Slaying (the Myth) of the Green-Eyed Monster

“Anonymous” commented on my post about spring. She mentioned that “as jackets and bulky winter clothes are shed, fertile bellies are much more visible” and she’s right, of course. But what caught my attention was this: “it seems every other woman is pregnant. If I were a better person, I’d feel happy for them and less sorry for myself “. It made me think of infertility, envy and the one thing that I wish I could totally obliterate with my magic wand: women’s shame over their own invidiousness. Because what is envy, if not an inner cry of “she has something I desperately want”? It is like an emotional cramp that painfully reminds you of your own lack and deprivation. So, if you are trying to build your dream family, of course you are envious of the women who have achieved that dream; of course you are resentful of the pregnant-bellied; and of course you are feeling sad for yourself. In the many years I’ve worked with adoption, loss and infertility, I have not met a woman who, in her heart of hearts, didn’t harbor envy, rancor or bitterness. Many women don’t admit to these feelings easily. We are taught that envy is an ugly feeling, a shameful weakness, even a deadly sin. But let’s challenge this concept. After all, envy, like sadness, like surprise, is just an emotion. And it often descends upon us uninvited, just like sadness and surprise do. We can’t inoculate against it anymore than we can inoculate against feeling blue or startled. It’s there and it’s part of our wonderful human complexity. The green-eyed...

Spring into Resilience

Spring is here and some of my clients are having a hard time. The references to birth, rebirth, renewal and blooming are all hitting a bit too close to home. It is as if the air is infused with giddiness about the growth of new life, the birth of babies, and the flowering of new plants. The world is celebrating Fertility and those who struggle with procreation are feeling left out. But spring is also a celebration of strength and resilience. From the broken branches and the fallen leaves of autumn; from the frozen earth and the long nights of winter, nature is bouncing back. It is not only surviving the adversity and harshness of wintry weather but it is pressing forward vigorously, hardened by the long exposure to frost. And so it is with all of us. We too have the capacity to grow from loss and catastrophe, the ability to bounce back stronger after a crisis. I, like many other psychologists, believe that people can thrive and fulfill their potential despite, or even because, of life’s stressors. To paraphrase Englishman Frederick William Robertson (1816-1853), just as trees are strengthened by the compost of their own decaying leaves, so people are strengthened by their own broken hopes and blighted expectations. What makes one resilient? Here are a few characteristics: The ability to “bounce back” and recover from almost any crisis The attitude of “where there’s a will, there’s a way” The tendency to see problems as opportunities The ability to “hang tough” when things are difficult The capacity for spotting windows of opportunity and making the most of...

Postcard from the Barren Land

I am quite familiar with the tundra myself. In my late twenties, I was finishing up my doctorate in clinical psychology and doing a residency at a Chicago hospital, when I first began learning about infertility. The hospital had a large fertility clinic and, as part of my training, I began leading support groups for the couples who were going through in-vitro fertilization, or IVF. I was taken aback by the emotional demands of infertility, and by the drastic differences between men and women when coping with those demands. I was curious to understand these differences and to see if the “feminine” style of coping was more effective than the “masculine” (which I suspected), or the other way around. I decided to research the couples at the clinic and document the results in my doctoral dissertation. I spent a year studying infertile couples and writing my paper (to my surprise, men’s coping strategies, such as emotional distancing, distraction and humor, seemed to work better than women’s, but more on that later). Throughout this I continued to see infertile clients and began building what would become later a thriving clinical practice focused on infertility. But first, it was time for my husband and me to have a child. We started trying to get pregnant, then trying and worrying and then trying and panicking. Eventually we learned that we were part of the small group of infertile couples who is dealing with both a male and a female factor. We ended up undergoing five years of medical treatment that culminated in several cycles of IVF. I learned, during those years, that...

Siberia of the Soul

“In the depth of winter I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.” Albert Camus This is a blog about surviving a Siberia of the soul. If you are infertile, you know this place well: it’s the social and emotional exile which women experience when they’ve been trying, unsuccessfully, to have a child. It’s the frozen tundra of women who cannot be mothers. If you’re not infertile, imagine this: you’re the proverbial fly on the wall at any social gathering of women: a cocktail party, a shower, a luncheon. Imagine yourself hovering over them and eavesdropping. Notice how quickly their conversation turns to children. From the initial “do you have any kids?” to the exchange of concerns, tips and advice; to the heroic tales of pregnancy and birth–women’s conversations are seldom devoid of references to motherhood. That’s because the “moms club” is the world’s largest club. Numerous in members, not very exclusive, sometimes involuntary, but still, a club. When you have a child, you become a card-carrying member, you learn the secret handshake, and you uncover mysteries that “only a mother could understand”. We live in a society geared toward, even obsessed with, motherhood. Despite their liberation from traditional gender roles, most American women view being a mom as central to their feminine identity. Do you remember a 1970’s song that went something like this: “When I grow up, I want to be a mother… one little, two little, three little blessings from above”? From an early age, women receive the message that, no matter how much they succeed in other areas of their lives, they...