The Daily News

LFCA Latest Issue: Friday, September 25, 2009.

Latest Post on BlogHer: Parenting after Infertility.

My Status: Fed Josh's almonds to the squirrels. They needed them very badly.

Sunday, August 06, 2006


It's Sunday morning and I just woke up from a nightmare. One of those terrible ones that take hours to fade and affect your whole mood. It seemed so real that I cleared my throat when I woke up, checking to see if it felt raw from screaming. Because I did a lot of screaming in this dream.

Buried inside a cast of thousands that included a pregnant woman (who was frustratingly ambivilant about her pregnancy and was swinging on a swing in the park--practically a child herself) and her fiance who informed me that he was sterile (yet the pregnant woman claimed that she became pregnant on their first try--strange) was an exchange between myself and a close friend. She flippantly told me that she was now pregnant again and that I was selfish. I should just be happy for her. And it wasn't about me. And that I let infertility rule my life.

And it was so maddening because she negated all of my feelings while speaking kernals of truth--I know that it's upsetting how I can't be happy sometimes for others (recall my sliding scale and poor Katie Holmes who is living in bitchland for me?), but at the end of the day, I truly don't believe that we have such control over our emotions that we can discard the pain we feel over whatever triggers it--the sight of a pregnant belly, the story of someone else's child, a pregnancy announcement.

If we had this control, wouldn't we use it in all facets of life? Why would I mourn a loss if I could just close that chapter and walk away? Why would I ever get angry at anyone--it's a waste of emotional energy? I was so frustrated in the dream because essentially the friend was pointing out one more flaw. I'm not just infertile; I'm not just a lesser woman: I'm also a selfish person who has little control over her emotions.

And I know that it has to be frustrating for others--when you're happy, it's sometimes hard to remember that everyone may not be simultaneously happy with you. There was a great comment on the sliding scale post from Zee who said, "I don't think you should be morally obligated to be happy for people who get what YOU want easily (or accidentally!) when you're working so hard for it and still getting nothing. You should never wish them ill, but you have no obligation to celebrate their good fortune."

And perhaps that's it. Never wishing them ill, but being understanding that there is no obligation to be happy for the person. Or is that too small when it comes to a close friendship or family member? Where do our obligations fall on this topic? (bold because I really do want an answer). And there are three levels: friends, close friends, and family members. Does this work for all three? Does it work for only friends (those people who fall outside your inner circle, but are still important to you)? And does it make me a small person if I abide by this rule when it comes to someone who is ranked a close friend? Does friendship buy you a different level of interaction--one that rises above your own hurt to be happy for another?

My sister was separating from her husband around the time of my wedding. And I had no clue. She waited until we were back from the honeymoon to tell us because she didn't want her situation to influence our own thoughts on marriage. I was very touched that she put our feelings above her own when she was the one going through the difficult time. The closest I have come to this level of putting my feelings aside are all the times I rolled on the floor with her daughter and babysat when my heart was breaking. I love my neice--I love her so completely with all my heart and she resides in a space that holds my own children. But it's hard. It's hard to love someone's baby when you want one yourself. When you're taking extreme measures to have one. But I never missed a trip or missed an opportunity to be with her. But is that the same level as celebrating a wedding when your own marriage is ending?

And where does this question of obligations fall when considered in this light--the ability to put your own feelings aside for a family member in order to celebrate with them? Is my sister superhuman or am I just truly that small? Or is it apples and oranges--divorce and infertility? This is all slippery ground that I can't wrap my mind around. Or perhaps it's just that post-dream haze.

In the dream, when my friend told me about her pregnancy, I started screaming. All-out-Prometrium-rage screaming. Tearing my hair out words: I hate you, I hate your children, I want you out of my life, never talk to me again, I hate you, I hate you, I hate you.

The good news (at least for the non-infertiles of this world) is that I woke up feeling terrible about myself. I didn't think this behaviour was acceptable. But isn't that just the theme of infertility? I'm angry at MYSELF at the way I manage my relationships. And I'm angry at MYSELF for my inability to naturally get pregnant. And I'm angry at MYSELF for not being able to make my husband a father easily. And I'm angry at MYSELF, at MYSELF, and...once MYSELF. I'm not sure how many people not going through infertility understand how much of the anger is turned inward versus how much anger is turned outward. I would wager a bet that I'm not the only person who has more bile flowing towards herself than to others--though most people are only privvy to the bile flowing towards them. I mean, who sits around telling their friends how much they hate themselves? Husbands, therapists, perhaps a few family members. But when I talk about the emotions of infertility, it's all about the sadness rather than the anger. I rarely talk about the journal entries where I talk about how angry I am with myself. Even when the rational me knows that so much of what happens with my body is out of my control.

