Mental Infertility and Its Impact on the Adoption, Loss, and Infertility (ALI) Community

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.

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Comments

  1. says

    I had never heard the terms “emotional infertility” and “mental infertility” until I read this piece, which really resonated with me. I didn’t have fertility issues, but I’m adopted and my adoptive mother, I now realize after reading this piece, never worked through her emotional infertility. It was always a shadow lurking in our relationship and we couldn’t talk about my adoption without her crying. So I felt a lot of shame about being adopted which I think in part was passed on by her shame/lack of closure from being infertile. People didn’t talk about infertility back then — I think it must have been very lonely for my mom, as well as for other women, who were parenting in an era where there wasn’t open support for infertility and alternative ways of having a family.

    • says

      Wow, Pauline. Your comment has blown me away. There are so many implications of emotional infertility other than the ones that I’ve presented here. As the concept is one that I’ve only just discovered? verbalized? theorized?, I haven’t yet thought my way down all of the different avenues that branch off of the idea. Yours is a very important one – what effect does unresolved emotional infertility have on the children?

      Thank you for commenting, especially on an issue that is clearly very sensitive for you. I am sorry that the infertility formed an uncomfortable distance between you and your mother. You show a lot of empathy for your mom despite the pain that her infertility caused you.

      Your comment about her lack of support directly relates to what inspired me to write this post in the first place – how we give support within the infertility community. I think it is helpful for us to remember that there was a time (and not too long ago) when infertiles DIDN’T have support at all – from each other or from outside sources, and certainly not from society as a whole. Things are still tough on that end, but it IS getting better, however slow that might progress might be. Anything that pulls us apart from the inside is counterproductive to our overall progress.

      Thank you so much for chiming in, Pauline. Healing xoxo to you.

    • says

      Thanks, Delenn. I have a lot more where that came from. I just hope that I can find the time to write it all out this week while it is still immediately relevant!

  2. says

    Yes, yes, yes! That is it exactly! 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. I don’t know why it took wording it that way for it to make sense to me, but 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.

    Thank you for all that you do to bridge the gap between all of our alternate realities.

    Much love,
    Jo

    • says

      Exactly, Jo. I think the difference between the two extremes isn’t about being “separate” or “us” vs. “them.” It is more about people being in two different mindspaces on the SAME emotional continuum. Because of that difference, some people may need a different form of support to help them where they are in their level of emotional infertility. For some parents after infertility, this means seeking out others in that same mindspace. For other parents after IF, that type of surrounding might seem unnecessary to where they are on THEIR spectrum of emotional IF. It all comes down to being free to build the type of support that you need around yourself without fear of being ostracized from the ALI community at large.

  3. says

    OMG… I am in awe of you! As I was reading this all I could think was, Yes! This is exactly it!

    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.

    I have, in the past, been in a less emotional place. Looking back over the last four-ish years, there have been times when I have been much more able to handle things. And there have been times when I have been less able. For example, when I was in the second and third trimesters with Ginny, I was much more confident than I am right now. I know that in the future, And when I was dealing with PPD, I was in a much more vulnerable state than I am right now.

    I need to think about how I come to terms with my emotional infertility, and the impact it may have on my children. I want Ginny to be aware of the realities of procreation, not just what’s taught in junior high health class, but I don’t want her to be afraid.

    So much to think about.

    • says

      If I’m used as any measure of coming to terms with emotional infertility, the questions you’ve presented here are once that you’ll deal with long past the completion of your family building. One thing I can say for sure though, is that the further away I get from actually being in treatment (i.e. the surrogacy stuff was keeping the IF active and alive in my heart), that’s the lower I get on the emotional infertility scale. It doesn’t make me any less infertile, but it DOES make the pain of it not as sharp, and it doesn’t prick nearly as often. I can hurt on behalf of others without exacerbating the hurt that is only mine, if that makes any sense.

      Know what will really blow your hair back? I just thought of and re-read this post that I wrote a bit more than 2 years ago: http://thesmartness.com/smartone/2009/11/passport-children.html. How amazingly relevant is that to the current state of affairs in the ALI community?

