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Thursday, November 02, 2006

Why Me No Likey Comparative Pain

Before we were engaged, my husband came up with a game called likey/no likey. He would take me to jewelry store windows and try to guess if I would answer likey or no likey to each ring. Hence how I ended up with a fantastic setting that kept in mind the fact that I wanted to be able to wear it while I went kayaking. Apparently, back then, I thought I would still be kayaking in my thirties. I guess I was mistaken.

But the point of the game was that it was a gut reaction, that first impulse. There are plenty of things that grow on you and plenty of things you can talk yourself into liking. But in likey/no likey, only the first feeling counts.

And me no likey comparative pain.

As incredibly obvious in my post a few days ago about seeing the hematologist, I engage in comparative pain. But I hate the game. Just one of the ways I'm a complete, bleeding hypocrite. It's unhealthy. It's unrealistic. It's unproductive. What is gained by being able to say that my situation doesn't suck as much as that person's? Does it make mine better? Does it alleviate any of the emotions I'm feeling?

The point of a comparison is not just to draw parallels between two unrelated situations--it's a way to negate and create a hierarchy. We want to scratch the skin off of someone else's face when they do it to us (at least you lost the baby at 8 weeks--could you imagine what it would be like to have a stillborn? At least you've only been trying for three years; I know someone who has been trying for seven. Oh, you had to do two IVF cycles?--I had to do four). And then we do it to ourselves. Alone. It our head. It's as if that well-meaning neighbour that everyone has who says these things has wedged herself somewhere in my head.

How many of you have doubted the legitimacy of your infertility emotions when faced with an even "worse" situation in a blog? Don't lie--I know you do it! We all talk about it on our blogs and you mention it in the comments. And I know that you do it because I do it too. I literally look at the cards in front of me and think: do I have the right to feel this upset? I've never endured an adoption reversal. I haven't experienced a stillbirth. We didn't try unsuccessfully for nine years.

But this is the problem with comparative pain--it's not just what you go through, but the choices you're able to make when other factors are taken into consideration. Not everyone can afford IVF, therefore, not everyone will get to endure failed IVF cycles. Or perhaps it's because their religion doesn't allow it. Or it's just not physically possible. Or their husband isn't on-board. There are a multitude of reasons why a person wouldn't be able to do IVF. But does not enduring a failed IVF cycle mean that you didn't suffer? How does a failed cycle of IVF rate a higher level of pain than someone who desperately wants to do IVF and can't? Or someone who doesn't want to do, but doesn't have another viable choice?

And then we get into the fact that pain is in the eye of the beholder. All of us would agree that it is devastating to lose a child--it goes beyond human endurance. It is literally heartbreaking. But what about the woman who never gets to experience pregnancy at all? Who goes through her whole life never knowing what it is like to carry another person inside her body? In all of the pregnancy loss interviews that I've conducted to this point (and there could be many more people out there with a different point of view), not one person has said that they wished they had never been pregnant. They wished it had turned out differently. They wished they still had their child. But they didn't wish away the entire person. They still cherished that baby. Their pain is understood and recognized. Who is recognizing the pain of the woman who never gets to come close to being pregnant? It just doesn't hold weight in comparative pain--but the pain is just as heavy and real and sharp as the pain felt by those who have lost.

Is that woman who never carries to term "more" infertile than one who finally gets pregnant after their fourth round of IVF? Is the woman who suffers loss after loss somehow "more" infertile than one who never experiences pregnancy? How do we quantify it and stack it up? And what is even gained by doing this?

My mother asked me recently if I would still feel infertile if it happened for us faster this time. I wouldn't be surprised if it happened faster--we're starting with diagnosed problems therefore, we're at least saving ourselves the year of wasted cycles. We're not even bothering to try without Prometrium--what's the point? At the same time, I wouldn't be surprised if it took much longer or didn't happen at all. We're not sinking money into treatments if it doesn't look like I'll have a good chance. We may go to adoption instead. Or keep trying like assholes on our own. And then does the waiting time count? Can we say that we've been trying for months if we have to wait until June to cycle with IVF? Is it even really trying if you know that there is little chance that you're going to get and stay pregnant without intervention?

