Last week I wrote a post about the art of surrender. I had received some feedback asking me to write more about my infertility and pregnancy loss, and as I was writing about surrender I realized it was the perfect time to delve into those issues a little more. I do talk about it in my book, mostly in terms of how it led me to the process of Spiritual Integration and how that process helped me finally accept that I was not meant to birth a baby.
I felt good about that post. I feel ready to put myself out there as an example of what happens when fertility treatments fail. There is still a huge stigma about infertility and pregnancy loss. We don't talk about either until someone has finally achieved "success." People will come forward after a prolonged battle with infertility and talk about it, but only after they have finally had the baby they were always hoping for. People are starting to talk more about miscarriage, but usually only when they have had at least one successful pregnancy. We like to hear these stories of triumph over adversity, but we are still uncomfortable when that adversity doesn't lead to the expected outcome.
I have seen this repeatedly in conversations with people. I reveal that I have had infertility treatments to someone and their first response is generally, "How old are your kids?" They just assume I was successful or I wouldn't be talking about it. When I say, "Oh, I was never able to carry a pregnancy past six weeks," I can feel them shutting down. People don't want to hear that things don't work out, that expectations sometimes don't pan out.
The next statement they make is inevitably about adoption. "Are you going to adopt?" or "You can always adopt!" I completely acknowledge that this is said with the best of intentions. And I have come to a place in my emotional recovery where it no longer feels like a punch in the gut. Adoption is not a given. Adoption is a long, often expensive process that is similar to fertility treatments in that the outcome is not guaranteed. People can spend years jumping through the numerous hoops needed just to prepare for the process, then finally match with a birth mother only to have her change her mind, or they might open their hearts and homes to a foster child with the hope of eventual adoption only to have to return the child when a family member comes forward or one of the birth parents is able to take custody.
To someone who has been through the physically arduous and emotionally destructive journey of fertility treatments and recurrent pregnancy loss, the thought of starting over on another long, emotional roller coaster ride might be more than they are willing to consider. It was for me. And the implication can be that I must not have really been as serious about this baby having as it seemed when the conversation started (or perhaps it's assumed that I have a problem with the idea of a child not being mine biologically).
I have come to recognize that this is really about the other person's discomfort with the idea that this perfectly nice woman they are speaking with who most likely would have made a fine parent is just not going to get what she wanted. People can't wrap their mind around the possibility that I might not meet the expectation of having a child after I went through so much trying to get there. Failure is not something we are comfortable even thinking about, so how can we talk openly about such a personal, intimate experience of it?
For this reason (among others I'm sure) people tend to close off when I reveal too much about my infertility and pregnancy loss. As an empath, I can feel the emotional shift. But I also recognize a change in body language, or a sudden need to change the subject or even end the conversation. Some people have implied or even directly asked if I am exaggerating my losses, as though the number of times my body was able to reject the new life growing inside me might get me more attention and sympathy rather than just reinforcing my feelings of failure and shame. Or perhaps, this again taps into their discomfort with the idea that I suffered this loss of hope and potential over and over again, seemingly for no reason.
So I guess I should not have been surprised when I started having severe anxiety after releasing that post last week. I was suffering a "vulnerability hangover," as Brene Brown puts it. I laid myself out there; I talked about my grief and shame, my ultimate failure. And despite the loving feedback I was receiving, I started to doubt myself. That need for control crept right back in. Not so much the need to control the outcome this time, but the need to control the expectations.
We are living such curated lives right now. We scroll through social media and see only the best of what someone has decided to present about themselves. I know I'm guilty of this. I don't want that unflattering picture of me out there. I spent years suffering through those treatments and losses in silence for fear of being judged as unworthy or less than. I want people to think I have it all together, that I am living my best life. But living in Spiritual Integration means shining a light into the darkness; it means looking at and learning to love all the parts of ourselves, not just the ones we are comfortable letting others see.