  4. says

    This is very interesting. I think in terms of mental infertility, I’m somewhere near a 3? Doesn’t consume me every day, but I don’t enjoy receiving a free sample if Similac in the mail? But I find that my emotional state changes more with age. The way I process reflects the way I’m processing everything that touches me emotionally — and it’s different now at this age. Whereas five years ago, ten years ago, I felt things and reacted to things differently.

    • says

      As I stated in the comment above, my mental infertility is shifting with the distance I’m gaining from being actively in treatment as an infertile, even if that treatment was in my role as a gestational surrogate. My feelings and reactions are very different now, even from just a year ago.

  5. says

    This is an excellent way to try and decipher the extremely difficult state of infertility. It is so complex and while many infertiles have felt the same way at certain times to a certain degree, we also have different experiences at different times. The first comment is very eye opening as to just how complex infertility is and how we are constantly finding another level. PFM has received feedback from adopted children wanting to understand what things must have been like for their parents when they could not conceive. I find this fascinating. That is an aspect of ALI that I didn’t anticipate PFM touching on.
    I continue to blog about my journey through infertility and parenting after adoption. I understand that infertility will always be a part of my life. the grief is ever-present. I hope those who read and blog can continue to be supportive. We all have something to learn from one another.

    • says

      ” I hope those who read and blog can continue to be supportive. We all have something to learn from one another.” So very true.

      I also thought that Pauline’s comment was eye-opening. I know that resonated within you as an adoptive mom. I am so grateful that the stigma of infertility has changed enough to the point that we can be open about it so that we are able to get the support that we need if we pursue it. I just want this in-fighting to cease so that we can open our minds and hearts to the *different* ways in which people need to get and give support depending on where they are in their personal dealings with infertility.

  6. says

    Brilliant!

    Not a day goes by that I don’t think about infertility many times, but it doesn’t sting anymore and it no longer consumes me. Still, I think I have much higher mental infertility than most people post-children. Because of that, I still feel like I’m in the same place community-wise and in terms of my own blog: infertility blogger, not mommy blogger. I do have a high percentage of readers/blog friends with twins now — though most of them were readers before I ever got pregnant!

    • says

      You’ve illustrated an important point, Babe Smilz; some people may not “outgrow” their own blog space or type of support they have received, but may find themselves with a new audience that they weren’t able to reach before. The point is that as our personal circumstances change, it may influence changes around us. There is nothing wrong with that no matter how it happens. The bottom line is that we are still receiving support, even if our audience/support source has changed whether naturally or by decisions of our own making.

  7. says

    I don’t have the mental stamina to give the questions you asked fair consideration (day 15 of a migraine for my oldest son) but I had to at least comment and tell you what a brilliant post this is. It totally sums up everything I’ve been struggling to express lately.

  8. says

    Wow, this is a fantastic post! I especially appreciate your points that the mental infertility will be different from person to person, will vary with the time, and that the levels aren’t good or bad. They simply are.

    And I think this really helps me to put my blogging journey into a context, too. I started writing when I was already pregnant after infertility treatment, but my mental infertility level was still quite high. High enough that it reached a point that I needed it out in the open. It fell when Zoe was born, but it was still at a pretty moderate level, always lurking with the question of whether we’d try to have another child. But since Hazel was born, it has fallen to just a low hum. There when I’m quiet or listening for it, but often easy to ignore, what with all the noise of the rest of life. Still, there are moments, days, and weeks, even, when the level rises. Some of the political debates have brought it back up, and there’s the occasional pregnancy and birth announcements that make it scream in my ear.

    I think that I used to write about infertility most during the times that it was loudest, but recently I’ve really struggled to find what to write about. I wonder if my stumbling block has been in part feeling a mismatch between my mental infertility levels and my perceived readers. I wonder if it matters if there is a mismatch.

    • says

      “…recently I’ve really struggled to find what to write about. I wonder if my stumbling block has been in part feeling a mismatch between my mental infertility levels and my perceived readers. I wonder if it matters if there is a mismatch.”

      This statement blew me away, Ann. You have hit the hell out of the head on the nail of this issue. I need to chew on this one a bit longer. I suspect that you’ll see yourself quoted in my next post, Ann. xoxo

  9. says

    I agree. This is a fantastic post. One that has definitely resonated with me. Once I get this sinus infection knocked back a bit, I’m going to be back to answer these questions!

