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But that’s how I feel…

August 21st, 2004 · 3 Comments

This week getupgrrl at Chez Miscarriage has been describing unkind statements made to infertile women and the differences between the primary and secondary infertility communities. Her thoughtful posts provoked some more thoughts in me.

The unspoken admonishment running through all these statements is that wanting more is something women aren’t supposed to do. But every blessing and every loss is separate and whole, an entity unto itself. It’s possible to feel shot through with joy for what we have, and soft with sadness for everything we never will, all at once.

After being infertile and trying to become pregnant for a while, I thought I would never complain about motherhood. I should be grateful. Period. But I certainly have moments of weariness, moments when I am less than the perfect image of motherhood, moments when I do what I thought I never would.

Fertility is a two-faced beast. Or so it can seem at times. Women feel guilty either way. If you can conceive and carry children with ease, you can wonder why it happened to you. If you see all your friends pregnant and with child but you are still infertile, despite months of timing and trying, you can wonder why it didn’t happen to you.

But when you’re experiencing secondary infertility, there’s no place to hide. You live your life in spaces where children and pregnant women congregate. Sometimes, I try to imagine the torturous social events that women with secondary infertility must endure. I imagine them trying to smile, fighting back tears, listening silently as other mothers compare their pregnancy symptoms. And what can they say when those women ask – as I’m sure they do – “And when are you going to have another?” What can they say, when they want to keep their pain private, when the very idea of talking about it overwhelms and exhausts them?

At one time I had primary infertility and at another secondary infertility. I’m still not sure how I ended up with three. But I do know one thing: the question “when are you having another?” should be banned.

Okay, perhaps I am over-reacting on a sensitive issue. But I can not list all the times through the years that we have received comments or questions on the number of children in our family. Maybe for some it is an easy discussion to have with strangers. For me it is one that brings tears to my eyes. Even now.

What I think the two posts on Chez Miscarriage condense into is the principle that our emotions can be neither predicted nor denied. Feelings come. And go. They are neither right nor wrong in themselves. But, as getupgrrrl wrote with eloquence, our feelings affect how we can hear other’s expression of emotions.

It’s difficult not to get defensive when someone is articulating an unfamiliar emotional reality. When an infertile woman confides that it’s difficult to hear women complain about their pregnancies, does her fertile friend feel as though her physical complaints are being trivialized? When a woman with primary infertility articulates a longing for just one child, does her friend with secondary infertility feel stung by the implication that she should be satisfied with what she has?

I felt jealous of others who could conceive, and then I became one of those women I envied. It was hard for me to hear other’s hurts or gifts because I was caught up in my own pain of infertility. When someone told me she was expecting, I winced inside. But to my surprise, I find that my previous suffering did not install in me a complete and permanent sense of gratitude.

I had judged mothers, been jealous of mothers, and told myself that if only I could become a mother, my look on life would be different. However, now as a mom of three, I still wrestle with discontent and envy. I’m still human.

There is a point to being grateful. I am grateful for my girls. I am thankful for them. But at the same time I shouldn’t pretend parenting is a bed of roses. I shouldn’t swallow my emotions or paint them over with something that I think is more appropriate. Feelings can come up, sometimes like surprise guests showing up at dinner or strange plants growing in the garden.

What we can do for each other is to listen. Unless we limit our lives only to those who have suffered identical circumstances, we will not be able to understand the pain of our friends and family all of the time. We will only isolate ourselves. We may even think that what others have experienced is less than our own. Maybe it is. But I think that judging others experience and emotions becomes dangerous. Who am I to tell another woman what she should feel? Or maybe even myself?

Instead of comparing or contrasting, I think it is best to listen and wait with hands and mind as open as possible. Sometimes the words that are spoken will be painful to me, but I need to have grace and patience for others who don’t know my needs and wounds.

Gratitude can come in any situation. But sometimes grief has to come first. It’s better to be raw and real than to perpetuate pretenses. There’s room for all the emotions in our lives and we should make space for others to share their feelings with us too.

Tags: motherhood

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Katherine // Aug 21, 2004 at 1:07 pm

    Thanks for sharing such deep and important stuff, Julie. I appreciate your insights and openness.

  • 2 jenny // Aug 21, 2004 at 9:12 pm

    A timely post…. Thank you for sharing your heart…

  • 3 Helen // Aug 22, 2004 at 2:30 pm

    “Who am I to tell a woman how she should feel, or maybe even myself.”

    Feelings are feelings and we should never invalidate them because we feel we shouldn’t feel that way.

    I believe God wants us to be real with Him and with others. Not that we need to wear our hearts on our sleeves, but I find when I share my real feelings with a trusted loved one, I am blessed.