Updated: Sep 9, 2020
A Tool for Fertility Shame
I recently had the privilege of being a guest speaker at the first Fertility Empowerment Workshop, in Saskatoon. Sixteen incredible woman met, shared their infertility stories, and learned about different modalities to regain control in their fertility journey. I decided to focus on a simple technique: learning to talk to yourself like a loved one would.
My goal was to target fertility shame and negative self-judgment that can come with difficulty in conceiving. I remember having a lot of shameful thoughts when I was struggling with my fertility. I also hear a lot of the negative messages, and the critical inner voices that many women have, in my practice. Often, we can judge our situation very harshly, and be really hard on ourselves. We might say things to ourselves that we would never say to someone else, or that we would not let others say to themselves. It can be guilt related, blame, or overall irrational and negative thoughts. It can include things like:
“I’m not worthy of a baby/child”
“ There is something wrong with me, with my body"
" It’s my fault if we can’t conceive”
"I am embarrassed of my situation"
“ God is punishing me”
“ I am a failure”
At their core, these inner messages reflect a way of thinking of “not enough”. They are ultimately saying "There is something about me that is bad". There is nothing good about shame, it is a dangerous emotion! It contributes to feeling of depression, sadness, worthlessness, powerlessness, or hopelessness. It can lead to isolation, or to self-harming or destructive behaviors.
By targeting our thoughts, and the way we treat ourselves in any of the situations that we are experiencing in our life is extremely empowering. The only person that can change how you are thinking, is YOU. We can’t choose our situation, what we are going through. Nobody chooses to have issues conceiving, but one things we can choose, is how you think and how your respond to the situation.
So how else can we respond to the situation? With empathy, and compassion.
When getting pregnant is not happening, it is a common response to keep things to ourselves, and not talking about our issues. It is a very isolating experience to not be able to conceive when women around you are expecting, or couples are welcoming a new family member. We believe that people don't want to hear about our sorrows. Brené Brown, a well known researcher on the topic of shame is one of my favorite authors and speakers. She says that if you put shame in a petri dish with secrecy, judgment, and silence, it will grow exponentially. However, if you put shame in a petri dish with empathy, shame won’t survive.
A simple tool to invite empathy and compassion
I would like you to imagine sharing your fertility struggles with someone in your life that you value, trust, and care for. Pick an unconditionally loving person in your life: a family member, a friend, a sibling, or your spouse. Imagine sharing your story, your sorrows, your pain, your hopes, your hopelessness, anything you want to share. Do not filter, do not judge, do not omit details. Now, notice what you imagine this person does in response to your sharing. What do they say? How is their tone of voice? What are they saying with their non-verbal language? How do they convey their deep empathy and compassion for you? How are they feeling when they see you blame, judge yourself, and harsh on yourself?
Now, I would like you to take a piece of paper, and write a letter to yourself from the perspective of the person you’ve imagined sharing with. Write down what their response would be when seeing you in your pain, and opening up about your situation.
This exercise can be difficult for some. It can be really hard to write something kind, soft, and empathic to yourself. Let it be coming from the mouth of the person you have chosen, that you trust. It can be much easier to let the message of kindness come in.
To sum up!
Infertility is difficult enough even without the shame. Please be kind, empathetic, and compassionate to yourself. Catch yourself when you are being harsh in your thoughts. Change the way you are treating yourself by reading that letter, or by imagining a loving person in your life responding to your shame. Even better, call that person, and let them in on your journey. When we share our experiences with someone, and they respond with empathy, shame loses its power. There may be times when it's not possible to go through the exercise, but keep coming back to it as soon as you can. You are worth it!
If you are interested in finding out about the next fertility Empowerment Workshop, you can connect with Kelsey Connell at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at 306.290.2798.