    • says

      I can’t wait to read your thoughts, Stacie. I hope that you’re feeling better soon! I saw that you’re dealing with several different health issues at once! <3

  10. says

    really truly brilliant. such a smart one, you are.

    there once was a time when I was all consumed by infertility, by my body’s complete failure. between the loss of our son 6 yrs ago and my inability to conceive again, it somehow pervaded every thought, plan and action, morning to night. though I was functional, I was compromised, a shell of the person I had once been.

    there was a gradual change as we shifted to adoption. while still infertile — always an infertile — I was no longer trying or expecting to build my family biologically. I was still smacked upside the head every so often, but that change was a relief. I was no longer drowning in it. finally I could see the horizon: parenthood. I knew I had to resolve my grief before I could parent a child through adoption. becoming a mama further helped heal my heart.

    while I had come to peace, I never truly forgave my body for its betrayal — until I was able to conceive, deliver and sustain a healthy baby (unexpectedly at age 42). interestingly, I was thrown back to that very raw place when I first learned I was pg and was afraid of another loss. but when I gave birth and my womb was removed I realized I was fully at peace with my infertility — it was a fair trade after all.

    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.

    my writing and readership has changed as well. I wrote a lot about our journey to adoption through our placement. I gained some readers along the way (who were interested in open adoption or following the drama of a very unexpected high-risk pregnancy), but I definitely lost some too, when I was no longer in treatment or child-free/less. it IS hard to write about some parenting issues, knowing that some readers will click away. but my blog is my space and I write for me. that said, I love the interaction and friends I’ve made along the way and blogging wouldn’t be the same without that.

    ok I’m rambling and not really sure if I answered any Qs in this novel, but I just wanted to chime in. thanks for raising these issues.

    • says

      ” I especially sought out connection in the adoption blog world, not just infertility and loss blogs.”

      Yes, yes, yes. What I hear in this statement when it is applied to the greater IF community is that “we seek out what we need to receive.” There is nothing, nothing at all wrong with this and we should be supportive of each other when they reach out new sets of bloggers, even if you’re not ready to make that leap yourself.

      I think you MORE than answer the questions in your “novel.” Thanks for responding, luna. xoxo

  11. niobe says

    This is absolutely brilliant. I’ve never seen anyone conceptualize infertility like this, but I think you’re exactly right. 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.

    Personally, I’ve never emotionally connected to being infertile. Rightly or wrongly, I’ve never viewed myself through that lens.

    • says

      I always picked up through your blog and your various comments scattered throughout the blogosphere that you were a bit unsure if you were deserving of your place within the community. I always thought (and still believe) that even if you didn’t process your grief in a traditional pattern or your reasons for being here don’t exactly align with the standard definition of “infertility,” that doesn’t mean that you didn’t/don’t belong here. And even if you never viewed yourself through that lens, I think the fact that you identified so closely to this community of support speaks volumes. xoxo

  12. says

    wonderful post. you said it so well – do I think about my infertility journey 24/7 as I once did? No. Do I think about it more than most women? YES. I straddle two worlds. Parenting. Infertile. When I write about parenting I know that it is not always palatable to those still in the fray. When I write about infertility I know that it is sometimes a totally foreign concept to some of my readers. What I do know is that I am me. I am a woman that became a parent thanks to a community that lifted me up when I was going through fertility treatments.
    What slays me is when things feel divisive. We ALL can understand hurt. But you are spot on – our levels are all going to be different.

    • says

      I love that you were able to continue writing your way through your blog even when one of your feet landed onto the “parenting” land. I straddle both worlds, too, but as you know, I needed to get myself off to a new start (for reasons that are additional to balancing the infertility and parenting). I don’t think either avenue is better than the other – it’s all about what feels right to the writer. I wish more people really understood that.

      “We can all understand hurt…but our levels are all going to be different.” Amen.

