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Thursday, July 05, 2007

On Jealousy

I go through this same wave on a micro level each cycle, but I'm currently going through it simultaneously on a macro level. This is how the wave looks:

On the micro level, the wave follows the cycle. The excitement of starting the cycle, the anxiety of not knowing what will happen, the sadness that comes each time (for me) before ovulation. The mounting frustration and the apex of jealous rage. The huge crying storm that passes with hours of sad acceptance giving way by the morning to tentative peace. And then the cycle starts again.

I spend the bulk of my cycle tottering of the tip of jealous rage. Sometimes I'm riding it so well that I barely notice where I am. Sometimes I'm paying such close attention to not being swept under that I am acutely aware that I am staring too long at pregnant bellies.

But it feels like overlapping the actual cycle, I go through these same emotions at the macro level. My excitement over a new technology or option. We were turned onto the idea of domestic adoption while reading Elizabeth Swire Falker's book. We had only considered international up until that point. So there was the excitement when it seemed like a possibility. And then the anxiety started to crop up--what if it wasn't the right choice for our family? What if we weren't chosen or went crazy during the wait? Then came the extreme sadness of thinking about how I possibly wouldn't know that child from the first second of life (never mind that I didn't get to take the twins home until three weeks...). And then the frustration over cost; the anger that other people we know are having children for free when we have to spend so much money just to become parents. The jealous rage at those who had already been through the process and were happily ensconced with their child. The huge storm of crying that takes place over days. And finally the sad acceptance that if it's the path we need to take, it's the path we need to take. And the peace as I wait in a relatively decent spot, going through my day and trying to keep perspective.

The emotion I have the most difficulty accepting is jealousy. I am a jealous person by nature. And by "I" I really mean all of us. I don't really believe it when people tell me that they don't struggle with jealousy. It makes me want to smile sweetly and say, " must not understand that word. Jealousy is that emotion you feel when you so desperately want what others have that you turn the anger inward on yourself because you're terrified of the way you're turning the anger out towards others. Hmmm? Sound familiar now?" I think there are people who have better control over their jealousy, but none who go through life without coveting at least once something that others have.

Anne Lamott has a wonderful essay in Bird by Bird that may not provide you with eternal peace, but will, at least, make you feel less alone when you are struggling with your own jealousy. It is an essay about being jealous of other writers and how jealousy is inherent in the field of writing where you are constantly being judged. I have to be honest, I'm thin-skinned and I don't do well dealing with my infertility jealousy and my writing jealousy at the same time. It's quite enough to have my body let me down again and again. It's another to allow myself to be rejected by putting my work out there for acceptance or rejection.

When I'm putting myself through something emotionally difficult, I ask myself whether it's worth it. I asked myself that with infertility. And I came back with the answer that yes, it is necessary. I need to parent. I want to write. Or more accurately, I want to publish. I mean, anyone can write. I'm doing it right now with this blog. And it would really be enough for me if...and here's the jealousy husband wasn't also a writer. I could walk away and take myself out of that emotional wave from excitement to jealousy if I didn't have to observe someone else achieving that old goal within my very house. It's also completely unreasonable to put this on him (I own this entirely and don't think he should change one iota based on my insecurities). It's my own shit and it wouldn't make me feel any better if he stopped writing. It's also contradictory because seeing him productive makes me happy and gives me hope that I can be productive too. And it isn't even a competition where I need to be as successful as him. It's simply the fact of seeing someone achieve my old goal and thinking about how I didn't stick it out that drives me to keep going.

There are numerous lesbian couples where both women try to get pregnant. And I've always wondered what happens in that home when you are eagerly awaiting the birth of your child AND you're mourning your own infertility if you can't conceive and your partner can. You're certainly happy for your partner and you're happy that you're about to become a mother, but at the same time, there is a bittersweetness in all of that happiness because another person close to you achieved your goal. Does any of this make sense? Maybe that's not how it is at all for other people, but I know that's the way it would be for me. And that analogy is how I feel sometimes about being two writers in a house. I wish I had chosen a path with fewer judgments. Maybe I need to go back to school and become a reproductive endocrinologist...

Can I just tell you that with my jealous personality, we are so lucky that I'm the only person who has the chance of getting pregnant in this house?