The answer to her question is yes, I would still feel infertile. Because the problems didn't go away in between these two rounds of trying to conceive. Infertility is not curable--it's treatable. And if we want another child, we need to go through that help all over again. I may even still feel infertile when I'm eighty years old and I've been in menopause for more time than I've been ovulating. It has changed the way I view the world. It has changed the hope I feel at the beginning of something new. It has made me more realistic. It has made me more empathetic. It has made me more grateful. Those are things that wouldn't change even if I got a positive pregnancy test next month (please let there be a positive test, please let there be a positive test).

Listen, your doctor wrote infertility in your chart. He or she wrote a reason or unexplained. Your pain is your own. And someone else's pain her own. And my pain is my own. And what I can handle may be the thing that drives you to your knees. And perhaps I could never endure the problems you have endured. But we're all on this island. And we all go through crap. And stop thinking about your own journey as somehow "less" than someone else's. I get enough judgment from outside the community for how I cope or the choices I make. I don't need it from my fellow stirrup queens. And I certainly don't need it from myself.

Just my two cents. Or...judging by the length of this half dollar...

Your thoughts on quantifying pain--do you do it? And how do you stop yourself when you get in that mindset? And is there something healthy to be gained from this way of thinking (and I'm differentiating between keeping things in perspective and comparative pain. Comparative pain is hierarchical) that I've missed?


Heather said...

I totally do it. I have to remind myself that regardless of what my head says - if I feel that emotion - I feel it. It is mine and I claim it. I don't have to validate it. I often feel like I need to but I shouldn't.

Sure I haven't been through a fraction of what most IF bloggers have - but I still cry, I have saddness and pain, I've never seen two lines, there is frustration in the fact that my body doesn't behave the way I was always told it would...

I love this post. We can't compare. Our paths are so different from everyone else.

Piccinigirl said...

I compare all the time, even when I know it's not good for me to do it. I look at myself and say "at your age why are you taking 3 months off, so and so wouldn't take time off at her age" or "after 3 years why are you not being more aggressive, I mean look at so and so , she wouldn't be dragging her feet like you, She deserves to be Pregnant since she is "really trying" ".
I think I do it because of the guilt I feel about my past, how I feel so unworthy of getting PG because of my promiscuous 20's and how I feel like this is "meant" to happen to me for things I've done in my life. I know it's not healthy or even true but I can't help it.
I try to remind myself that comparing my journey and pain to another woman's is silly, my TTC is still painful for me, for us, and I need to acknowledge that pain without fear of hating myself for feeling it.
I try to respond to women who have had stillborns or m/c without ever knowing what it feels like, I try to do it knowing that I might never know what that feels like and sometimes it makes me feel like a fraud and other days it reminds me that I can care for another person in dark times without having that dark time of my own.

The comparing is not worth it, we need as IF to understand that we are all the same, we all feel broken , we all feel unworthy and when we come to terms with that we can begin to heal WITH each other

Flmgodog said...

I do it all the time and have all my life. Not only do I do it with emotional pain but with physical pain as well. I am constantly comparing my pain with what others feel and deciding that my pain most certainly couldn't be that bad. My threshhold is pretty high but when things come crashing down people ask why I didn't get help sooner. I always just think my pain isn't as bad as everyone else's.

DeeDeeB said...

It's only natural. I suspect others care more about their own pain, than they do worrying about someone else and *their* pain.

Have you seen this?

"I Spoke With My Child"

It's been incredibly healing to me in my losses.

The Town Criers said...

I hadn't seen that yet, DeeDeeB. Thank you for sharing that. It was extremely moving.

Anonymous said...

I've found that I do it more internally, to myself. I hate that. I'll hear about someone else's struggles and think, "Hmm. Am I a just a huge whiny baby?" And I know that I'm not, that infertility experiences aren't comparable. But it's still hard.

I think you nailed it when you pointed out that we get enough judgment from those who have the good fortune to stand firmly outside of the Infertility Ring of Fire. We've all had friends and family members feed us comparative pain stories in efforts to make us realize how good we actually have it. And I'd go on record saying that most of us have felt the ridiculousness of those kinds of situations. That's why we turn to each other. This community should be stronger than to pick each other's stories apart- we should be beyond analyzing and ranking each other's pain. It all sucks. Every last bit of it. That should be enough.

