When I began writing about the current state of the ALI community on Monday, I thought that I would be able to round out what I had to say in just one additional post. In part because of the amazing discussion that happened in the comments of the first post, I find that I have a lot more to say than I thought I would. This post is the second of what is going to be a series of three (possibly four) posts.
Prerequisite Reading – Post One: Mental Infertility and Its Impact on the Adoption, Loss, and Infertility Community
Just to recap, mental/emotional infertility is what I defined as the degree to which you emotionally connect to your physical state of being infertile. Emotional infertility is a continuum of emotions. You are high on the scale of emotional infertility if many of your feelings and thoughts – even ones about other facets of your life – are influenced by how you are coping with your physical infertility. You are low on emotional infertility if your emotions, thoughts, and how you perceive the world are not quite as influenced by your state of being physically infertile. Even after achieving parenthood or making the decision to live childless, it is possible to still have high levels of emotional infertility. Conversely, it is possible to have physical infertility without it having too much effect on one’s general emotional state. Many of us probably fall somewhere between the two extremes, tipping more closely to one side than the other. Emotional infertility is not a fixed state of being. While some changes in your level of emotional infertility can happen rapidly, most shifts (especially from high to low) usually occur gradually over a period of time. When thinking of your individual level of emotional infertility in relation to others the ALI community, it is important to remember these two ideas:
- 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.
Finally, I concluded by asking you to respond to questions related to how your shifting levels of emotional infertility may have affected the community of support that you built/are building around yourself in the ALI community. After having read my ideas about emotional infertility, many of you expressed moments of insight in which you gained a deeper understanding about your own emotions or the emotions of others regarding infertility. All of the comments helped to clarify my own thoughts further. I’d like to share just a few comments that represent either some common threads that I saw developing, or ideas which pertain closely to the direction in which I’m going to take the remainder of this post:
Jo of Mojo Working, who also hosted one of the Healing Salons:
I have been mulling over and over how people can take two seemingly different approaches to parenting after infertility — for me, it is mindboggling how someone can ever move “past” IF. But then, I realized, I’m still a very highly emotional infertile. And I can totally see now how someone else might not be in that same emotional space…somehow something clicked and I am beginning to understand a little bit how someone who no longer feels that acute connection to IF every single day might actually consider themselves healed, or at least on the path toward healing.
Mrs. Gamgee of Hobbit-ish Thoughts and Ramblings:
I recognize that at this point in my life, I am still on the more emotionally charged end of things. And yes that affects how I perceive the support I need. I just didn’t know how to articulate it.
luna, of life from here:
I still identify as an infertile and empathize completely with those on the path to build their family. but I’m more removed from the anguish and sorrow — ie, the emotional part — now that I have my family. my reading habits have definitely shifted over the years. I cut back on blogs written about treatment and started reading more about other family building routes (eg, adoption, donor gametes, surrogacy, and other blended families). I especially sought out connection in the adoption blog world, not just infertility and loss blogs. I still follow many blogs I’ve read for years though.
niobe, formerly of dead baby jokes:
I’ve never seen anyone conceptualize infertility like this…it really helps me to understand some things that have always puzzled me: like, for example, how some people can self-identify so strongly as infertile, no matter what stage of the process they’re in.
KH99 of Family Building with a Twist, also a Healing Salon host:
I stopped posting on my IF blog after my son was born because it was exclusively IF and it didn’t feel appropriate to write about new baby bliss there…. I’m still working to find my tribes, but I feel comfortable in the ALI community and really identify with others parenting after infertility….What I discovered, though, as I tried to find bloggers I liked in the larger “mommy blog” community is that there was a part of me that didn’t feel completely comfortable or at home there and that perhaps parenting after IF is different.
Sara of Somewhat Lower:
The shifts have affected my need to blog and my inspiration to blog, but I haven’t noticed that they have affected my readership. I don’t think that the shifts have really affected my sense of community at all. Even when I’m not writing, I’m always out here reading. I have noticed that as time goes on, I seek out new communities to deal with my adjusted situations (e.g., donor eggs are now a subject of passionate interest), but I also still read in the same old places.
I asked the questions that I did because I had a theory which seems almost too simple to write an entire blog post about. But sometimes the simplest ideas can lead to the most complicated misunderstandings. As I read through posts related to last week’s ALI blow-up (which I’ve dubbed “ALIgeddon”), I felt like I could see through all the haze of anger and hurt feelings to realize what I thought was one of two underlying reasons for the explosion (I’ll delve into the second, related reason in my next post). It stems from this theory, which the many brilliant comments I received seemed to prove:
As our levels of mental/emotional infertility change, so too, does the support that we need to receive from the community.