Anyway, the paragraph in Lamott's essay that helped me tonight falls close to the end when Anne is setting out the pieces of the puzzle that helped her rein in her jealousy when a fellow writer was calling her daily to tell her about her literary success while Anne seethed on the other end of the phone.
...My friend Judy said that the problem was trying to stop the jealousy and competitiveness, and that the main thing was not to let it fuel my self-loathing. She said it was nuts for me to try to be happy for this other writer. I cannot tell you how much this helped. I was raised in a culture that promotes this competitiveness, this insatiability, this fantasy of needing hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, and then, in the next breath, shames you for any feelings of longing or envy or fear that it will always be someone else's turn. I was only doing what I had been groomed to do.
I think that first line--the idea of stopping the jealousy--spoke to me. I'm not a fan of this idea that we need to be happy 100% of the time. We were given this enormous palette of emotions for a reason. I don't think it's our job to always try to realign towards happiness. I think it's okay to remain for a while in sadness and explore it as long as we don't allow ourselves to inadvertently board up all the exits out of the emotion.

When I am in this jealous space--as I am right now--I can feel it coming while I'm still ensconced in anger. This whole new attitude of saying "fuck it, I'm not faking it; I have made it. This is it" was born out of that anger and I knew that it would be tested the moment I crested into jealousy. It's a terrible space to be--jealousy. I am angry at myself for my selfish, mean-spirited thoughts. I don't like myself when I am coveting so deeply that it makes me hate things and people that I normally love. It's hard to exist with those extremes but it's also impossible to deny what I feel--I feel these emotions so deeply.

Even when I'm on that wave, I always rationally know that the jealousy is going to break. It will either break because new information will come into play, bringing me into a different emotion. Or it will break because I can only sustain a single emotion for so long. But it's a hard place--to be tottering on that precipice and looking down into the glassy surface of the water below and knowing that I can't simply get off by throwing up my hands and saying, "I don't want to be here anymore." It feels like something constructive should come out of jealousy--that there should be a greater purpose.

Perhaps my jealousy is just as wonky as my cycles.

And if this doesn't constitute airing out all my dirty laundry, I don't know what does. Hopefully, you will not think less of me now that you know how small I actually am in reality.


pink said...

Wonderful post. You're a great writer and I'm envious of your talent.

I use the word "envious" deliberately as I distinguish between envy and jealousy. To me, envy is wanting what somewhat else has without wanting them to not have it and/or wishing the ill. Jealously is more negative to me--it feels like you want the other person not to have what they have so that you can have it. Not sure that it makes any sense linguistically, but it allows me to accept that I'm an envious soul without feeling guilty over it.

Beagle said...

It takes a big person to admit their own imperfection.

And that matters more I think.

The Town Criers said...

Oooh, Pink--that is a really good distinction. See, this is why I love blogs--nothing is stagnant; even the writer has her mind changed by the response. I do see that distinction. I think I'm envious with other writers. I'm not sure--I think I'm sometimes actually jealous with other people's fertility. If that doesn't make me sound like a big bitch... But there is a part of me that wishes it wouldn't be so easy for some people to procreate when they do a crappy job parenting and when they make me feel crappy about my own inability. And I'm jealous of their fertility.

Kate said...

I like what Pink said - envious is a nicer word. For me, the more I tried to deny it, the worse it got. Once I accepted the emotion, it didn't seem to have as much power over me.

Ellen K. said...

That graph is perfect.

I feel both envy and jealousy about infertility -- it's the irrational sense of direct competition, that my loss is up against someone else's success. I've often (again, completely irrationally) felt that there are only so many babies to go around, or that my loss is actually another woman's gain. Perhaps it's a very deep seated evolutionary response, as in some animal groups certain females are not allowed to reproduce, and in many human social groups the non-reproducing women are expected to serve those who have children. (I read a blurb in this month's Ladies Home Journal or Redbook, bemoaning the fact that women no longer have live-in single female relatives or [menopausal] mothers to help with the burden of child-rearing, as they did a century ago. Oh, the good old days!)

megan said...

i too think that what i feel about other people's fertility is envy vs. jealousy. i have the rage too, only it is directed toward my own body and to some greater...i don't know what -- force/power/being/what-have-you that is keeping me from getting pregnant.
and Mel? you're still larger than life to me!

Inconceivable said...

Its nice to be able to identify with this post. Its eliquently written and received well within me. I couldn't agree more with You and Pink... but ihave to admit that at times its not's jealousy

Jess said...

Nobody thinks less of you!

I like what Pink said about jealousy vs envy. But it's still blurry to me. I think maybe COVET has a whole different and entirely negative aspect in my mind, while jealousy and envy are pretty much just...human nature.

Especially when something is as important as a baby.

Starfish said...

