Motherhood, Fatherhood and “Supposed To” Pressure
Cheers, dear readers,
As we enter the holiday season here in America, I find myself reflecting on the concept of family, togetherness, and the various ways that we all create our sense of family in our lives. Family bonds are so important in feeling a sense of belonging, support and unconditional love. But what about for those of us who try to create a traditional family, and we discover that we are dealing with the disease of infertility in our own respective corner of the world? I’ve been talking for the past several weeks about the emotional roller coaster of receiving this infertility diagnosis and strategies to cope through the trials and tribulations. This week I’d like to focus on some of the unique challenges for the women in our lives, the would-be-moms, as contrasted to the would-be dads. They each have their own unique challenges.
FOR THE LADIES
As women, most of us are raised to think that we’ll become mothers someday. As a schoolgirl my friends and I would all talk about how many children we hoped to have someday, what gender they would be, we even went so far as to pick out favorite names for our would-be children. From the first baby doll (which I totally had – “Rub A Dub Dolly” was my favorite) to the last baby shower, girls and women are constantly surrounded by images, ideals and expectations from parents, teachers, peers, religion, advertising and the media. It permeates everything. You can’t escape it even if you tried.
For some women, motherhood is their highest goal as well as a large part of their self-image as a woman. The ultimate use of the female body. For many their highest ambition in life. My mother flat out told me this. All she ever wanted for herself was to have two healthy children. And she felt jubilant and so proud that she realized that dream in my sister and I. That is absolutely beautiful and touching. I am so happy that my mom got to have that experience. But of course, it does give me pause and generate some sadness in me that I will not – and cannot ever realize that dream.
Also society and our families want us to – and encourage us to – realize that dream. The pressures to marry and raise a family can be enormous! – to the extent that women who are unable to do those things can feel as though something must be deeply wrong with them or sorely lacking in their lives. Broken. I felt broken and sad for myself. And certainly confused about my future and how it would unfold. Studies show that, as a group, women with fertility problems are as anxious and depressed as women with cancer, heart disease or HIV. One reason for this may be the physical demand of fertility treatments – blood tests, daily hormone injections, ultrasounds, egg retrievals, and surgery can all be a source of stress and emotional upheaval in women.
FOR THE GENTLEMEN
Men are not pressured in quite the same way to become fathers. Sure there is some pressure but not at the same level. I cannot imagine someone asking a man in a boardroom meeting “So tell us, are you guys having children?” In stark contrast yes, this did indeed happen to a female friend of mine at her boardroom meeting. She very eloquently responded to that question with “I don’t see my uterus on the agenda today…” and then continued the meeting as planned without discussing her personal life.
A man may be feeling similar frustration, disappointment and sadness as he and his partner go through yet another difficult IVF treatment (and yet another month without conceiving). But he may see his role as being the “strong one” and “the rock” that his partner needs during this stressful time. Add to that, many men are brought up to repress their feelings in general or at least keep them to themselves. Men are taught to “man up”, “don’t cry,” “pick yourself up” and “don’t be a wuss.”
A friend recently shared this trailer with me: The Mask You Live In
Some excerpts that are very relevant here:
“We’ve constructed an idea of masculinity that doesn’t give young boys a way to feel secure in their masculinity, so we make them go prove it all the time. In good times, guys can be close to each other. But when things get a little bit worse, you are on your own. Many men don’t know how to take the mask off, and get in touch with feelings of anger, hurt, sadness and other emotions that men don’t let others see. If you never cry, you have all of these feelings stuffed up inside of you, and then you can’t get them out. [People] really buy into a culture that doesn’t value what we feminized. If we are in a culture that doesn’t value caring, relationships, empathy, you are going to have boys and girls, men and women go crazy.”
It is very apparent to me that for both men and women, we ALL need to really listen to each other, to be able to talk about hurts, our disappointments, to be able to be vulnerable, show and discuss openly our wounds, to cry and let our emotions roll out of our bodies. Listening to each other and holding each other is an act of love. Society often fails to recognize the grief caused by infertility, so people denied parenthood tend to hide their sorrow which only increases their feelings of shame and isolation. Stories of grief are really stories about love (and loss). Can we remember to love and honor each other on our respective journeys through life? Can you be more empathetic in your own life to yourself and those loved ones around you? As always, if you ever need to talk, to let it out, Eric and I are here to speak with you. I wish you much love, strength and finding you own “happy” on your journey. Remember, you are not alone.
Please join us next week to hear more about our personal journey down the infertility path. I look forward to speaking with you. And I wish you the best on your journey.