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!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Infertility, pregnancy, and self-esteem

I was picking up my daughter at a class the other day, when I overheard one of the other mothers talking to the school director.  "Did my daughter tell you our news?" she asked excitedly.  It turned out that this woman was unexpectedly pregnant, after undergoing infertility treatment to conceive her children.  Her face was all aglow, and she went on and on about how she was finally normal, finally experiencing a miracle.  To her credit, the school director told her, "Well, I think all your children are miracles," but that really didn't even slow her down.

I left feeling uneasy, and frankly, a little irritated by what I had overheard.  I was also irritated at myself--shouldn't I be as happy for this woman as she was for herself?  After all, she was experiencing the holy grail of infertility treatment--the spontaneous pregnancy.  As I further considered my reaction, I realized that what was really bothering me was this woman's assertion that now, and only now that she had achieved a pregnancy without treatment, that she was normal.  That now, she could feel good about herself.

The more I work in the field of infertliity, the more I am able to see how much we, as a society, tie the concept of fertility in with our sense of self-esteem.  If a woman can be pregnant and successfully deliver a baby, she's normal and good; if she can't, she's something else--at best someone to feel sorry for, and at worst someone who God/the universe is trying to tell that she doesn't really deserve to be a mother anyway.

The pain that this societal assumption causes is immense.  Further galling, anyone who thinks rationally for any amount of time about this assumption will realize it is patently and ridiculously untrue.  Of course we all know supremely fertile women who are failing miserably at parenting; and we all know (and might well be) supremely infertile women who will make amazing parents once their infertility crisis is resolved.

I guess this is why I felt so annoyed with the woman at my daughter's class-a feeling of "et tu, Brute?"  After all, she is one of us--and yet she still bought into the fertility=normal/good equation hook, line, and sinker.

After a long and protracted battle with infertility and my body in my quest to have children, I have come to realize that I can't let my infertility define how I feel about myself.  It was all beyond my control anyhow, and even if it wasn't, I can't feel worse about myself because of it.  In the same light, I can't feel like I'm a better, normal/good person because today my lungs are functioning well.  That's out of my control too.  Instead, I must judge myself on how I respond to my circumstances, and how I treat others in my life. 

I hope if you are struggling with infertility, you try to do the same; remember that fertility, or infertility is not the measure of a person.  Our efforts, our choices, and our treatment of others are much more valid criteria for self-assessment.