Thursday, March 17, 2011

Do Straight Jackets Come in Pink?

I stumbled upon a link on a fellow wannabe-mom's blog to a great article on the psychological impact of infertility.  Good stuff.  And kudos to the counseling community for recognizing what a friggin' big deal it is.  I teared up reading it at work because it hits home - hard.  I'm copying a piece of the article here and inserting some of my thoughts.  Jo Perkins, the author, hit the nail on the head with a lot of this...
It is a widely held expectation that if and when we choose to, we will be able to have a family. We do not challenge this assumption until difficulties in conceiving are encountered and for some this presents a major life crisis1. The pain and loss can be immense. And, not surprisingly, infertility can have a significant negative impact on marital and sexual relationships. It is a multilayered and complex phenomenon and a number of issues are involved for the individual and couple going through it, as it spans the biological, emotional, physical, relational, social, financial and psychological domains . . .
Impact on females
The female experience can be both complex and painful. It is generally characterised by periods of intense feelings of isolation – from her partner, her social circle and society. As more than one female client has reflected, it can feel as if they are 'on the outside looking in on the rest of the world'.
[AMEN, sister.  If I could choose only one word to describe the pain of infertility, it would be isolation.] Females can feel unsupported and misunderstood throughout the experience, which adds to their despair and isolation. Pregnancy and motherhood is inextricably wrapped up in perceptions of femininity [Yes - infertility feels like you have been robbed of your womanhood, which in turn can bring a lot of shame], and infertility can evoke a pervasive sense of failure as a woman, a person, and, in cases of unexplained and femalefactor infertility, she can feel that her body has failed her. All of which can have a devastating effect on selfesteem. For those females who desire a child, this desire can increase as the possibility of having one reduces and for some it can become overwhelming, which creates a sense of urgency about finding a 'solution' to the problem. The result of this can be that treatment is pursued without pausing to consider the impact of this route on them, their body, their partner and their relationship [We've definitely gone the distance but I think we've taken pause with all decisions, seeking others' and God's wisdom and certainly taking our time.  And we also know that if things don't work, we're going to be OK - there are other options]. Treatment can be an unpredictable, long drawn-out rollercoaster of hoping, waiting and disappointment, which may or may not result in the birth of a child, and which can take a serious toll on females in a number of ways. Ultimately the experience for females can be one of grief. [Excellent word - there is a lot of grieving in this process.]

Impact on males
Whilst many males have a strong desire for a child and a family, unlike many females they tend to have a 'pragmatic ambivalence' towards fatherhood and children. That is, they will be happy if it happens, yet can come to accept if it does not. A symptom of their pragmatic ambivalence is that they consciously adopt a compliant position in relation to treatment. One consequence of this and their inability to 'fix the problem' – as perhaps they can in other situations – is that they tend not to express their negative feelings about the treatment process or how they feel about having/not having children, to their partner. This can be mistaken by their partner as 'not caring', but, on the contrary, it is often because they care about their partner so much that they adopt this position.
[The hub and I communicate pretty well on this issue, but I will say there have been times when I've blown up because I didn't think he cared enough.  Which is of course not true, but as men and women we just deal with this differently and often get misunderstood.  I did, however, have to put the kabosh on him joking about our issues around friends.  It was never in a cruel way at all, but it got to the point where it wasn't funny anymore and I had to say NO MORE.  He had no idea it bugged me till I told him.  I just needed to speak up.]  This, in combination with the medical focus on the female, can leave males feeling marginalised and inadequate throughout the experience, and this is further compounded in cases of male-factor infertility. It can also lead to a build-up of resentment, which is mirrored by their partner.

The experience for males can be an anxiety-filled one that poses a major threat to their masculinity2.
[You know, we've never really talked about this... we don't have much of a male factor involved, so I guess I've never worried about it.  But he gets jokes from his buddies ALL THE TIME asking if they needed to come over and get the job done.  Hmmm...] However, it is not necessarily an experience they either want or feel able to share with their partner, or anyone else. And unfortunately, this can lead people around them to make the assumption that they are 'OK' and 'coping fine'. [Yikes.  Suddenly feeling a bit convicted].This is often not the case and, moreover, it can add to their anxiety and sense of inadequacy. [Oh dear, maybe I should stop reminding him that I don't *need* him anymore since we have 20 embryos on ice. ;-)].  Another feature of the experience for males is that they worry about the pressure on their partner, and their partner's increasing desire for a child, and the prospect of what might happen in the future if they do not achieve their goal. So it can be a time of great insecurity for males.

Impact on the couple
A combination of factors, including female sense of isolation, male pragmatic ambivalence, growing resentments, the medical, emotional and financial pressures of treatment and uncertainty about what the future holds, can exert extreme stress on the couple relationship. This normally manifests in a distance between them. The result of this distance is at best a lack of communication and at worst a breakdown of communication, which for many couples can result in separation
[Yeah, that's not happening.  No one's immune to trouble here, but we're not going to let this beat us.  Largely because, while I want a baby SO badly, I already have contentment with my husband and my God.  We are already a family and I couldn't ask for anything more.  And that, my friends, is truth.]. Throughout the experience, couples tend to oscillate between periods of distance and closeness, and the nature and frequency of these distances is likely to be a key factor in whether couples stay together during and beyond the experience.

Check out the entire article - it's a good read and may help you understand why your infertile friends are so damn crazy.  Thoughts?  IF girls, does any of this ring true with your experience?
The article brings to light the idea of seeking counseling as a couple when dealing with infertility.  Honestly, this is just not something that ever crossed our minds.  I think it's a great option and can be a big help to couples.  We have certainly had our struggles with it, but overall I think we have been well-suited for the battle.  We've got strong faith, a kick-ass church, amazingly supportive friends and family, and I've got a GREAT network of other IF girls to laugh and cry with (very crucial, in my opinion).  At least at this point, 5+ years in, I don't think we require yet another source of wisdom.  But hey, we only know where we are and where we've been.  I may lose all my marbles tomorrow before breakfast!  No one goes through this unscathed, but as the hub and I always have said - we are grateful for this journey.  It has made us stronger because we have chosen not to be defeated by it. 


Susannah said...

Oh dear-you are so brave and active in your pursuit. I am learning so much from you and know how to work with other IF girls. Keep up the chin!

The Gist Fam said...

I feel like they either bugged my house or interviewed me and my husband! I didn't read the whole article - just your excerpts, but it basically pegged my feelings exactly and how my husband responded! This would surely have been helpful to have read while we were going through the stages of the journey.

Julie Tiemann said...

Thanks for posting this. Even for a "fertile," it's really helpful.

As a side note, I can't believe your husband's friends joke about coming over to "get the job done." Um, I'd have to kick them in the nuts if I heard them say something like that.

Moon said...

Hello! Thanks so much for the mention and link to my blog. So pleased you've shared this on your blog too, it's such a great article.

Henley on the Horn said...

Infertility stinks! I have been there! But God does help us through the process:).