What I heard in the comments is that whether through a natural change in a blogger’s readership or via purposeful moves on the writer’s part, your support sources changed when your emotional infertility/status of your physical infertility changed. In some cases, new readers from different sub-communities found their way in your spaces and joined in with the readers you’ve had for a while. In others, people stepped out of their usual blog circles and went in search of additional ones. Still others had a complete blog shut-down and later came back with a completely new space to make room for new emotional needs and a wider support community (goodbye, I’m a Smart One; hello, The Smartness).
This theory is simplistic in its logic; our status changes, so our needs change. What complicates it is the fact that there is no logic to infertility, and many emotions – especially high mental infertility emotions – can give rise to both internal and external conflict, which in turn can affect how we give and receive support.
I’ve been reading/writing blogs for two years, and now nearly everyone in my reader is pregnant, and I’m not. I care deeply for my friends, but I just can’t handle reading these pregnancy blogs anymore.
I’ve had my baby, but there are so many people I support who are still trying. I need to be able to talk about my baby and also the joys and challenges associated with parenting, but I don’t want to hurt my friends.
I’m no longer seeking treatment and I’m not going pursue adoption or surrogacy. I don’t know where I fit in. Do I fit in? Am I even allowed to be here and consider myself a part of this community?
Dealing with your own internal conflicts about getting and receiving support is sometimes hard enough as it is. When these feelings begin interacting with others’ feelings in the community, you can see how they can become tangled if you’re not aware that someone else may not be on a similar plane of emotional infertility as you are…especially if it is someone who once was in a shared mental infertility space.
I think a lot of what happened in ALIgeddon is a loss of understanding. A line was drawn in the sand, and people felt like they had to find a position on one side or the other. While it did incite much of the heat behind the debate, I think the fact that this line seemed to divide those with children and those without is secondary to the greater issue (I can’t help but wonder if this debate would have caused the tsunami that it did had it been someone seeking to organize a tighter sub-community of people who had decided to live childfree). What the community lost sight of is this:
We are not (and should not be) completely separate groups. We are smaller micro-communities of support within the larger ALI community. As our personal journeys with our physical infertility and how that affects our levels of mental/emotional infertility change, we may need to seek support from different sub-communities.
Digging into that a little further, you can extract these very real, and somewhat painful nuggets of truth:
- It hurts to think that at some point, we may not be needed by our friends in a way that we once were.
- It hurts to think that at some point, I might need to leave my friends and find a different micro-community because my emotional needs are no longer being met.
- It hurts to think that at some point, I might feel that I’ve lost some connections that were once important to me.
- It hurts to think that others are achieving levels of emotional infertility that I am so far away from, that I can’t fathom being on the other side of things.
- It hurts to know that I am having difficulties relating to a sub-community and their needs, and it hurts that I feel that they can’t relate to my needs.
We are all here for the same reason – support. Isn’t it important that everyone within the community gets the support that she (or he) needs? Sometimes this means understanding that we can’t meet someone else’s needs, and then giving them our blessing to find support in a place where they can have their needs met.
As a surrogate, my ultimate goal was for my intended parents to become parents. If them getting there meant that I would need to step down as their surrogate, it might hurt us both of not to be able to walk that path together, but it was something that I was more than willing to do – even eager to do – if it meant them achieving their goal (as in the cases with Mia and Urs and then Ny and Mo). Even with Chance and Apollo, who made the decision to live childless, I stepped back and assumed a different role in their lives. Am I still friends with these couples? Yes. Do I still care for them, and do they still care for me? Absolutely. Did it hurt to know that I wasn’t needed by them any longer? Damned straight, it did. But, I also know that it wasn’t personal. Their moving away from me in that way wasn’t a war waged against me or my emotions. Their needs simply changed, and I was no longer able to supply them with the new support that they needed (at least in my role as a surrogate).
While this example wasn’t an exact analogy for the changes that occur within the ALI community, I think it illustrates the idea well. If our bottom line in this community is support, then we need to be supportive of each other’s needs for different types of support — even if that means that the type of support they need is one that we cannot relate to or are unsure of how to support due to our own level of emotional infertility.
Thoughts? Comments? Realizations? Insight? Theories of your own? I’d love to hear from you. Comments are still open on the previous post, as well.