11 July, 2016

Putting your mind to it: The infertility version

You can achieve anything series – Part 2

The exact same reasons for the belief, or rather, the message, that I outlined in my previous post exist here in the infertility world:

Society: Our pro-natal society teaches us to believe that a) everyone will become a parent easily, and b) our place in society and our life’s value is inextricably linked with becoming a parent. When we begin to find that it is not as easy as we’ve been led to believe, we start to question ourselves, our value, and our place in society. We start to panic, and feel helpless. The message that we can in fact have children, as long as we try hard enough and never give up, fits all those societal expectations that we have absorbed.

Hope: We began trying to conceive because we wanted to be parents. Hope that we will achieve our goals keeps us going. Hope without control is tough, so we need to believe that we have some control over the process. So we have to hope that our efforts will allow us to achieve our goals. After all, we’ve been taught to believe that the alternative is not to be considered.

Altruism/Connection: “You can do it too!” “Never give up!” “We’ll be parents together!” Those who have been through infertility have known the torture of wanting something that is so central to our humanity, but seemingly outside of our ability to achieve it. It’s hard going through this, and hard to see others still going through it. So those  who have received their prize like to encourage those who are left trying, they want to connect and pass on some of their happiness and satisfaction. It’s well-intentioned, and done with love, I know. Those who are still going through it want to believe that these statements are true for everyone, including and primarily themselves. So they too will encourage others to keep trying, to keep believing, to keep wanting it enough.

Self-aggrandisement: After often years of effort, grief, loss, treatments, disappointment, it is perhaps natural for someone to want to congratulate themselves on achieving their goal, to feel that they made the difference, that they wouldn’t be pregnant without their specific efforts, their decisions that made this cycle different, their perseverance that shows they wanted it enough, that they tried hard enough, that they believed, that they were worthy. They want to feel they had some control, and that they can take some credit in their achievement. 

Commercial motivations: The fertility industry and adoption industries push success and opportunity and focus on the outcomes. It’s in their financial interests for people to keep going and going, to try new things, to keep believing it will work for them. Pamela writes extensively on this issue, and I bow to her superior knowledge.

Two of my commenters on my previous post provided other good reasons that also should be noted:

Fear: Valery suggested that maybe this is also out of fear  - fear that maybe they actually never had any control. If there was no control, it means that they could just as easily not have had the success, despite all their efforts.

Guilt: Ruby suggested that perhaps it was out of guilt. Survivor's guilt is easier to deal with if you believe that you had some control, and can take some credit, for the result.  

So, does wanting it enough work? Don't answer that - it will be my next post, and you can guess what I'm about to say!


  1. Yes! On some level I think that our decision to walk away from infertility was harder on others than it was on us, since walking away flew in the face of cultural expectations.

  2. Great post, it explains a lot of the reasons behind why we pursued treatments as long and furiously as we did. Hope was a big one for us, I thought I could will it to happen, I know better now!

  3. Another illuminating post! I am wondering, Mali, if you think that society views having children as a rite of passage too. The final big step to fully realized adulthood?
    We have had friends and family pushing the whole "we can be parents together" thing. And as nice as it is for them to want to connect with us in this way, it has left a part of me feeling even more distant from them now since we never had kids.

    1. Oh yes, absolutely I think society views having children as a rite of passage. And many many people talk about becoming an adult when they have children. I wrote about it here - http://nokiddinginnz.blogspot.co.nz/2015/10/the-moment-you-realise-youre-grown-up.html

  4. Yes, yes, yes to all of this. The hope one is so big... and doing all the crazy things suggested by just about anyone to try to exert control over the uncontrollable (I did things like wear orange underwear, bring an elephant with pomegranate seeds in it to transfer, light red candles and only snuff them, herb-steam my lady bits, take herbs of dubious value...the list just goes on and on). None of it mattered. But it's true that sometimes people who succeed at treatment see their steps as "the magic steps" and want to share that with you, even forgetting that you did those very same steps and it is so much intricate aligning and mystery as to how conception actually occurs. I truly believe I did 13 cycles not because it was a good idea (obviously it wasn't, it didn't work) but because I was always led to believe that the next one could be it, that there was a new and improved drug or protocol or surgery that could help make this next try happen for us, and I didn't want to let go of the hope that pregnancy was possible. Had there been more "we don't know and we're not sure this will work" I don't think we would have done so much.

    I agree with BentNotBroken that cultural expectations are huge, too -- I broached the idea with my MIL that if adoption doesn't work out then we will not be parents, and she tried hard to recover but it was clearly a horrifying option to her, whereas for me I see it as one of two possible outcomes and it isn't doom and gloom to me, not anymore.

    A great post!

    1. Thanks! I'm starting to wonder if somehow you've hacked my computer and read some of what I'm writing in my next post. Or maybe, great minds think alike!