I'd be curious to know how many people with other medical conditions turn that anger inward. Is it because there's no question to the validity of other medical conditions? If you have cancer, you have cancer. But if you're infertile, there are always the stories of someone who got pregnant via a miracle--8 years of fertility treatments and they got pregnant on the one month they weren't trying. So people grasp onto that idea and start writing off infertility not as a dire medical condition but as a problem that is best addressed by not addressing it. Other people say it to you, but the inward anger reflects how there is a part of you that imagines it might be true too.

I think the anger accompanying other medical conditions stems from regret: I wish I had done this or I wish I hadn't done this. But at the core, the anger is more at the situation than the self. And with infertility, I'm not just angry at infertility. I'm angry at myself for no good reason. Perhaps because there is such a lack of understanding--a pick-yourself-up-by-the-boot-straps-just-be-patient-it-will-happen-for-you-if-you-want-it-badly-enough attitude surrounding it that you start turning that inward and believing it (however slightly) yourself.

No one tells someone with cancer to not treat their disease because they've heard a story about someone who was healed by relaxing (even if you have heard this type of story). No, you direct them towards an agressive treatment. Because it's life threatening. And people don't consider infertility life threatening. It takes on the same status as mental illness--another condition that lacks the respect it deserves. It becomes a problem rather than a medical condition. A problem that should be set aside when someone tells you their good news so you can celebrate with them.

What to do, what to do, what to do? I'm truly asking because of the unrest I felt after this dream. How does one become that bigger person? How does one not dig these chasms between themselves and others (because none of us want to dig these chasms)? Or is that just it--I truly am that small and it's my problem and no one else's? Aaah...must go. I have an appointment with a little self-anger this morning. So much navel gazing lately.


royalyne said...

I had my own "nightmare" of sorts just two mornings ago. It involved a public bathroom (with oddly short brick walls between the stalls- like "I can see over the wall even while I'm sitting and trying not to pee all over myself while I beg the stick to change colors" short) and (wonder of wonders) a HPT. While the dream was wondeful while it was in progress (two pink lines for me, one blinking brightly- hey, it's dreamworld, pregnancy tests can blink there), the second I awoke it felt like a nightmare. Because "dream me" was pregnant, and here I was CD10. The dream couldn't be a premonition, because the egg's still sitting there waiting to come out. So the dream was my most desperate desire, one that is not about to come true anytime soon.

It's weird how a happy dream can become something horrible the second you start thinking. You would think I should be happy about such a wonderful dream (the random classmate from high school who appeared in the dream and casually remarked upon the blinking pink line I hadn't seen yet- I was scrubbing my hands, I always seem to splash when trying to POAS- was happy), but "awake me" just got angry. Because I knew that it was fake, something my brain made up, as if to torment me further. There is no magical thought that gets you past the feeling of waking up with self-hatred. I hate myself for all the reasons you mentioned, and more. And I hate my subconcious for subjecting me a fake miracle, one that will not be coming in real life.

Anonymous Infertile said...

I think your comment on obligations ties back to your post on the sliding scale of happiness. I know that there are some people that I will be genuinely happy to find out that they are pg and then there are the people that I will feel obligated to pretend that I am happy for.
I will be happy for my IF friends b/c they have been through the same hell that I have. Other than the other IFer's there are very few other people I will be genuinely happy for - I can honestly think of two of them right now - my sister and my best friend. I can honestly say that I want for them to be happy as much as I want myself to be happy. Although I can't honestly say that I won't cry if it does happen but they have been there for me and I want the best for them also.
The others, co-workers, friends (no matter how close), acquaintances, I will smile and say congratulations - as I am obligated to - but then may disappear from their lives for awhile while I deal with the pain.

Kris said...

I felt a little bit of this smallness this weekend, too. On July 4th at a party I found out someone I hardly knew was pregnant. I was dealing with an ectopic pregnancy and here she was announcing twins would be "neat". I couldn't look at her. I didn't want anything to happen to her pregnancy- but I couldn't share in her obvious joy. Saturday night I found out she had a miscarriage. I felt horrible. Like somehow I caused that because I wasn't happy for her, which is ridiculous. But I felt small, nonetheless.