  13. says

    Oh, how I LOVE this post. Brilliant concept! I think my emotional infertility was highest during the 4 years we were actively TTC through various treatments. Once my son was born, for a while my emotional infertility was probably at its lowest point (changing diapers, feeding schedules and no sleep made me feel the closest I’ve ever felt to non-IF mothers). Over time, my emotional infertility has crept up a bit, especially as we hit the age range in which children my son’s age are getting siblings. I’m probably about a 3 now (on a scale of 1-10). I think about it a lot more, but it’s more of a quick hit. I do still somewhat identify as an infertile, especially since I still have to deal with the issues that made me infertile in the first place.

    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 started my parenting blog for friends and family while our surrogate was pregnant and last year, I decided it was the space where I wanted to live. I’m still working to find my tribes, but I feel comfortable in the ALI community and really identify with others parenting after infertility and started posting more on IF on that blog. I also try to find local bloggers and try to reach out to other bloggers pursuing surrogacy since that is a very small micro-community. As I looked over the parenting after surrogacy part of the blog roll, I was sad that most of the blogs I followed during our surrogacy have stopped blogging. 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. That’s what led me to write this post: http://babywithatwist.wordpress.com/2012/03/07/beyond-the-pail/

    • says

      I completely agree with what you’ve said here. I like how you mentioned that you’re still working to find your “tribes.” That is exactly the term that has been swimming around in my head for the past few days. Our support needs change, so we might have to seek out new tribes to add to the support that we already have. This is exactly the hole that clearly needs to be filled for parents after infertility, and also for others who are feeling like they relate to but don’t fit exactly in the IF community as it is now. Your comment is pointing straightforward into the direction where my next post is going to go.

  14. says

    This is brilliant, and really rang true for me. It absolutely explains to me how I can be in a relative okay place on my mental infertility spectrum and have “storms” of moods now and then (last week being the most recent). It’s a great comfort to have this idea conceptualized in a way that truly relates to what it’s like to go through this.

    What I find interesting is that I strongly identify as infertile and would consider myself high on the spectrum, yet it is my husband whose issues primarily prohibit us from conception without ART. So I personally don’t have a “damning” diagnosis (I have a progesterone issue, which is treated relatively easily) connected to my mental infertility. I just see it as *we* have physical infertility because we’re a couple, yet I don’t have the feelings of inadequacy that many ladies with PCOS, endo, etc. would have. Even so, thanks to the stage of life where my friends and I are, I feel constantly aware of our infertility.

    I often feel as though I’m not part of a community that I can easily identify – we chose not to go through ART, so I don’t have those experiences to draw on to connect with other women. Most ladies I’m in contact with are still going through treatments or testing, and we’ve shut that door. Where they still have hope, I’m actively (and heathily) working through the grieving process for the life we’d imagined. I think these things often weigh into where I am on my mental infertility spectrum.

    • says

      Brooke, huge hugs to you. I can see how your and your husband’s decision not to pursue any family-building options feels like you’re “floating” around out there without a specific network of people who are in a very similar position as you’re in.

      And you also raise an excellent point which occurred to me as I was writing this piece, but didn’t mention. There are people out there who have what I think of as “conditional” infertility, even if they themselves are not technically “physically” infertile. You’re in that position, because your ability to have a child is affected by your husband’s physical infertility. The resulting emotions are still the same (or at least similar to) what a woman with physical infertility faces. There is something that you can’t control which is standing between you and the babies you hoped to someday have. That hurts, no matter what that block is.

      I thought of it last night in terms of surrogates. As surrogates, we aren’t the ones who are infertile (I say that loosely when speaking of myself, because my infertility/subfertility wasn’t bad enough to prohibit me from being a gestational surrogate), but surrogates still take on a lot of the same fears and worries that their intended parents do, especially when they’ve had to endure failed cycles and losses. I wrote a post on this a while back called “voluntary infertility.” Though (most) surrogates don’t have physical infertility and never had trouble conceiving their children, many do eventually grow to feel a very real and valid degree of emotional infertility.

      Though it’s difficult for you to find a specific sub-community within the larger ALI community, I hope that you continue to somehow find the support here for where you are on your mental infertility spectrum. xoxo

  15. leanne says

    I’m not even sure where to begin. I loved this post, your perspective. Yes.

