“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 monster is not that monstrous after all.
True, feeling envious is usually not pleasant and the thoughts that accompany the emotion are not always pretty. (In fact, they’re usually downright mean, petty and vengeful) So what? They’re just thoughts. What’s important is that the envious feelings and bitter thoughts not become action. So, yes, you may feel like you want to throttle the friend with the shiny SUV and the successful husband and the three-month-old in the stroller. And yes, you may secretly wish that your sister miscarries so that her baby is not the first grandchild of the family. But as long as you don’t act on these fantasies, you are still a perfectly good person.
Now, most of us are not likely to act out our envy. We don’t typically throttle our friend-who-has-it-all. We don’t usually tell our sister that we hope she miscarries (and by the way, if she does lose the pregnancy, please remember that YOUR THOUGHTS DID NOT CAUSE IT!) Actually, our envy causes mostly self-inflicted injury. We carry guilt and shame about it. We grieve the “better person” we used to be. And so, we feel damaged and inadequate. Sadly, the last thing any TTC woman needs is one more item on her I’m-not-good-enough list.
Ultimately, there are ways to feel less envious (I will talk more about them later. For now, let me say that one way to reduce envy is to keep the focus on yourself and on what would make you less deprived or more hopeful). But the first step is to look at your feelings objectively and non-judgmentally, understand what they’re about, accept that they’re part of what makes you human, and then figure out how to cope with them. Poof!