You my dear, are anything but small. I loved this post, it really did a great job of explaining (graphically even) how many of us feel. And I totally agree that jealousy is something that must be felt. You must get through it to move on through that wave. It is necessary to vent and justify our anger so we can begin to heal ourselves and preserve some kind of sanity.

Well written as usual.

niobe said...

I'm always fascinated by the way others describe their feelings. Fascinated and, well, disturbed, because so often, I read someone else's description and I think, "I have honestly never felt anything remotely resembling that. There must be something very, very wrong with me."

Now, I know we all feel different emotions and have different reactions to the same or similar circumstances, and blah, blah, blah. But it always troubles me at how often I just can't identify with what strikes me as a normal set of emotions.

So, I look at your drawing and read your vivid descriptions and think WTF is she talking about?

I don't go through cycles of feelings and I don't have an especially wide variety of emotions. I feel sad (and sometimes I feel very sad). I feel hopeless (and sometimes I feel extremely hopeless). And I feel jealous and envious pretty much all the time, but my jealous and envy don't really bother me, since I feel that they're amply justified and because, much of the time, my jealousy and envy are almost indistinguishable from sadness. I never, never (well, hardly ever) feel angry or anxious or excited.

In fact, I'm jealous/envious of people who can feel anger and rage, because, to me, that sounds so, well, empowering.

Julie said...

Not small, rather actual size, and therefore a very fine role model, I think!

SarahSews said...

The graph totally illustrates the cycle of emotions. Some days I feel at peace with what is and will be necessary for us to be parents, money be damned. Other days I just can't see past the towering inferno of jealousy. Watching my niece and nephew yesterday in the matching outfits my mom made them just about did me in. My SIL and brother are pg with their third (their second oops since we started trying) and this time will finally get the girl she coveted. How they managed to get all they wanted while we wait and wait and wait...all I feel are the ugly emotions. There isn't anything pretty to see there.

Samantha said...

I feel that tug of jealousy (or envy if you prefer, I'm not that picky with my words) too. While neither my husband or I ended up as professional musicians, sometimes I've found myself feeling competitive with him about our clarinet playing abilities, and have been a little jealous if he's playing a solo and I'm not. So I can only imagine that it would be tough to be in the same profession as your husband!

Your feelings are what they are; it's great to see you sharing on your blog more of your feelings and fears--you've been such a support to this community, we'd like to support you.

Zee said...

Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for writing this post, Mel. It's so true--and, when it comes to jealousy, well, if you're a small person, then I'm an amoeba. I also use the distinction Pink makes between jealousy and envy, and I agree that there's a huge distinction between the two emotions. Unfortunately, my feelings toward others' pregnancies tend to lean much more toward jealousy. I want to be pregnant TOO, yes. But if the only option were to be pregnant INSTEAD, I would happily take it without hesitation, second thoughts, or apologies. (Which is probably one of the many reasons the Universe does not see fit to let me take part in raising the next generation...)

But I'm working on being a nicer person. Truly, I am!

Heather said...

Holy crap.

I always knew I had a lot of guilt over my body not working...but I never realized I was jealous. I am jealous that my husband has a child already. That his body works properly.

I'm happy it does...Lord knows we don't need another issue to contend with - but I am jealous.

Heather said...

Ok, now I just read what Pink said...and I agree.

So, maybe I'm not jealous. I'm glad he is fertile. I am envious because I want to be fertile too...

ms. c said...

Sister, it just may be that I now think MORE of you.

The whole wave thing: so true, and of course, being the excellent writter that you are, I could not have said it better myself.

I think that the most difficult of being jealous of others' fertility is that when I disclose my feelings to my husband (the one who I feel should understand the most), he reacts like I am an evil creature. Thank you for sharing Anne Lamott's words.

Oh! With you guys I am so not alone!

Amy said...

I think this was a great post and simply demonstrates that you are human, and falible, as we all are.

So many good comments too. I agree with Pink. I am envious of many things, but jealous of others fertility.

I could identify with your envy regarding your husband's career. I am a veterinarian by training, and my husband is a physician. As he works like crazy to finish his training, I opted to stay home with our son and cope with IF. I'm not sure if returning to practice will be possible, at least not in the same capacity. I watch what he does and definitely feel envy and disappointment over what I have done with my dreams. But in reality, I probably wouldn't be happy working as hard as I would need to if I was practicing. But I still feel envy.

I love too what Heather said about her feelings regarding her husband's fertility. I had never realized it (or at least admitted it) that I too have those feeling about our situation. I view it as MY problem, where as he view's it as ours.

Tina said...

This is one great post...and it is very right on for me right now.

