Do I Belong Without Having a Baby? Examining emotions beneath infertility …
For the most part of this unusual and somewhat challenging year, I’ve been listening to various audiobooks for a bit of inspiration. I’ve settled into the lovely routine of taking a break from my computer in the afternoons and going to sit in the sun with a cup of tea while listening to something completely uplifting. There is one particular audiobook that I keep returning to time and time again. It’s called ‘Your Heart’s Prayer: Following the Thread of Desire into a Deeper Life’ by Oriah Mountain Dreamer. It’s a concise audiobook made up of snippets of inspiration drawn from some of her earlier books (The Invitation, The Dance and The Call), that I read many years ago. Her gentle voice and insightful messages are a great source of comfort. I’ve enjoyed creating space in my work day to listen to Oriah’s soothing words as they encourage me to pause and explore the depth of emotion or inner thoughts that lie beneath the surface.
At one point in the ‘Your Heart’s Prayer’, Oriah asks the question – “What do you ache for?”
The answer that immediately came to mind for me on hearing this was ‘a baby’.
The author then goes on to explain an exercise that she does to help dig deeper and see more clearly what the underlying need that one is trying to fulfil is. Oriah guides the reader (or listener) through how she answered the question of what you ache for and then followed it up with:
“It doesn’t matter if I ever have… (insert the desire that you ache for), what I really want is…”
She encourages you to repeat the process until you break it down to the bare bones of what it is that you are actually searching for, explaining that it is not the house, car or dream job or whatever else we list that we really want, but rather the feeling that having that desired object or experience will give us.
I’ll be honest and say that something about doing this exercise scared me. I wasn’t sure why at first, as I’ve applied similar exercises in my coaching work many times before. I soon realised that in a small way it forced me to confront my fear of not getting what I long for so deeply – my baby. Although I could apply this to other areas of my life, the idea of not getting pregnant again and not having my baby felt too uncomfortable to think about. I didn’t want to go there in my mind. After wrestling with the internal resistance for a few days, I eventually decided to reach beyond my fear to give the exercise a go. Here is what it looked like:
What do I ache for?
It doesn’t matter if I ever have a baby, what I really want is to feel worthy, fulfilled, loved.
It doesn’t matter if I ever feel worthy, what I really want is to know my place in the world, to feel of value and as if I have something to offer.
It doesn’t matter if I ever offer value, what I really want is to belong to someone, feel loved and to give my love to someone.
The more I worked through this exercise, the more I noticed the same key underlying desires kept cropping up. One is to have a sense of worth or value, and the other which came up strongly is to have a sense of belonging. It’s been interesting to get a clear picture of the things that have been floating about in my subconscious. It showed me hidden beliefs that I wasn’t willing to examine previously, like the belief that having a baby would give me a sense of belonging. It allowed me to see that my battle to conceive has made me feel like I am standing on the periphery of life not fully knowing where my place is. In doing this exercise, I noticed how there were little things that stuck at the back of my mind, little messages that I’d internalised without really realising it. Like the brief conversation that I had with a woman I’d never met before at a mutual friend’s baby shower some time ago, who on learning that I was married without children made a point of letting me know that “a marriage isn’t real unless you have a child together” and that I’d never really “belong with my husband and his family until I had his child” so in her opinion I needed make it happen fast. Internalising these kinds of jabs fuelled my belief that I won’t fully belong and that I cannot feel settled in my family life until have a baby. In reality, this is far from true. I share a beautifully loving relationship with my husband and my in-laws. We’ve gotten along so well from the minute go, my mother-in-law has become one of my best friends and they have always been supportive, compassionate and helpful throughout our fertility journey.
I had a really special moment with my husband’s maternal grandmother when we visited our family in London a couple of months ago. She is an incredible woman in her 90s who always has fascinating stories to share about her life, her experiences and the obstacles she’s had to face and overcome in her time. Sadly, now in her later years she suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, so our conversations often go round in circles. Although the communication can be confusing at times, her vibrant spirit and gift for storytelling makes it so easy to listen patiently and to keep asking questions. One day when I was sitting and chatting with her, she was telling me stories about a clothing making business that she started and ran quite successfully years ago. Midway through the conversation she stopped. She was silent for few minutes as if overcome by a moment of clarity. Then she said:
“Oh, and I’ve been meaning to say to you, I don’t want you to worry about having a baby. It will happen at the right time.”
I was completely taken aback.
“One day,” she added, “when you least expect it, you will be so surprised to find that you are pregnant.”
What moved me the most was when she said:
“I feel in my heart that it will happen for you, but I want you to know that even if it doesn’t you are still our child. You belong to us. So don’t worry. But I do feel that you are going to have your baby.”
Her intuitive flash of wisdom seemed to come from nowhere and I’ll never know how she somehow sensed a deep-seated feared that I myself didn’t want to acknowledge. I felt comforted by what she said. I am in good company with amazing people who love and accept me regardless of what I think my failures are. This self-examination has pushed me to ask myself, how can I allow myself to feel that sense of belonging in the meantime? What do I need to do for myself in order to feel more fulfilled right now? How can I live fully and own my space without shame?
Confronting fears and limiting beliefs isn’t easy, but it can be very liberating and even healing in a way. What do you truly ache for? If you were to look at the underlying feelings or desires that lay quietly beneath the surface, what is it that you really want to feel? Is it feeling that you belong, that you are worthy, or to feel things like peace, love or joy? How can you cultivate those feelings in the meantime?