    I also appreciated your response to Niobe, about belonging in this community. While my experience was different, the feelings of so many here resonated with me. So when I happened upon blogs in this community, I felt at home with some of them (and I certainly learned a lot). Over time, my situation has changed, my feelings have changed, and so the list of blogs that I read has changed (also some blogs sadly ended — like Niobe’s! and yours! — but then you came back!).

    And I feel like I’m leaving this comment without a nice ending (and it’s bugging me). Let me just say that I love the conversation you have started.

    • says

      “Over time, my situation has changed, my feelings have changed, and so the list of blogs that I read has changed….” Yes, a hundred times over, YES. We change, we shift, and our needs change and shift with us. Sometimes our “tribes” are easy to find because they are widespread, and sometimes, they are not easy to find in one place. I think that’s what was at the bottom of why PAIL was created. It brought more active and specific organization to the forefront of the ALI community and opened a door for others who needed that connection to pull together.

  16. says

    Very helpful conceptual framework, Moxie.

    “Where you are on the spectrum can and will shift.” Yes. And I really like the difference between climate and weather. Climate-wise, I am doing well, even considering my phase “post-infertile” (not meaning that I’ve become fertile; only that I don’t dwell on infertility).

    That said, a bunch of women in yoga sharing their birth stories for the benefit of a pregnant yogini can feel like a punch in the gut. Even now, all these years later. That was the answer to #1.

    #2. Gradual shift toward wholeness over time. No trigger. Well, parenting (via adoption) may have been a trigger ;-)

    #3. When I first started blogging and connecting with people in the trenches, I was much more sensitive, “Warning: children mentioned” and all that, because since I hadn’t yet refined my “tribe” I WAS connecting with younger people earlier in their IF journey.

    But I think we tend to congregate with our peers, both age-wise and stage-wise. People who read me and whom I read are more likely to have school-age children, or be parenting via adoption, or be in their 40s or some combination. It’s no surprise that my blog doesn’t draw in 20-somethings who are newly pregnant or parenting a baby/toddler. I probably sound like an old fuddy-duddy, and they can’t imagine that their fetus will one day be sassing off to them the way my kids do to me.

    #4. Yes. My “tribe” evolves in conjunction with how my writing evolves. It’s a circular effect. Mel was the one who gave me the advice “you’re a diarist’ write about what’s important to you” — when I was going through a blogdentity crisis. When my writing evolves, my tribe evolves, which, in turn, influences my writing.

    Great questions and thoughts, Moxie.

    • says

      “My “tribe” evolves in conjunction with how my writing evolves.” Exactly that. And most people’s writing will evolve along with wherever their mental infertility levels are at any given time. Your answer to #4 also points in the direction of where my next post is headed. xoxo, Lori!

  17. says

    You have knocked my socks off here. This is exactly it. Something I think that a lot of us have had on the tips of our mental tongues for months, but haven’t quite been able to say. Mental infertility. Yes!

    I have always marveled at how much more infertile I seem to be than some of the adoptive parents that I know IRL who just found out about their IF, decided to adopt, “just” adopted, and then went on with their lives with (apparently) never a look back, and also how much more infertile I am, emotionally, than my sister, who also needed IVF for her first (but then had two more the old-fashioned way, and apparently forgot everything that she ever knew about how to be sensitive about IF).

    Oops! Gotta run. It’s time for Eggbert’s doll’s birthday party (long story, not worth telling). Will be back…

    • says

      I don’t want anyone to wallow deeply in the hard part of infertility forever, but to be so far off the scale of mental infertility that you lose touch of how to be empathetic to others’ infertility (physical or mental) just grates on my nerves. It’s like you just want to throttle them and scream, “DON’T YOU REMEMBER WHAT THIS WAS LIKE?” at them. xoxo

  18. says

    OK. Back now.

    -Right now, I’m about a 3-4 (on a 1-10 scale) on the mental/emotional continuum. I think about it every day, and it definitely colors the way that I look at the world, and the way that I plan my future, but most days it doesn’t actually get me down.

