by S. Fenella Das Gupta, Ph.D., Neuroscience
Daughters often need their mothers when struggling with infertility and while many daughters are able to turn to their parent for support, others are not. In fact, the complexities of mother- daughter relationships can hit a new level of high, when fertility issues arise.
Do mothers realize how powerful they are in their daughters lives? Their glances, their silences, all mean something to their daughters, so naturally daughters may look to their mothers as they travel through the fertility maze.
“Why does my mother insist on focusing on my food allergies when I’m talking about my struggle to get pregnant? How can she possibly believe it’s because of my peanut allergy?!”
For some mothers, validating their daughter’s experience seems an insurmountable task and the sadness this creates is palpable. A wound is made, on top of the wound of infertility; a loss, on top of a loss. The break in connection can feel like a chasm on both sides.
How is it that the mother who kissed every scraped knee, who sat up all night when sickness struck, cannot even listen on the phone? Just listen. Daughters find themselves at the end of their mother’s irritation, impatience and denial. Overly intrusive questions go unchecked, as boundaries are crossed or never even recognized.
Although daughters would do well to dismiss their mother’s unintended yet hurtful remarks and reject their mother’s placations that aren’t based in reality- they don’t. Time and again they reach for something more. Something deeper. Searching their mother’s faces for some kind of understanding and recognition of their pain. They hope to find solace. Peace. Encouragement. Something, anything! They want to hear that no matter what, things will be o.k.
It’s doubtful that mothers intentionally set out to hurt their daughters. So what happens?
Often, you will find that beneath the invalidating remarks is a strong pull to fix ‘it’. Naturally, mothers would have a hard time accepting that their child is suffering. And so, denial is a powerful, protective mechanism for mothers.
But beneath the denial is a secret pain that doesn’t always get addressed. “Did I cause this? Should I have known she would have problems? I’m scared. I’m worried. I can’t fix-it. How could they say/know she has a “disease”? This is my child they’re talking about!” Both shame and guilt may also exist. What is a mother to do with the myriad of feelings that she knows comes from the joy of motherhood-now cut off from her daughter?
Mothers also need to be able to talk to someone about their own bewilderment and confusion. Their guilt, their shame, their wish for denial and their own innate drive to fulfill their developmental task of becoming a grandparent.
So many real, meaningful things go unsaid, as mother’s try to respond to their daughters at this crucial time. So many missed points of connection. Even old wounds from the past resurface and distract from the present situation.
Ultimately at the end of the day, when infertility rears its head, those involved are faced with the personal reality that the world is not perfect. And as if to reflect that, we are sometimes faced with that very thing in each other.
Mothers and daughters may need to learn a new dance when infertility strikes. Clearing up miscommunications and unintentional hurts as soon as possible form part of the new routine. Mothers should put a pause on the Fix- it button and daughters should ask for what they specifically need. Both need to accept their own limitations and struggles as well as each other’s. It’s not easy, but needed. At the very least, mothers and daughters can agree to disagree, remembering that everyone needs help going through the fertility maze.
Fenella Das Gupta is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist working in Northern California, specializing in fertility counseling. She works with individuals, couples and extended family members as they make their way through the fertility maze.