Coping With Self-blame During Infertility
Self-blame. It’s a quiet little voice always lurking somewhere at the back of my mind. I could almost forget about it until it catches me unaware and pounces. Sometimes it surfaces when I see how amazing my husband is with our nieces and nephews, or when I notice how much our friends’ children love playing games with him. Other times, it rises in the midst of discussions with friends, conversations that centre on parenting, schooling, sports days and precious experiences or memories they’ve created together as a family. Or when the days roll by and I keep counting how many weeks and months have passed since our pregnancy loss. It’s that voice in me that whispers:
“It’s my fault.”
“It’s my fault, because he could have had children by now if it wasn’t for me. I am standing in the way of his happiness.”
“It’s my fault. I must have done something wrong to cause my pregnancy loss.”
These thoughts always sting. They are mirrors of my inadequacies. At times when I’ve vocalised these whispers of self-blame that echo in the recesses of my mind, or when I’ve gotten angry at myself and told me husband that I wished he’d married someone else instead of me because he’d probably have a family that way, he’s said:
“Don’t talk to or about my wife that way!”
Referring to me in the third person is a quick reminder that I am someone dear to him and that although I may find it hard to love myself in that particular moment, my self-critical thoughts are harmful to someone that he loves and values. Seeing this forces me to disassociate from my negative internal dialogue and evaluate how I am treating myself. My husband has been good at reaffirming the things I forget when I’m lost in self-loathing – that our situation is one of circumstance and that blaming myself for it won’t change anything. He’s always said that he and I ARE a family whether we have children or not, that we chose to be with one another, and that we are in this together, regardless of the outcome. The reassurance helps pull me out of the grips of self-blame. While I am deeply appreciative of his gentle and supportive nature, I do feel that it is important for me to offer myself more kindness and to reframe my perception of myself without the need for external reassurance. So, I keep challenging myself to find my own ways to feel at peace with me because I owe that to myself. I want to feel whole independent of someone else’s approval.
Self-blame is one of those unspoken things that so many women struggling with fertility issues suffer in silence. We tend to be hugely self-critical for not living up to the idea of who we are supposed to be or what we are supposed to achieve. Struggling to conceive triggers feelings of deep guilt. You find all kinds of things to blame yourself for and you end up revisiting past mistakes or actions over and over to try and pinpoint exactly what you did wrong to cause it. I’ve done a lot of inner work to overcome things like this. I’ve spent time working on building my sense of self-worth, but even so, the guilt and self-critical thoughts still surface from time to time. What is changing though is that I am learning how to move beyond the self-blame to practice self-compassion instead. I am learning that I heal and grow when I take a more gentle approach.
“Regrets are futile and so is blame. The decisions you made in the past are past, and they were made at a different time in your life. Energy wasted on what was or what might have been can be much better used for coping with your current reality and in trying to make satisfying life and treatment decisions.” ~ Judith C. Daniluk, The Infertility Survival Guide
That said, I would like to share some of the key things that I feel have played a role in teaching me to be more self-compassionate:
Release Guilt and Practice Self-Forgiveness: There will always be ‘what ifs’ or ‘if onlys’, but the past is over and cannot be changed. Holding onto guilt or blaming yourself only adds to your emotional burden. Give yourself permission to be set free. Forgive yourself. Remember that we are all doing the best that we can in whatever circumstances we face. Even if you could have done some things differently in the past, there is no guarantee that it would have changed anything. So allow yourself to let go of guilt, unburden and move forward. You can write a letter of forgiveness to yourself or do something symbolic to purge whatever you need to let go of. When you release unproductive thoughts and emotions then you’re able to shift your attention towards whatever support you can give yourself on your path to parenthood in the present moment.
Be Kind To Yourself: It’s interesting how many of us find it so easy to be kind to others, yet struggle to do so for ourselves. How can you offer yourself love, respect and kindness in the same way that you would to someone else? You deserve your own love. You deserve to be supported, comforted and respected too. One of the fertility affirmations that I’ve been working with is: “I send love and kindness to the mother in me. I am self-compassionate and I treat the mother of my future baby with respect.” This affirmation is a powerful reminder that I mean something to someone and that I owe it to both myself and to them to treat myself with loving kindness. So remember that you mean something to someone – your partner, your parents, your siblings and your future child – and you matter to yourself too. You are worthy of being treated with kindness and compassion.
Appreciate What You Are Doing Right: Most of us find it so easy to compile a long list of our faults, but why not devote the same level of energy to acknowledging the things that you are doing right? When self-blame and those self-critical thoughts are getting you down then pause for a moment. Take a few deep breaths and quiet your mind. Think of one thing that you love about yourself and take some time to appreciate the positive qualities that you embody. Then next, make a mental list of three positive steps that you have taken to support your fertility and your general wellbeing. What are they? What are you doing right? Remind yourself that even though you make mistakes sometimes, you are also taking empowered steps too. That way you start shifting your inner dialogue away from self-blame and in the direction of self-appreciation and compassion.