    -When I was first trying to get pregnant, there were a few landmarks when things took a sudden lurch for the worse–at about 6 months, and then again at 12 and 18. At that point, it stabilized at crisis level (sirens pretty much blaring 24-7) until IVF #2 finally worked and I got pregnant. I don’t think that a day went by that wasn’t soaked in infertility, and every decision, including major ones like what job to take and where to move, was affected by infertility. After Eggbert was born, there was a definite lull. For probably about 6 months, I was at about a 1. I still remembered IF, and was involved in the IF community, but I didn’t FEEL infertile at all with a new baby. Then it crept back. By the time she was 19 months old and IVF#3 had failed again and it was becoming clear that despite being parents, we weren’t going to get the family that we had planned after all, it had hit the current level of 2-5. Various shifts in the climate have occurred, and of course local storms, but those were the major events.
    – The shifts have affected my need to blog and my inspiration to blog, but I haven’t noticed that they have affected my readership (except in that when I don’t write, nobody reads, obviously!). 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 definitely write less now that I’m not in crisis mode, but I also wrote more when I was a new parent (and in a state of bliss), so I’m not sure that it really is correlated with my emotional infertility so much. I just don’t notice blog posts welling up that HAVE to be written down now. Things just changed. I really have never felt the marginalization in the blogging world that some people have talked about. I have found the recent kerfuffle totally baffling for that reason. It just lies way outside of my own personal experience. I have learned a lot in the last week.

    • says

      I’m so glad that you came back to post more, Sara. Though we had very different experiences with our physical infertility, I found that my mental infertility patterns sort-of mirrored yours with actively trying and failing at TTC running causing several sudden blasts up the scale, a sharp drop immediately after bringing baby/babies home, then a moderate rise again once trying for siblings. For me, I felt a higher increase all throughout my days at I’m a Smart One when I was actively pursuing surrogacy (as a gestational surrogate). How could I not? In a lot of ways, I think I was as high on the mental infertility scale as a surrogate as I was TTC for myself. It was a huge responsibility and a lot of (self-imposed) pressure. I mean, I was a factor in whether someone else achieved their dreams of parenthood. That was heavy.

      Anyway, back to you – I was initially baffled by why the creation of PAIL caused as huge of an uproar as it did, at first. I seriously had to delve into the comments and consider each and every one to figure out why it pissed off as many people as it did and in the way that it did. Because honestly? The idea to do something similar (maybe not in exactly the same way) had crossed my mind several times before. I just never pulled the trigger on it. I NEVER viewed the creation of such a thing as a separate community than the Parenting After IF section of Mel’s blogroll; I viewed it as a more-defined and active subset of the greater ALI community. So when the creation of PAIL was seen by so many as “leaving” ALI to “join” another, it truly did come as a “say what say huh?” idea to me. That said, I can sort-of see why some people felt that way, even if I don’t necessarily agree with that perception. What I really hope is that when the dust settles around this, we’ll all come out on the other side with the understanding that our personal support needs will evolve with us, and as such, sometimes our “tribes” within the IF community might have to change, too. Like you said, even though you didn’t experience a change in your sense of the community that you build around yourself, you DID seek to ADD and expand to your community to make room for the changes in your own physical and mental infertility states of being. One did not replace the other, and one was no better than the other. It simply WAS. I hope that we can get to a place where the IF community and all subsets within it simply ARE once again. xoxo

  19. says

    I actually relate much more to this post and comments than to what’s happening in the Healing Salons (they just feel much less divisive).

    I’ve always felt in a weird limbo in the ALI community because our diagnosis was male factor IF. Yes, we started treatment when I was already of Mature Maternal Age (39), but I was told I wasn’t physically infertile and I sure didn’t FEEL infertile. At least at first. But three IVF cycles later, I had given up hope and my mental infertility was off the charts high.

    Now I find myself 33 weeks pregnant, after successful donor sperm IUI, and my mental infertility level has dropped significantly as my pregnancy has progressed (from a 10 to a 2).

    So, I live in limbo – physically fertile, AND vacillating on that mental infertility spectrum.

    Now I find I self-edit often on my blog, for fear of hurting feelings of those “still in the trenches” AND also there’s a part of me that felt that I could lose this baby any time. Thus my own request for no baby shower to my IRL friends and family. The nursery is only being put together because my mother is here to help make it happen. I had to force myself to go and buy and infant car seat, secretly convinced that the proverbial “other shoe” would drop at any minute.