Pain is a hard thing. It's a hard thing to experience, and it's a hard thing to watch someone else go through, especially if it's pain that the outside world can't physically see. Human nature likes happy and balanced, and its equilibrium is thrown way off by the pain of infertility. On all levels. It's in our nature to try to restore emotional balance, so it's understandable to see how comparative pain stories are shared. It's understandable. But not right. Or constructive. Or helpful. Or healing.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes I think ranking is just a part of human nature, that it happens everywhere and when we add it to hormones and grief and joy and parenthood, it makes it that much more vocal.
That said, that way I deal with it, is to try to get away from better or worse, but to say that experiences are just different. Everyone deals with losses and IF differently and even the same type of loss can be lived in a different way. But one doesn't negate the other. It's not a zero-sum game, with only one pot of pain or joy in the world for us to all share.
And maybe that's the key, talking about our own experiences, and listening to someone's elses, without devaluing the other persons experience. Yes, very very hard to do...

Anonymous said...

AMEN!!! Of course I compare - in everything not just ttc. Regardless though you're right - our pain is our pain and nobody can tell us that our pain was worse than their's. I also still feel infertile even though I have one child now. But I wouldn't change this feeling. It has given me empathy for others who are still trying and such a deep appriciation for the gift I have been given. Great Post!

Kristin said...

I have been guilty of this in the extremes lately. I've been ttc for almost 3 years. I'm dealing w/ severe MF. IVF w/ ICSI is our only option. We've done 2 fresh cycles. On this 2nd one, I got pg...then my beta stalled 3 days later and dropped significantly in another 2 days. I was only at the beginning of my 5th week when my embryo (I can't bring myself to call it my baby) stopped growing.

Losing my pg that early makes me feel like a fraud among other women who have miscarried. My beta was high enough that my pg wasn't classified as a chemical, but I feel like that's what I should call it...I feel like my loss doesn't compare to that of someone who saw a sac or a hearbeat on u/s. Or someone who had 2 good betas. Or someone who actually was pg long enough to share her good news with others. So I mourn in private and find myself randomly wanting to scream at other people, "I'm miscarrying! Right now!"

Before I'd ever ttc, I used to feel for women who wanted to get pg and were frustrated when it didn't happen in their first 3 cycles of trying. Now, when I'm on a ttc bulletin board and some newbie tries to join in because she hasn't conceived after 4 whole months of trying (though she has regular cycles and neither she nor her partner have any known issues), I just want to say, "Get lost. You don't belong here. Come back in another 8 months if you're not pg by then." I resent any woman in that situation comparing herself to me.

I don't like comparing pain this way...but I think it's human nature. We can't know what someone else feels, so we try our best to understand by filtering their experience throught the lens of our own experience.

DEMummie said...

I also do it. Sometimes, I feel like I "cheated" because we only did 2 IVF cycles with my eggs before we moved on to donor eggs, and had success. Additionally, I feel guilty because we picked an unproven donor and she gave us 31 eggs..... many people are disappointed by their donors not responding well....
You are right, we can't and shouldn't compare, but we do.

sarah said...

I totally do it. My enthusiasm for the pregnancies of others (most acutely our siblings) is totally determined by what I know of their history. It's a terrible thing for me to do == who am I to decide who is worthy?== but I just can't help it.

My only pregnancy lasted less than a week and before that I had a really hard time with comparing pain with those who miscarried. In the year before that pregnancy, I struggled with feeling like never having been pregnant was worse than miscarrying. Now that I've had a taste of the other side, I know the pain is different, but that neither is better or worse than the other. Both totally suck.

Susan (5 Minutes For Mom) said...

You are so dead-on!

I think we all do it and it is wrong. Like I mentioned in my review of the book "Inconceivable", I actually felt guilty reading it because I only suffered for 3 and a half years and then I did get pregnant and have a baby. I felt like I abandoned my sisters in the struggle of infertility and that they must all hate me now. But the truth is I did have years of pain that was very real. I am soooooo thankful that I was given a miracle and my heart definitely goes out to all the other women who are still in the midst of it.

I think this is such an important reminder that we never say to another friend, "Well, at least you haven't..." That is very painful and yet I'm sure we're all guilty of having said something similar.

