Cheers, dear readers,
The infertility journey is fraught with emotional ups and downs, as well as the physical toll it takes – particularly on the women who have many more doctor’s visits and procedures throughout the IVF / infertility treatment process to endure than our dear husbands. The overall experience can be different for our husbands than for us, but yet still equally challenging. To really be compassionate, loving and supportive of one another, it’s important to dig in and try to truly empathize with our spouses and the trials and tribulations of their experience. The last two posts, I have focused on the concept of shame, feeling “not good enough”, and all of the Brené Brown goodness that I have been learning while reading her book, Daring Greatly while taking an online course. So much of it is applicable to those of us who have struggled through infertility that I feel it is my duty to share it with all of our readers here.
Infertility is already a highly difficult subject to talk about (though talk about it we must to shine a light on those dark places so that it diffuses its negative charge!) Feelings of unworthiness and shame can surround either gender when it comes to not being able to naturally conceive children, thus finding out your reproductive parts are faulty –– that is never a good day! But I am finding that men can feel an unspoken hurt and deep shame surrounding this topic. Brené Brown states that “men and women are equally affected by shame. The messages and expectations that fuel shame are most definitely organized by gender, but the experience of shame is universal and deeply human.”
One of the men that Ms. Brown spoke to went on to say that though he felt deep shame in his life, “when [men] reach out and share our stories, we get the emotional sh*t beat out of us. [My family] would rather see me die on top of my white horse than watch me fall off. You say you want us to be vulnerable and real, but c’mon. You can’t stand it. It makes you sick to see us like that.”
Wow. The truth and raw honesty can really sting sometimes. Let’s take a closer look at the differences here between men and women.
The Web of Shame for Women
For women, Ms. Brown found that the BIGGEST shame triggers are around “not being thin, young, and beautiful enough.” She also found that “motherhood is a close second. And (bonus!) you don’t have to be a mother to experience mother shame. Society views womanhood and motherhood as inextricably bound; therefore our value as women is often determined by where we are in relation to our roles as mothers or potential mothers. Women are constantly asked why they haven’t married or, if they’re married, why they haven’t had children. Even women who are married and have one child are often asked why they haven’t had a second child. Mother shame is ubiquitous—it’s a birthright for girls and women.”
The Web of Shame for Men
For men, Ms. Brown found messages such as… shame is failure, being defective, being a “softie” and thus showing emotion, revealing weakness of any kind, showing fear. “Basically, men live under the pressure of one relenting message: Do not be perceived as weak.” So the shame message guys get is above all, “Don’t be a wuss.”
There was a painful and predictable pattern that emerged from the research. As women, we ask our men to be vulnerable, to “let us in”, to tell us about their fears. But the truth of the matter is that many of us can’t actually stomach our men showing us that vulnerability. Most of us will recoil, both with fear, disappointment and often even disgust. We send messages like “Man up. Pull it together!” But then when do the men we cherish get to truly be sad, feel hurt, be vulnerable with us supporting them and helping soothe their worries away, let them know it’s OK to have weak moments, to not know what to do next, as often happens in the infertility journey?
So what was the response to shame in men from the research? Apparently, men tend to get ticked off, or shut down altogether. Fear and vulnerability are powerful emotions, thus you can’t just wish them away. If they do not have awareness of how to properly deal with their emotions, men will normally respond with anger and/or by completely turning off and avoiding the emotions all together.
Supporting Each Other Through Difficult Emotions
Often we may find ourselves in arguments with our partners as we try to make decisions about our infertility journey together. The husband may be on the verge of shutting down or raging with anger, and the wife may be feeling unheard and misunderstood. The end result is mutual frustration and desperation. Ms. Brown says the keys to her happy relationship with her husband are love, humor, vulnerability, respect, shame-free fighting, and blame-free living. I would have to say that that is also how Eric and I do our best to handle our marriage as well if I had to ponder it out loud.
Here are some additional tips:
Shame Resilience Tips
1) Give your permission – Have awareness, self-compassion and empathy first with yourself (and later with your partner). This is imperative to your mental and emotional well-being.
2) Reach out – Have deep conversations with your spouse about what you each are going through. And reach out to your other family members, friends and online communities for support when needed.
3) Move on – Work through your difficult emotions as best as you can, and then move on with your day, your decision process, and your life as best as you can. This is your life. Make it great!
Please join me next week to hear more about my personal journey down the infertility path. I look forward to speaking with you. And I wish you the best on your journey.
This post is also available in: Arabic