The Powerful Emotions of Infertility: should we try to shut them out or do we accept them and embrace them?
August 8, 2013 | By: Liz
I have been wanting to blog for awhile but haven’t felt a strong enough connection with a topic or a clarity in perspective sufficient to get me out of writer’s block. Then two things happened this week both of which caused private, hidden memories of my IVF/Infertility Journey to peek out of their boxes and got me thinking . . . and now blogging.
In my family we have something called “Feelings Boxes”. I talk with my kids and explain to them that we all have angry boxes, sad boxes, and happy boxes but that it is most important that you don’t let the boxes with the negative emotions get so big that they explode (in a tantrum for example — of which I am the most capable of all members of my family at producing 😉 ) and that we pay attention when a Feelings Box starts rattling around so that we can talk about those feelings before the explosion (tantrum) occurs. I want to talk about the powerful emotions we feel during and sometimes after infertility and whether or not we should try to bury them, or whether opening up a particular Feelings Box related to our infertility is the better approach.
Everyone must have guessed by now that I have more than one Feelings Box devoted to infertility. In fact, I have sectioned off an entire portion of my brain to stack the different Feelings Boxes I have related to my infertility. Let’s see . . . we have the “Jealous Box,” the “Angry Infertile Myrtle Box,” and the “Pity Box” just to name a few. Of course I have spent a ton of time stacking up equally high positive boxes of emotions, but negative emotions are a hard bunch to deal with. This blog may in fact be an attempt to keep one of my boxes from exploding.
The first thing that got my boxes rattling was a meeting with prospective clients. It is uncommon for my clients to recognize that — despite the books with my name on them or what I do for a living — I too have walked the path they are on. I will mention it to them when I think it’s appropriate, but it is extremely rare for a client to make an unsolicited and, in this case, insightful comment into my experiences and my feelings. As we sat through what turned into a four hour meeting discussing all their family building options, and I felt engaged and happy (and even excited for them as they have so many options available to them it was like being in an infertility candy store trying to pick which candy would taste best), one of the intended parents turned to me and asked me if this was hard on me. He then stopped and said: “how could this not be hard on you?” I was stunned. Boxes immediately started rattling and it took me a second to regroup and quiet those boxes down and focus.
Does what I do bother me, does it hurt me to help other people conceive and carry children when I am unable to do so? This is what he asked next. I was blown-away. I know I had my game face on and I know that none of my boxes was rattling until he raised the question. Does helping other people have babies every day, hurt? Don’t I get jealous he asked. I mumbled something truthful about the fact that there are bad days but that at the end of every day I go home to my family and am reminded that I have come out the other side . . . something we are working toward for them. I gave him a truthful answer. But it was only partially truthful and my Feelings Box was beginning to really shake; it was going to have to wait.
The second thing that happened was reading a recent blog entry in The Fertility Diary: Baby Envy which is in The New York Times. If you want to read it click here. In the blog the author talks about her pain and anger at learning another 40-something and newly married friend had conceived “naturally”. For all the talk about fertility landmines, many women over 40 do conceive on their own but just as many need assisted reproductive technology to conceive and carry to term. When you are going through IUI, IVF, failed cycles, miscarriages and you find out that a friend got pregnant spontaneously at or around the same age, it hurts. The author opened up her Feelings Box and captured in exquisite detail the emotions you feel when you find out that your friend is pregnant. Great blog! And it got several more of my Feelings Boxes moving around.
As I cannot ignore what I am today feeling and as I think I would like to spare my family a day with a woman on the edge, I thought I’d blog. Sometimes the process of putting thoughts onto cyber-paper is healing (heck writing The Infertility Survival Handbook was cathartic).
My client was spot-on. Sometimes it does hurt very much to help other people have babies. Even going home to the warmth of children’s hugs, snuggle time, or even folding their laundry (always a good reminder of the fact that you get what you ask for), doesn’t always off-set the sadness I feel when I watch a woman my age conceive using donor egg. Hello Jealous and Pity Boxes! And reading the Fertility Diary was flashback central. How many times did I experience that phone call? How many times did I lock my office door so that I could weep in private before focusing on something mind-numbing like editing a legal brief? Hello Flashback/Memory Box. That box is a doozy by the way. She is by far the most strong and powerful of all the boxes that I have stacked up in there. And while she is outnumbered by Happy Memory Boxes, as I said before when they get going, those negative emotions have tremendous power.
I am a strong believer in the power of positive thought, meditation, visualization and keeping a focused mind. I try and teach my clients that they need to keep their eye on the goal and let me deal with the legal issues that are causing concern. I teach the same thing to my children. Focus on what you like, what you want, and what is good in your day and stop giving your attention to, and pushing against, the yucky or (in more grown-up terms) the unpleasant stuff. My kids get it. My Fairy Princess really gets it.
Recently on vacation she used her allowance to buy me a present. She bought me a handmade Native American Dream Catcher. It was beautiful and I told her that I loved it but I wanted to make sure she wouldn’t regret spending her allowance on something not for her; so I asked her if she was sure she wanted to give it to me, maybe she would like to hang it by her bed instead. She looked up at me with those big eyes and said “do you know why I got it for you?” I had no idea. “So you stop dreaming and thinking about all the babies that died in your tummy” . . . I was speechless. I don’t typically dream about my miscarriages but somehow she must have picked up on one of my Feelings Boxes and its power.
I knelt down next to her and gave her a hug. “Baby” I said “that is the sweetest, most thoughtful gift anyone has ever given me and I will sleep with this every night. But I want you to understand something. If those babies hadn’t died in mommy’s tummy, I wouldn’t have you and I cannot imagine a life without you. Those babies helped me find you. . . . ”
Those words are my truth. Those are the words I tell myself when a client’s experience makes a Feelings Box rattle, those are the words I told myself on my car ride home after meeting my clients this week, those are the words I pray that the Fertility Diary Blogger will one day feel. No matter how powerful or painful our path to parenthood may be, it all happens for a reason and in the perfect time and perfect way. It’s getting through the days that is the challenge. Today I have my dream catcher and this blog, both of which have closed a rattling Feelings Box (or two or three) and have given me new energy to work.
The boxes are supposed to be there. I don’t know why we have to go through so much to have children sometimes but I thank the Universe every day for creating the science and the adoption programs that help create a family in the face of challenge. I am grateful that this woman is sharing her Feelings Boxes with us. It reminded me of an important lesson about infertility. Keeping silent is wrong. In sharing our stories and feelings we reinforce each other’s strengths. I am stronger today for my clients and this blogger. Don’t keep it inside. Don’t let your Feelings Box explode. Let them out, explore them, and then focus on the fact that there are so many options to become a parent today that we are in a veritable candy store. What flavor candy do you want to choose?
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