We all know the statistic: one in eight couples struggle to achieve and/or maintain pregnancy. We know firsthand. Looking at the numbers, “one in eight” amounts to an estimated 48 million couples, or 186 million individuals, that are affected globally (World Health Organization). Yet, those of us in that group of 48 million couples tend to experience isolation, and we feel alone in our struggle with the cross of infertility. Why?
In this series of posts leading up to and during National Infertility Awareness Week (NIAW), I have summarized what, based on my personal experience, are the most common reasons for the isolation that those of us struggling with infertility face. But of course, I couldn’t stop there. Now that the diagnosis is clear, I want to offer a remedy! I want to provide a window into our experience of infertility, and also show how friends and family can help support us through this experience.
PART ONE OF FOUR: EMOTIONAL TURMOIL
There are so many conflicting emotions that accompany infertility. The obvious sentiments revolve around sadness: sorrow at the loss of the ability to participate in the creation of life, grief for the children you never held in your arms, and the silent emptiness of a large home purchased with dreams of one day filling with children. The unexpected sensations include gratitude for time spent with “just the two of you,” and even joy at the freedom to be generous with time, talent, and treasure. And then there are the dark, ugly feelings of anger and jealousy; it is primarily these emotions that cause a sense of isolation. If you have not been through the rollercoaster of infertility personally, it can be hard to understand, but these last two emotions hit hard, and they often breed feelings of guilt and shame.
A few years back, I was at a baby shower for a dear friend of mine. I was genuinely delighted for her and the day was a beautiful, joyful one…with one exception. At some point during the celebration, I experienced an intense downward slide of emotion. An aching sadness for what I was missing quickly spiraled into a nasty feeling of jealousy. I can remember mentally berating myself for being such a horrible person by feeling this way. I forced myself to smile, and made it through the remainder of the event, and then afterward sat in my car and sobbed, completely overcome with sorrow and disgust at myself.
We must remember that emotions in themselves are not evil. It’s not the feeling we experience, like sadness, that is evil, but rather, it’s how we choose to handle our emotions that can or cannot be evil. Further, there is a difference between jealousy and envy. Jealousy is the desire for something that we currently do not have, while envy is the desire for something specific and the desire that no one else should have it. An envious attitude is very different from jealousy. We can think about it in terms of a pair of shoes. You may really like, and even want, the pair your sister has (jealousy), but unless you desire to destroy her pair, “it’s mine or no one’s” (envy), you are just feeling a feeling. And feelings are okay! You experience emotions for a reason and repressing them is never healthy. Allow yourself to experience jealousy, anger, etc. Share these feelings with Our Lord. Then, let them go.
What Friends & Family Should Know:
Be gentle and aware of the emotions those struggling with infertility may be feeling. Jealousy can be especially difficult to cope with, particularly when it is directed at a sister or best friend. We may need space at times, but that has nothing to do with you. Don’t be afraid to announce a pregnancy and openly express your joy at the gift the Lord has given you. We want to share your joy! But, be aware that we are still struggling interiorly, and don’t be afraid to reach out to us privately with consolation. We may need space to process our personal sorrow – please don’t ever take that personally or assume we are upset with you.
There are undoubtedly many more reasons for the isolation of infertility, and I encourage you to share your thoughts below. Know I am praying for you and uniting my sufferings with yours.
Sydnee has been married to her husband Bren for four years and resides in eastern Pennsylvania in a parked RV! Despite the unusually tiny living arrangements, she is a hoarder of both plants and books. To hear more about her journey, go to www.theonewithinfertility.com or you can find her on Instagram @theonewithinfertility.