Infertility is a fairly common yet highly understood physical problem that affects around 10% of women from ages 15 to 44, according to the CDC. Despite how common it is, infertility is a topic clouded over by unnecessary shame and confusion, and this only furthers the anger and loss that many women experience because of such a physical condition.
Women and couples, in general, are often made to feel ashamed or at fault for their infertility, even though the “blame game” for this issue is both factually and ethically incorrect. There are many things which contribute to infertility, and none of them revolve around blaming one member of the couple.
There are a wide number of responses you may have to infertility issues in your family. This article is meant to help you pinpoint the exact emotions you may be feeling so you can deal with them in a healthy and productive way. Whether you have just discovered that you may be affected by issues of infertility, or are well into undergoing treatment for infertility, there are many ways of breaking down and dealing with the intense feelings that can go along with this situation that will keep you from unfairly taking it out on yourself or others.
A Sense of Loss and Mourning
You might be confused about this, especially if you are having the feeling of “losing something you never had.” But this is an incredibly common reaction, and it has been shown that women will often cycle through the 7 Stages of Grief and loss when dealing with infertility. In other words, couples, and women especially, tend to experience infertility in ways that parallel the human response to death and mourning, such as denial, anger, and guilt.
In addition, it is not only the potential child that has been lost, but also a sense of control over one’s own body. This is an incredibly deep form of defeat than can affect multiple areas of your life, and should not be discounted just because nothing physical may have been lost. This loss of control can affect your ability to take action or make decisions, and can make you feel misplaced, directionless, and/or powerless.
What you can do: One crucial, yet sometimes counterintuitive, thing you can do is allow yourself to grieve over this loss. Allow yourself to undergo the stages of grieving as they come, and don’t berate yourself for feeling these entirely natural and common feelings. Let yourself cry and don’t attempt to cage these emotions within. Typically, bottling emotions probably won’t work, and will usually result in them emerging at times you would prefer them not to. While you gain nothing from repressing sadness, you will gain some relief by allowing yourself to feel it. Keeping a journal or a diary is also a helpful way of working through feelings you don’t necessarily feel comfortable sharing with others.
To balance out this time you give yourself, however, it may be a great idea to keep yourself busy and get involved in activities that interest you. This is also important if you are currently undergoing infertility treatment, since those treatments can be intensive. It is important to prevent these treatments from doing overpowering you, and to keep yourself occupied so that the sadness doesn’t take over in an unhealthy way. If possible, exercising, even for an hour or less a day, has been shown to help combat depression and other physical/mental problems that produce feelings of sadness and loss.
Guilt, Shame, and General Feelings of Inadequacy
While feelings of loss are generated on more of a biological and psychological level, these feelings often stem from cultural attitudes towards infertility. There are stereotypes and expectations of what the “perfect family” looks like and how it behaves, and issues like infertility often fall in between the gaps of these unrealistic expectations. The feelings you experience may relate to the general idea that your body isn’t working the way it “should.” Having a child is something that is advertised as being something effortless and natural, and this leads women who are unable to live up to this false standard to feel inadequate.
This inadequacy can take two different forms: guilt and shame. While these are often used interchangeably, they do have important differentiations that may help you analyze your own feelings. Guilt is much more individualized, and is usually the result of an action: for example, if you committed a crime or hurt someone, you might feel guilty about it. The action you committed is wrong, and it feels out of place with “who you are.” Shame, on the other hand, is experienced when you feel like you, as a person, are wrong. It stems less from an action and depends on an outside perspective that makes you feel that you do not fit into the society directly. It is more cultural, rather than personal.
There are many studies that suggest that guilt is the “healthier” iteration of these two feelings, since it is much easier to address an action you committed than the general feeling of selfhatred that shame tends to generate. However, in the specific case of infertility, both of these reactions are groundless, since you have done nothing wrong and do not deserve what you have been given.
You have not committed a bad action to deserve guilt, and the societal standards surrounding birth and motherhood are unrealistic and harmful. Those standards are what is in the wrong, and not you. You also should not feel guilty because you “owe” something to your partner or have let them down in some way. As the article began, one out of ten women experience infertility: what you are experiencing is not out of the ordinary. It is simply a physical condition, and that condition has no correlation with you as a person.
What you can do: Distinguishing between whether you are experiencing shame and/or guilt can help you analyze your feelings: why do you feel like you have done something wrong? What incorrect cultural attitudes are impeding your ability to think about infertility in a healthy way?
