try, bad things happen--and thus, the world is not safe.
Add in some fertility drugs tweaking the emotions, financial stress, and a few insensitive comments from friends and family, and you've got a recipe for the perfect storm in terms of creating an emotional meltdown. Sound familiar? I know I myself have been in that play several times before.
Although it is painful and unsettling to realize that we feel unlucky and unsafe, there are some advantages to doing so. In reality, your situation is no better or worse off than it was before. The primary loss is actually the fantasy that you had some sort of omnipotent control in the first place. By letting go of this fantasy, you may be able to paradoxically relax a bit more--if it's not all in your power, it can't be all your fault, right? Also, by acknowledging that your fear that you are always unlucky of that the world is always unsafe, you can also realize the ways in which your fears aren't accurate. In reality, a person can't always be unlucky, and not every situation is unsafe. This can allow you to respond more specifically and helpfully to the threats of a given situation, saving your energy for the things that matter most.