I was sitting there last night during a July 4th party at my MIL's and I couldn't help but stare at the 5 month PG belly of DH's cousin's friend. She has been very supportive of our losses...but, every time I see her belly, it reminds me of what was robbed from me and what I really have to struggle to try to hold on to, if it happens again.

It was more envy last night than jealousy. She is a sweet girl...and a great mommy.

I like Pink's distinction of envious and jealous - and I can admit I have been the point I didn't want to attend a friend's baby shower in 5/2003 and didn't make any attempts to really look put together that day. It was not becoming of me at the time, especially because the resulting baby was my Godson. I learned from that experience A LOT - and have used that in how I deal with others who are going through IF.

I do think we are all jealous or envious at one point or another - and being able to acknowledge those feelings will eventually help us to get through how we (justifiably) feel.

Ann said...

I suffer from envy all. The. Time. I have a hard time even hanging out with people who have something I want. Perhaps (I say shamefacedly) this is why one of my best friends is someone who has very little of what I want at the moment. I don't know.

I can relate to the whole husband-jealousy thing, too. Two years ago, while we were both searching for a job right after we got married (don't ask), he found a great job right away and was incredibly happy with it. Even though that meant we would now be financially stable, I still couldn't stand it that he was so happy, and I wasn't.

A.M.S. said...

Mel - Once again, I'm convinced you are reading my mind. This morning I had to sit in my car in the parking lot for a few minutes because, as I was pulling in, pregnant-lady-who-works-just-down-the-hall-from-me was walking across the lot. She's gone from not showing at all to showing a lot in no time flat and I wasn't sure I could climb up the stairs behind her without giving off all sorts of evil, jealous vibes like a bad smell. CD4 is a bad time for me.

It doesn't make you a smaller person in my makes me like you even more, for being human and real.

Heather - I've definitely been there, done that, felt incredibly horrible because of it. Everytime S would want to delay starting a cycle I just wanted to scream at him, "You already have a child! What about me? That's MY time you're letting slip by!" Yep, fun times.

Michell said...

You are always so good at saying what I feel. I remember when my cousin was pregnant with her second baby and I kept telling myself I wasn't jealous (I was) but that I just wanted what she had so easily.

jenna said...

Love Lamott. I use her writing with my 7th graders all the time. So great to see it used in adult conversations too!

Bea said...

You are a tiny, tiny person. Excuse me whilst I unsubscribe from your blog.

(These sorts of jokes can be dangerous in text - you know I'm kidding, though, right?)

Great thoughts from pink - the distinction between wanting what someone else has, and not wanting them to have it (which doesn't necessarily even entail wanting it for yourself, except because they have it).

I can honestly think of certain people who I wish were less fertile. There I said it. My, this is a cathartic post. But most of the time it's the former - and in either case you're absolutely right about not compounding negative feelings by adding negative feelings about the negative feelings into the mix. Oh my goodness, how much worse does that make it?

Accept, but keep things in perspective. Look for a balance. Etc etc. That's very good advice.

Also, I think a little competitiveness in a marriage can be a good thing, too. Keeps everyone motivated. I can't imagine you being left behind in that game.


Anonymous said...

I never comment, but have to say, this essay pulled me back twice, when work kept trying to pull me away (silly work!). I have been trying so hard not to hate my six weeks pregnant friend for complaining that she's very tired all the time. And now you've advanced the idea that I can just stop hating myself for hating her, a little.

BestLight said...

Once again, you are so spot on.

Lea Bee said...

someone gave me really good advice today...they said i can be happy for someone who is pregnant, but i don't have to marinate in their joy, because i have sadness. i thought that made some sense. your post is right on.

Bean said...

I know I'm late on this one, but I just had to post because what you right is so spot on! Really, it's amazing how so many of us are struggling with similar emotions. I've actually been thinking a lot about my own feelings of jealousy lately. And yes it is jealousy. Like Pink, I've always been very aware of the more negative connotation of jealousy compared to envy, and I'm very careful in which word I use. But as far as my infertility goes -- there's no denying it -- I'm jealous through and through.

Changing Expectations said...

I think that you are a wonderful writer...

I agree with Pink - envious vs. jealousy - definitely a difference. Unfortunately, I have both. But I also think that it is human to feel these emotions.

LJ said...


I think your worry and fear and anger and jealousy and envy...they make you human, not small. They may make you feel small, but you do accept those feelings and try to make a difference, and that makes you beautiful and warm and engaging.

And a hell of a writer to boot, I am quite envious of your knack for words.