I didn’t think that I would find the need to make commentary on the disarray in which the Adoption, Loss, and Infertility (ALI) community has currently found itself. My initial reaction was to feel torn. I can easily see both sides of the coin. I needed to sit with my thoughts a bit longer to determine where my stance was (and whether I had a stance at all, to be honest). Plenty of people said plenty of things.I didn’t think that I would have something different to add to the conversation. Finally, a thought did occur to me. There is a current which runs beneath the surface of all of the comments left throughout the blogosphere (and the catalyst posts) about the issue. This is a theme which is implied in the shockwave that thundered through our community, but I have yet to see it explicitly stated anywhere.
I don’t think this is about the popularity of one blog over another (as determined by the number of comments/readers one has) or about making rules for how we give and receive support within this community. The heart of the matter lies in how we are coping with our infertility on an emotional level as individuals and how that affects the type of support we need to give and receive.
To understand this concept further, I think it is important to understand the concept of what I call “emotional infertility.”
Physical vs. Mental Infertility
I believe that there are two definitions of infertility which need to be considered. The first is the physical infertility, which of course involves the inability to conceive or safely carry and deliver a live baby (neonatal loss is include here).
The second definition, and perhaps the one that is truly more relevant to the ALI community’s current state of affairs, is mental or emotional infertility. I define mental/emotional infertility thusly:
mental /emotional infertility: the degree to which one emotionally connects to his or her physical state of being infertile
Let that sink in for a moment. Mental infertility is a colored lens through which we view the world and our perceived place in it. Some of us have mental infertility coming out of our pores, while others of us recognize the physical infertility within us, but don’t spend as much time thinking about our lives from the infertile standpoint.
Let’s dig deeper into what I think are two key points of mental infertility:
Mental infertility is a continuum of emotions.
Your position will fluctuate depending on where you are in your current journey and how you are coping with that place.
If you are right there in throes of family-building, you are more than likely high on the scale of mental infertility. You are deeply in tune and in touch with your physical infertility. If nearly every aspect of your life is first viewed through the lens of your physical infertility and you spend much of every day thinking about infertility to some degree, your mental infertility is currently heavy.
If, however, you are at a point in which your physical infertility is not always prominent in how you consider your place in the world at this moment, your mental infertility is much lower on the continuum. Your physical infertility isn’t casting as much of a light (or shadow, depending on your mindset) in how you view the world and what happens to you on a day-to-day basis.
If those two states represent polar opposite extremes, then many of us likely fall somewhere between them, probably leaning a bit more closely to one side than the other.
Mental infertility is not a fixed state of being. Where you are on the spectrum can and will shift.
However, I do believe that where you are on the mental infertility spectrum can take a great deal of time and processing to shift from one point to the other, especially when shifting from high to low. These shifts are usually gradual.
Mental infertility shouldn’t be confused with what I think of as your “infertility mood.” I tend to think of the difference between the two as similar to the concept of climate vs. the weather. The weather may change every day, but the climate of a region holds steady for hundreds, even thousands of years. As an infertile, we might cry over receiving a baby shower one day, and then be perfectly fine hearing a pregnancy announcement the next. But our mental infertility affects how our minds and hearts are emotionally affected by our infertility over a period of time. This, in turn, will also make a huge impact on the type of support we need to receive (and give) and also where we feel comfortable receiving and giving that support.
Being high or low on the emotional infertility spectrum does not translate to “bad” or “good.”
If you are highly emotionally infertile, that does not mean that you’re an emotional nutcase, rocking in a corner and snotting all over yourself while you shoot up Lupron (and if you have had those days, that’s okay, too. I’ve been there). It simply means that you are in a state where many of your thoughts are dictated by your physical infertility. You can be finished with the hoop-jumping of physical infertility – whether you’re parenting after infertility or have moved on to living childfree – and still be highly emotional infertile.
If your emotional infertility is low, you are in a place where infertility does not dictate most of your thoughts. A diaper commercial is exactly that – just an advertisement, and not the Universe jabbing a mocking finger at you. Realize that it is possible to be in the middle of dealing with physical infertility and still have a low level of mental infertility. This might not be true for most of us, because heaven knows I was climbing the walls when trying to conceive for myself or was cycling for IVF as a surrogate (or dealing with the aftermath of retiring from surrogacy).
I think most of us do have our emotional gears spinning on high when we’re actively coping with our infertility, adjusting to parenting after infertility, or adjusting living without children. Keep in mind, though, that there are people out there whose minds don’t get caught in the tangled web that physical infertility brings with it. Or, they were once there, but have since moved on to being able to navigate most days without stopping to consider the impact that their physical infertility is making on their lives.
I think we all hope to one day reach a place where we aren’t reminded every moment of every day that we are infertile. Or at least if we are, the thought isn’t associated with negative impressions of ourselves or rile up emotions that are difficult to deal with. However, that doesn’t make people in one state of being better than or worse than people on the other side. When you begin making comparisons to where you are on the spectrum in relation to where someone else is, that’s when you begin running the risk of participating in the Pain Olympics.
Your level of emotional infertility does not make someone more or less deserving of a place within this community.
Your level of emotional infertility and what is right for you also should not dictate how and from where other people choose to receive support for where they personally are on their continuum of emotional infertility.
Think about what your degree of mental infertility might be currently. Now let’s discuss these questions for consideration:
- Where do you feel that you currently are on the mental/emotional infertility continuum? Is being infertile something that you are living and breathing every day, or is it a part of you without consuming nearly every waking thought?
- Think about your emotional infertility throughout the course of your journey with physical infertility. Have you noticed any emotional shifts toward or away from one end of the spectrum to the other? Did these shifts begin (or end) with specific events (such as a diagnosis, loss, delivery, decision to live child-free, decisions regarding donor gametes, etc.)?
- How have shifts in your state of emotional infertility affected your sense of community? Did you seem to lose the reader support that you once had, or did you gain new support from a new community? Did you feel the need to seek out a new community that you felt you could relate to and that could relate to you (not to replace the one you already had, but rather to add yourself to a new space in addition to the one you were already a part of)?
- Have you ever felt like a shift of your emotional infertility has led you to inadvertently write yourself out of your own blog/community? Meaning for whatever reason, you no longer felt as comfortable in the space and micro-community that you had created around yourself. If you have, did you create a new blog or do a complete overhaul on the topics you write about to make room for the new thoughts you’re having in your new position on the emotional infertility spectrum? Did you still feel “at home” within your community, whether in your micro-community or with in the ALI community at large?
Later this week, I will discuss what I see as the prominent implications of mental infertility and its current impact on our community. For now, I think that these questions are a good starting point. I’m interested in your answers to the questions that I’ve posed here. I really do think that if we had a better understanding of our own ever-changing emotional infertility, it might help us better understand others’ emotions and how we all fit within this community together.