Thanks for the great reminder.

serenity said...

I totally compare. I've done that all my life, actually. When my close cousin committed suicide, I actually stood at her wake, looked at her brothers and my aunt and uncle, and thought "I have no right to be sad - they just lost their sister and their daughter."

Sometimes comparative pain helps me rationalize that I don't have it as bad as I think I do. I have a tendency to get utterly wrapped up in how much my life sucks - and I forget the others that have it just as bad, if not worse as me.

But it gets in the way of true grieving. With my cousin, I spent YEARS not grieving over her death - I just put it aside. When I finally did work through it (and 12 years later, I am STILL working through it), it was a relief to allow myself to feel sad.

I think comparative pain also makes you judgemental of people who "have not gone through as much" as you have. I freely admit that I have a hard time sometimes with someone who's complaining about trying for a year - or who got pregnant on their first IVF cycle - lately. I want to shake them and remind them that there are others who have suffered for far longer.

You're right. There isn't much to like about comparative pain. I am not sure that I am successful at stopping myself when I get like this.

But I do try and allow myself to feel grief for our situation. It's a work in progress, I suppose.

TeamWinks said...

So, when are they going to manufacture this pill too? I can set it next to my anti-bitterness and emotional detachment from this cycle pills!

C said...

Oh yes, I absolutely do this. It's hard not to do it. I frequently feel inferior to older ladies who are struggling with infertility becuase I'm so young. I (theoretically) have more time than they do to get pregnant and complete my family. I have to constantly remind myself that infertility isn't a competition and that we ALL deserve to get pregnant.

Anonymous said...

I've actually got a broadly similar post brewing in my head- but not so much about pain, but about diagnosis. I'm unexplained so to me, it seems like having a diagnosis must be "easier". Not in terms of pain, but in terms of focus. This is your problem, this is how we try to fix it. But at the same time, I'm also sure that women with a diagnosis- especially if it puts them on the very low end of the statistical pregancy curve may look at my unexplained situation and think they'd love to have that kind of hope. I guess that's why it's no good comparing- pain or paths- we're all different and all of our experiences are valid.

msfitzita said...

I do it too. I think, in a very strange way, I do it to make myself feel better about the tremendous amount of pain I still feel about my two miscarriages, and particularly about the loss of my son at 20 hours. If I can look at someone else's situation and think to myself that it's not nearly as horrific as my own, I can justify feeling the unending pain and sorrow that I deal with every moment of every day. I have a right to feel this sad if I can prove that I do.

I suppose it makes no sense, but not much does these days.

Anonymous said...

I do it. Lots. And then I feel bad for doing it. And then I get indignant about having to feel bad for doing it, and then I feel frustrated with myself for being so navel-gazing as to dwell on the subject so deeply, and then I feel protective of my need to be self-analytical, and eventually someone asks me if I've stopped listening to them or what?

I do it both ways - oh, she thinks *she's* got problems? and also - shit, and I think *I've* got problems?

Sometimes I do it both ways with the one situation. I might say, "She's complaining about falling pregnant without even trying?" and in the next breath, "Poor thing, she's got absolutely no control over her life and she's not even confident enough in her de facto relationship with the father to use his surname as the baby's surname."

Is it healthy? I'm going to say yes and no.

I think it's unhealthy to let it leak into your interactions with people - it's unhealthy to discriminate against people because you perceive them to be luckier than you, and it's unhealthy to make someone the victim in need of your pity.

And it's unhealthy to beat yourself up for crying over your own situation. And it's unhealthy to let yourself get permanently bitter until even you don't like youself any more.

But it's healthy to get small doses of validation every now and again (when you compare yourself to others and conclude you're worse off) because it allows you to give yourself permission to do the things you need to do to cope.

And it's healthy to feel thankful by playing the opposite game, because it helps us to be happy and to stay on top of things. I guess this is using the comparitive game as a means of gaining perspective.

So first of all it's inevitable. Secondly, I think it can be used for good, and not evil - provided you keep it under control.

How do you keep it under control? (Was this a post or a comment?) Well, I use what I will call the "flip side" technique (until I can think of a better name). If my "she gets everything!" comparisons start spiralling out of control, I start looking at the things I have that she doesn't. And if I go too far the other way, I flip again. Eventually my brain just short circuts and I stop.