    Ironically, now that I’m 6 weeks from my due date, I can openly talk to friends and colleagues about the “teams of doctors” who helped me get pregnant without shame or anything, but not too many details. It’s still part of my experience. Even though I was technically physically fertile, I still wasn’t able to get or stay pregnant over a 2-year span.

    Limbo.

    I want to end this comment with a big “I love you” to this community. And I’m very, very grateful for the support, love and friendship of this community. I expect who will follow my blog and the blogs I follow will continually change over time, but my love for you all won’t ever change.

    • says

      I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to reply to this comment! Your situation perfectly illustrates how someone can not have a condition which diagnoses them as being physically infertile, but because your husband carries the diagnosis, you are affected by HIS infertility to the extent that developed a level of mental infertility. That certainly doesn’t make your feelings any less real or valid than those of a woman who has physical infertility.

      I know that many of us fall into the hole of self-censoring because we know that many of our readers are still struggling. Some of us don’t have as hard of a time rolling into comfortably discussing pregnancy/parenting. It’s one of those changes that usually seems to either result in the writer adjusting their blog somehow (new blog, change of direction in writing, etc), or the audience around the writer shifts. That’s not a bad thing; it’t just something we have to expect and get ready for.

      You’re so close! It seems like just yesterday when you first found out that you were pregnant!

  20. says

    Again I need to start off by saying how much I loved this post. Your explanation of mental infertility is brilliant. Really. If you haven’t done something to trademark this term, do so immediately! :)

    The emotional continuum: I’d guess if I had to place myself on the continuum I’d say I’m currently at a 4. I definitely don’t think that I would be finished with my family building had getting/staying pregnant been easier for us. I’d love it if we could have one more. I suppose I do still live it and breathe it to some extent on any given day, but it doesn’t rule my entire world and prevent me from enjoying my life as I know it.

    Emotional shifts: Yes, my emotional infertility level has shifted. When I started ttcing, I was probably at the same level I’m at now. Once I had my first pregnancy and miscarriage, that level ratcheted up to around 8. The second pregnancy and loss easily bumped my level up to a 10. By the time I got pregnant and had the boys, I was so entrenched in IF that I’d guess that the level stayed close to 10 for a long time…probably until I had Jack. After Jack, it dropped down to a 1 or 2 for several months. My emotional infertility level slowly crept up as he aged and my desire for another came back into focus.

    Sense of community: My need FOR community has not changed during my journey. I am one who enjoys the give and take of blogging. I enjoy learning from other people’s experiences and life stories and I try to take what I learn and apply those principles to my own life.

    When I was answering the first question, I had an interesting thought about my want for another child. I was going to apologize for that “greedy” thought when I know so many are still struggling for their first child. Then that took me to the whole thought of “why do I need to feel guilty for wanting another simply because I have been blessed with three already?” I’ve felt to some degree that there is that undercurrent in the IF community. Nothing has been explicitly said, of course, but I feel it just the same. Two pregnancies? Okay, they’d let me have that. Three, though, constitutes greedy. I’d imagine there may be others now parenting with that same thought. Maybe some feel it after only one successful pregnancy. Anyway, my feelings of survivor’s guilt is one reason that I was hoping to connect with others in the same stage of the journey as I am–not to replace (or erase) where I had been. As I wrote in the comments of Mel’s blog, joining one group didn’t necessarily mean I want to leave the others. A piece of me is a part of many groups, as no single one represents my entire reality. And that should be okay.

    Consequences of the emotional infertility: When my boys were born, I started a second blog which focuses only on them. Because I had that outlet, I didn’t need to use my first blog to write about the day to day life as a mommy. I didn’t shy away from writing about my boys, but I used that space more as a personal diary of my feelings/experiences dealing with all of the medical aspects of their lives. I never apologized or warned readers when I would write about them either. There was plenty of drama, though, so I wonder if there was a bit of a freak factor in play during those days. (as in I was the freak falling apart at the seams) When Jack came along and things were rosy and easy, I did start to feel that people weren’t as interested. Maybe that shift was internal (I was definitely at lower emotional infertility level then) as I didn’t feel the need for support? Maybe I am boring? A bad writer? I don’t know. One thing is clear; it was with his birth that I started to feel more uncomfortable in my blogging skin. The guilt of wanting more became more of an issue for me as well.

