Infertility is Not Your Whole Identity
Posted on June 13, 2011
I just finished reading an article about a woman who is battling breast cancer. Thirty seven year old Alaina Giordano lost primary custody of her 11 year old daughter, Sofia, and 6 year old son, Bud. Her husband is suing her for full custody of her 2 children. He says her breast cancer and the uncertainty of her future health are the reasons he has taken this action. She wants to be viewed as much more than a cancer patient.
Ms. Giordano's story was reminiscent of a conversation I had with a friend who told me she had lost sight of herself after a long battle with infertility. Her identity was completely intertwined with her infertility. She felt her infertility had consumed her life and her view of herself. She had taken the feelings of failure she associated with her infertility and applied it to her role as a wife, friend, and as a woman.
This is a common theme among women who have experienced infertility. Infertility spills into all areas of people's lives. Infertile can become the sole way women identify themselves. Unfortunately, experiencing infertility can cause you to change into a depressed and angry person that bears no resemblance to the real you. This is one of the most challenging aspects in dealing with infertility.
It is important to separate yourself from your infertility. Spend some time thinking about how many other different ways you can identify yourself. You may be a sibling, a friend, a wife. Perhaps you are a person with a solid career and professional skills, and proud personal achievements that occurred before the word infertility ever entered your consciousness.
There are other things you can do to re-engage with the real you. Write a list of things about yourself or things you have done that you like and are proud of. Revisit the list when you are having a difficult day and try to add to the list as often as possible. If you have trouble creating your own list ask a trusted friend, relative, or partner to identify some of your strengths. You can also ask what they value most about their relationship with you. Allow yourself to hear what they say and write it down so you can have it when you need it. Find activities and people that will re-energize you and make you feel better about who you are. Try to surround yourself with positive thoughts and energy. Read good books, see fun movies, or go to a favorite museum. Rediscover beloved passions that made you feel good in the past.
The dream of identifying yourself as a parent does not have to go away if you are unable to conceive. When you are ready if you choose to continue to build your family, consider other options like adoption, foster parenting, or surrogacy. It is a painful reality that there are some aspects of infertility that cannot be controlled. Remember you can have some control in terms of how you respond to your infertility. Be kind and patient with yourself. You deserve it!
Iris Waichler, MSW, LCSW, has a Master's Degree in Social Work and has been a licensed clinical social worker for over 30 years. She has done workshops, individual, and group counseling with people experiencing infertility. Ms. Waichler is the author of Riding the Infertility Roller Coaster: A Guide to Educate and Inspire. She currently writes freelance infertility and health related articles.