In both cases, however, one of the best things you can do is educate yourself about the causes and stigmas surrounding infertility. The more you know about it, the more you can begin to realize why you have no reason to feel guilty or ashamed of infertility.
It may also be helpful to read about others’ experiences and even talk to others who are experiencing similar things as you. It can be very difficult to work through these feelings, since they may stem from years of selfdirected negative feelings, or deeplyheld cultural assumptions. Regardless, the best thing you can do is pinpoint your exact feelings, and then learn more in order to negate these feelings. It may take a while and a lot of work, but you will feel much better in the long run.
Jealousy and Resentment
Infertility issues are one of the clearest illustrations of how jealousy fundamentally stems from insecurity. When people are jealous in relationships, for example, it is easy to blame the other person for manifestations of jealousy: it was because of what they did, how they act with other people, etc. In reality, in most relationships, jealousy actually stems from an underlying insecurity in the relationship, since the person would not feel jealous if they had no reason to think their relationship could not be harmed.
With infertility, however, feelings of jealousy can be understood in more of a clearcut way. You may feel insecure about infertility, and so you may react to anything that reminds you of it: whenever you see babies, pregnant women, or even children’s toys in a store.
Insecurity easily leads to common reactions of jealousy and resentment: why do they get to have a child? Do they somehow deserve it more than I do? You badly want what they have, and feel that you could appreciate a child even more than others do. Your envy stems from an insecurity between the relationship with both your body and with the unborn child, and does not rely on external factors like in other cases of jealousy.
What you can do: On some level, it can be beneficial to your mental health to avoid the people and things that arouse these feelings within you. Avoid all that only serves to unnecessarily aggravate you.
Avoidance, however, can only go so far. You won’t be able to shield yourself from these things forever, even if it can be initially beneficial to do so. One of the keys to managing jealousy with regards to infertility is to disengage from the external pressure that your feelings of jealousy may introduce. This means that the jealousy you may feel is also wrapped up in feelings of inadequacy.
Keep remembering you are a beautiful individual with many amazing qualities to offer, and not having children does not affect who you are as a person. Write down these characteristics, recite these to yourself like a poem, and remind yourself every day what you are: a beautiful person. It will help you disengage from your jealousy which, if continuously fed, will continue to grow until it takes over. Keeping yourself away from situations in which you might feel jealous can help, but recognizing your jealousy, treating it like something that is separate from yourself, and remembering your true purpose will strengthen your resolve through these often trying times.
External Pressure and Tension in Your Relationships.
Related to jealous feelings, you might be feeling extreme pressure from your partner, your family, friends, and society at large with regards to infertility issues. And while sources like the Internet, for example, may help you connect with other people and feel less alone in this process, it may also not be a constant comfort when re- entering into reality.
The physical, mental, and emotional effects of infertility are not widely known, and it may be difficult for people who have not experienced it to be able to relate. It is not something that can be “solved” by adoption, or by a simple “change of attitude.” It may seem incomprehensible that the judgments of others can carry so much weight, but the sad reality is that you might be in a very fragile state of mind and are more receptive to negative comments about your struggle or about infertility in general.
These tensions may also come from within. Infertility can affect your relationship with your partner, even if your partner is genuinely not trying to pressure you. Feelings of inadequacy and pressure to perform sexually, for example, may pose a threat to the stability of your relationship. This pressure is more difficult to escape, and can be a lot more difficult to confront as well.
What you can do: Make sure to surround yourself only with positivity. You are probably already experiencing enough negative emotions, and you don’t need to bring any more of that into your life at the moment. This can be difficult, because you might even have to loosen your contacts with lessunderstanding friends and family members, at last for the time being. You and your body are not obligated to appease anyone. There are many reliable sources out there who will give you the support and information you need in a positive and healthy way.
With your partner, things may be a lot more complicated. The most important thing to remember and continue to apply is that you and your partner should work as a team through this process. This does not always mean, however, that you two will always be on the same page every step of the way. You might be at one stage of dealing with these issues, and your partner might have another emotional mentality altogether. But finding common ground, being patient with one another, and showing love and respect will ultimately settle any discomfort. Have the difficult discussions when you are ready, and be as open and honest with each other as you can.
The issues of infertility can feel a lot less daunting once you understand your emotions and their source, and once you have supportive and help from people on your side, you can feel empowered to make the choices you want to make, and not the choices you feel you have to make.