But I do believe that while we have an obligation not to wish anyone ill, we do not have to be happy for them. And I believe you should feel happy for whomever you feel happy for. If you find out a random stranger is pregnant on a day you are feeling hopeful and find you are happy for them, go with it. If your best friend announces she's pregnant on the anniversary of your miscarriage and you can't muster happieness, don't.

There is a lot of anger directed inwards with IF. I'm not sure if that is true for other diseases, but I suspect that the inward directed anger is much more common in women than men. Women internalize so much. Say a man and a woman each misplace their keys. The tendency for the guy is to blame something outside- "Who moved my keys?". The woman tends to blame herself- "I am losing my mind... they were right here." So we carry this blame inside, even when we know that we aren't to blame. So we get angry for the guilt, angry for the blame, angry for the situation. You are not alone in this internal anger. I feel it a lot.

I think the divorce/pregnancy situations are different. Your sister did not want to affect your views on marriage. She worried that her circumstances could affect your life and maybe your decisions. Her bad situation could have had a big impact on your good one, so she put your feelings ahead of hers.

But infertility is different. Yes, someone might feel hurt that you can't be overjoyed for her, but really, after the initial hissy fit, your bad situation isn't going to have a big impact on her good one. She's pregnant. She's growing life. She's going to have baby showers and feel kicking and be told a million times how much she glows. She's happy. Maybe that is small. But if we are required to adjust our feelings, why not make the same argument on behalf of the friend-- why isn't she tempering her happiness because you are in pain?

C said...

I think the obligation to be understanding goes both ways. If a person is close enough to me to know about my infertility (and at this point, casual acquaintances and strangers without internet access are the only ones who don't know) then they should have just as much of an obligation to be sensitive to my pain as I have to be sensitive to their joy.

Once again, this seems to be a subject where the burden is typically assumed to be on us, the infertiles. If we're not overjoyed at a friend/family member's pregnancy news, something is wrong with us in their eyes. Why can't we just suck it up and put on a happy face? It's not their fault that we can have a baby, so why can't we put our grief aside and talk about registries and bedding with them?

Empathy and compassion should flow both ways.

Maya said...

Thanks for stopping by my blog. I see infertility somewhat as a death. A huge loss that cuts you to the core. You don't expect yourself to just get over your loss. Nor, can everyone tip toe around your pain perfectly or forever. I agree with Carolyn, it takes a lot of empathy and compassion on both ends. As infertiles,we are probably going to be overly sensitive sometimes and our friends may be under -sensitive sometimes. We just need to be patient with one another, which is often more easily said than done. This does remind to post about one of my more insensitive interactions of all time.

Kay/Hanazono said...

As you know, I have been wrestling with this issue on my blog for the past week or so. What I am coming to understand is that, while I don't have control over my emotions (and don't really believe that I need to control my emotions), I do have control over my actions. That is, I don't have to be happy for the other person, no matter how close they are for me, but I have the power to continue to act lovingly toward that person no matter how I am feeling inside. Does that make sense?

It's similar to your story about your sister: I can't speak for her, but as someone who has gone through a difficult divorce, I would imagine that she still felt all the feelings people who are ending their marriages have at weddings, but that she chose to act in a loving manner toward you that day, no matter how difficult it was for her. I don't know if I'm making sense. I need to think about it some more and will probably blog about this later in the week as part of my "untangling" series. Hope you get a better night's sleep tonight :)

Piccinigirl said...

I know the anger, we've gotten to be quite friendly in the past. It exhausts me and makes me like a lesser person. I have tried to wrap myself around it. This is what I have found, I have been a good friend, sister, daughter , even surrogate mom to students and when I really need someone to listen to me, there is no one who understands. I have been through life changing events and everyday bitching with each of them and now that I need that same "cheerleader" in my corner there is no one.
It makes the anger worse.
My mom told me I was "turning into someone she didn't know" last year about the time my sister was getting married and I knew it was true, I didn't know me. Yet I felt comfortable with this new me, the new Ire I had inside. I knew that I was hard to talk to lately, knew that I was "all about me" but I took that position, that for once, it would be All about me and how I felt.
The world , my world, did not agree.
I can't tell you what has changed since then, I still cannot be happy for everyone getting PG, but I think that will follow me into mommyhood (if I ever get there) I refuse to be outright mean to anyone these days, but it has more to do with Karma and my place on this planet. I don't have to be happy about your happy news, no more so than they have to be happy about mine. For a people pleaser like me that's a hard stretch to make. I havent' done it everytime and there are women I know that when they got their BFPs I felt vindicated and it wasn't even me. I know that joy for another human being. I just don't show it all the time.