    I still consider myself a member of the ALI community. I do participate in ICLW and try to support others. I wish I felt more support back from the ALI community in general. (I do want to say that I have some wonderful women who do support me. I do get support! But, many of those supporters are not necessarily those who would identify themselves as ALI community members if that makes sense.)

    • says

      Sorry it’s taken me so long to reply to this. I completely get you, Stacie. This is why I think that PAIL is an important innovation. There are lots of writers out there who for whatever reason, saw their readerships go down once their writing shifted over more into the “parenting” topics. I don’t fault either the writer or the readers. It’s just a natural result of support needs (from both sides) changing. Tribes change. Reasons for writing and reading change, and sometimes, the necessity to find a new or expanded tribe occurs. PAIL met a HUGE need like that for lots of parents after IF.

  21. says

    I’m catching up on my blog-reading, hence joining the conversation a bit late.

    I have not been trying to get pregnant or contemplating adoption or any type of family building (unless you consider thinking about dating contemplating family building) for a very long time, but I think I will always carry my experiences with infertility with me. They have made such a permanent impact on my life.

    Certain people’s pregnancies and families definitely give me a twinge (or more) and probably always will.

    • says

      I think it would be near impossible for anyone to have gone through all that you did and not have it leave some degree of an indelible mark on them. Even through the rough times (perhaps especially because of them), I always felt that you had a quiet strength about you. You still do. xoxo

  22. says

    This is seriously brilliant. I think you’ve made a really important contribution to the conversation here. I sometimes wondered if there was something a bit odd about me, in that I could still be facilitating a pregnancy loss support group 10 years post-loss and still writing about pregnancy loss, infertility & life without children, more than 10 years after stopping ARTs. I still very much identify as infertile and childless. I still find I have a lot to write about on my blog (which I didn’t even start writing until years later). It’s not like I’m sitting crying in my cubicle every day at work or feeling punched in the gut by every pregnant woman I see (as I did in the weeks after stillbirth), but there is honestly (still) not a day that goes by when I don’t think about these issues and what happened to me, in some small way.

    Lots to chew over here. Thank you! Off now to read the next installment…!

    • says

      Today I’m going back through all of the posts in the series and responding to comments that I may have missed/forgotten to respond to. I think it’s coincidental, yet fitting, that I should re-read this comment of yours on the day after Jjiraffe profiled you in her “Faces of ALI” series (which was amazing, by the way). There is definitely NOTHING odd about you or the way you connect to your experience. I love that you’ve been able to take your higher levels of lasting emotional infertility, process it, and then transform it into a positive channel to help *others* deal with their own mental and physical infertility. A point which I implied in this post but didn’t take the time to explicitly state is that high levels of mental infertility absolutely CAN be used positively. High mental infertility doesn’t always mean that we’re crying at the drop of a dime or are in a “difficult” emotional space. It can definitely be used in ways that are productive, and your overall emotional state can be generally positive. Thank you, Loribeth, for being there for so many others! xoxoxo

  23. says

    Wow! I see myself in these different states of mental and emotional infertility as you describe them. I had never thought of this this way before, but it is so valid. Thank you for shedding light in a new manner, it does help to put a different perspective on where different people might be in their journey.

  24. says

    This is an excellent description/definition, especially for someone who is here on the fringes of the ALI community. Thank you for your insight!

  25. says

    A great read!!! I think that on some level many of us are suffering from this infertility at the emotional level. I think having a positive attitude towards life can work wonders here.

  26. mochazina says

    “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.”

    YES.

    ~mom to 2mo old

  27. Earth mum says

    I’m very late to this post, but I want to thank you for it. I’m one of those women suffering from lack of closure with my (secondary) infertility. Although I really want to be happy for my fertile friends, my stomach clenches when I get pregnancy announcements. I’m still grieving for the large family I will never have.

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  1. […] of my posts about the upheaval in the Adoption, Loss, and Infertility community. In the first, I discussed emotional infertility and then posed some questions about how it may have affected the type of support you sought in the […]

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