The real trick is recognising the healthy limit of the comparison game. Now that's an art.


Emmie said...

Yes, I qualify my pain all the time, especially since I got lucky on my first IVF cycle. So when the infertility pain bubbles up and still sends me over the edge about something, I feel even worse about myself because hey-IVF worked for me. I should be too happy to ever let infertility get me down again. But it does.

My husband and I were discussing the fact that IVF and ART are not cures for infertility--they are work-arounds. We'll never be okay with being infertile, and we will always be infertile.

Katie said...

Add me to the list of compare-ers. I tend to be extremely critical and judgemental of others blessings and pain. A character flaw that I'll struggle with the rest of my life.

However, I find that when I value my life and am finding joy in it, I am jealous of others.

Ellen K. said...

Fantastic post. The problem with comparative pain is that it is a frustrating but ultimately futile form of ranking, since in most cases you're comparing yourself to someone with a completely different diagnosis or fertility problem. But we all do it; I do it every day.

luolin said...

My inner critic is quite the puritan. I've been working on a post about how I feel like a drama queen for even having the occasional dead-baby thoughts, because I haven't suffered through any losses before and people who have must think I am a fraud. Of course the opposite criticism is how dare I be optimistic when it is like a slap in the face to someone who hasn't had my luck, such as it is..

aah0424 said...

I do it both ways-I look at people who seem more "fortunate" in the baby making area and compare my situation to theirs and then I see people who have struggled much more than I have in turn making me feel awful for my own self loathing. I don't think it can be healthy, but I think it is human nature. I'm actually going through a bit of it right now because of a pregnancy announcement that is related to our struggle, but different on so many levels. The comparative pain is making me feel like a horrible bitch!

Anonymous Infertile said...

I do it but I think a lot of times I compare what is happening to me to people who are worse off than me. Why should I be crying when I can't have a baby when there are so many reasons to be happy in my life. I look at my best friend who is afraid of being alone and not married and I wonder what right I have to be so sad when I should be happy that I am blessed with such a wonderful husband. I look at other infertile couples who I feel have tried longer or harder or have suffered incredible losses and I feel like I don't have a right to be sad.

I honestly can't say that I know how to stop it but it just comes and goes (along with my crazy mood swings!).

Sami said...

The one person I thought would understand what I was going through did this to me. She felt that her pain was more than my pain. I didn't play the game. I just can't. My pain is my own... it's my husband and mine and if someone feels as if their pain is more than mine then so be it. There's nothing I can say or do that will change that person's feelings..

All I know is that I wouldn't wish what my husband and I have been through the last 21 months on to anyone else... I hate what it's done to myself so why would I want anyone else to feel the way that I have felt.

Another friend described infertility and all the varying diagnoses as it's nice to know that while you're not in the same boat, you are in the same ocean... and I can look to the right and to my left and see others waving - cheering me on and one of these days we'll find land and our footing.

K said...

Ugh I totally do this. I got lucky on my first IVF. So many times when someone comments on how "brave" we were I want to discount it because we got lucky first time. (not to mention the 7 failed IUIs). On ad on.
We also ended up getting a MF diagnosis. All of asudden i felt like I shouldn't have any more pain. Lame, eh? THen i actually had some people in the IF world tell me that since it was my husband, that I really didn't have anything to complain about. nice.
Comparative pain sucks. but it's so hard not to. Then again, my fave past-time is kicking my own ass, so this fits in well.

Marjorie said...

Thanks for this. I've been up so many nights lately feeling guilty for my pain. We've been ttc for 4 years with a loss of twins at 19 weeks and a miscarriage at 12 weeks. A month after we lost the twins, my little sister was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor and began treatment almost immediately. It's funny now that she's the one who thinks to ask me how I'm doing while others try to make me feel better with stories of people who are "worse off" than me. The serious birth defects, full term losses, etc. I'd give up my right to a child for life if I thought it would buy my sister's health. It won't. And knowing someone else has had a hard life doesn't cheer me up. Frankly, I think it's a twisted notion and creates nothing but guilt. Pain is not to be compared--I wish people would just ask (with an intention of hearing) and understand that it doesn't go away when the rest of the world moves on.