On The Couch


After my minor setback this week I decided to throw myself on the couch. Dr. PJ (my pragmatic head) will have a session with Pamela Jeanne (my unpredictable heart).


Dr. PJ: You were making so much progress. What was it about that email from a business acquaintance?

Pamela Jeanne: Maybe it was the chirpy nature of it. The reminder that babies come to everyone else. My womb suddenly felt so empty. Right on the heels of that another email arrived about a technical conference from a male acquaintance that began, “my 1yo took his first steps this morning.”

And if that wasn’t enough to rattle me, later in afternoon I had to shut my door as the sounds of a baby shower-like exercise took place with the office assistants taking turns suggesting what the latest newly pregnant woman should name her child (this is the eighth pregnancy in a small office in the past year). It felt like I was under siege.

Dr. PJ: Clearly something much deeper is bothering you…

Pamela Jeanne: Ah, ha! I get it. Before I go to the grocery store, the beach, the restaurant, I climb into a metaphorical suit of armor and prepare myself for the onslaught of pregnant women, babies and toddlers. My heart is prepared to do battle. But that armor is heavy to wear around so I leave it at home rather than take it to work.

Now it’s making sense.  I expect my office, my workspace to be something of a sanctuary — a place where I can safely avoid pregnancy chatter. Suddenly my sanctuary was no longer peaceful.

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Dr. PJ: You know your friend Karen recently wrote about a book that had this advice, which I’d like you to consider: “Often, experts tell us that all we have to do is think positively. They tell us that emotions like anger, grief, and shame are harmful to our health. They aren’t. These emotions are harmful only if they are denied, minimized, or suppressed into our unconscious. There, the energy persists and builds unseen until it becomes powerful enough to wreak mischief.”  Perhaps your unconscious trying to tell you something. What do you think it is?

Pamela Jeanne: Well, and let me be clear I do have the capacity to be joyful about babies and pregnancies when I’m in the right place. All I ask is that people respect that it takes incredible strength and effort for me to express that joy amid the painful realization that no babies will ever grow inside of me. I often wonder if the tables were turned how would other side handle it. It’s easy to be magnanimous when it’s not you, isn’t it?

Now back to my unconscious, I suppose after the last embryo transfer the loss was too much to comprehend. It was simply easier to suppress the hurt, sadness and yawning loss than to deal with it.

Dr. PJ:  Are there any other emotions you suppressed? Remember, if we don’t release the energy it’s going to build up and cause problems down the line.

Pamela Jeanne: Well, I suppose…and this is hard to say because, well…I want to be nice. That’s how I was raised.

Dr. PJ: Out with it.

Pamela Jeanne: Okay, okay. I’m still angry, and sometimes that anger burns.

Dr. PJ: This sounds serious. Who are you angry with?

Pamela Jeanne: No one and everyone. It just aggravates me to no end, still, that there’s so little acknowledgement of the lasting impact of infertility. Just about everyone thinks it’s a bump in the road. IT’S NOT! It’s a f@#$king crater.

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No, no. Actually it’s more than that. I’ve been forced off the main highway onto a less traveled, lonely road.

Dr. PJ:  This is good. Get it out.

Pamela Jeanne: All right. I’ve had enough with the minimizing that people do. Just f@#$ing acknowledge that infertility is HARD. Don’t try to tell me that everyone has “issues” they’re sensitive about. This is not about being overweight and wanting to be thin. This is not about wanting a nicer house or a bigger car. If I hear one more person tell me, “My single friends get upset when their married friends talk about their husbands…” I’ll f@#$ing scream.

I was single once. I wanted to be married. Yes, it was hard to go to weddings at time. I envied my married friends. It was NOTHING like infertility. You know why? Love does not require complex biological systems to operate properly. Love doesn’t time out. I know people in the 50s and 60s who’ve fallen in love with the infatuation of teenagers. Love can be waiting around the corner on any given day. People seeking a mate have hope for the future. The hope gets them through the tough days.

My hope for getting pregnant died, okay!? I have no hope for ever knowing what it feels like to get the flutter. My baby album has two photos and they’re of embyros. I had to rid my house of baby clothes I bought when I thought I might actually get pregnant. Do you have any idea how hard it is to pack up those dreams and give them away to the Salvation Army?

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Dr. PJ: Good, good. Anything else you’d like to add, heart?

Pamela Jeanne: Implying that I should hide my infertility to “protect others” or to be ashamed of talking about it just because you are is just wrong.  I’m going to talk about it. If it makes you uncomfortable, well, welcome to my world.

And one more thing, head. Stop pressuring me to be “over” my infertility. Don’t you dare try tell me when it’s time to stop grieving. I’ll be done when I’m done.

Dr. PJ: I think we’ve made a lot of progress. Let’s keep talking, and remember to let those emotions out…

Pamela Jeanne: Wow. The adrenalin is really pumping now. I’m going to put it to good use and go exercise.  Thanks, I really needed that.


22 Responses

  1. SL

    September 8, 2007 5:49 pm

    You’re right. It’s that huge. And there is no analogous situation. What you said about being forced off the main highway – what a perfect way to put it.

  2. Deathstar

    September 8, 2007 7:52 pm

    Pamela, I’ll never forget that day when I went to see my therapist and cried for a whole FUCKING hour, screaming with grief. I was so angry, so despondent. There isn’t enough cake in the world to fill that hole. And at times, that grief comes and reminds me that it’s still there. Not so brutally, but it’s like a whisper that no one else can hear but me. My womb may be empty but I’m working hard to keep my heart full. It’s the only thing I can do.

  3. Kami

    September 8, 2007 8:06 pm

    Spot on sister! There is nothing like infertility. It is a drive and a hunger like nothing else – short of survival perhaps.

    I hope your chat with PJ helped.

  4. meghan

    September 8, 2007 9:28 pm

    Over here giving you a standing ovation!! No one else I talk to seems to understand that some of this pain will never go away.

    Good for you for getting it out!

  5. Jen

    September 8, 2007 10:15 pm

    I am so grateful to have found your website because I am permanently infertile (6+ years). These feelings will always be unresolved because IF is an unresolvable situation. It is a permanent scar across the heart. IF changes you forever. It is clever, cunning, and the effects of it pop-up in strange and unsettling ways. Just thinking about the injustice of it can be soul destroying. Take care and be gentle with yourself.

  6. Farah

    September 8, 2007 10:16 pm

    Bravo, WOnderful, wonderful post. I want to send it in an email to everyone I know. I hope that DR PJ and PJ are on better terms now. Exercising has always been one of my more positive releases. I hope it is for you also.

  7. Bea

    September 9, 2007 3:41 am

    Nice. And I agree you shouldn’t be silent about infertility just because you think it makes other people uncomfortable. You should think about how comfortable it makes you feel. There’s a balance in there somewhere, right?


  8. Journeywoman

    September 9, 2007 6:26 am

    Well said, VERY well said.

    People want to put others in a little box and say, oh, that’s all right, I understand about that–when they don’t. The IF box is like that. It hurts and it isn’t something you ever get over.

    Hope Dr. PJ gets paid well with ice cream and booze.

  9. Schatzi

    September 9, 2007 1:53 pm


    Especially the part about grieving as long as you need to, and not feeling you should hide your infertility in order to protect others. Sounds very healthy. I’m hoping you are feeling a bit better…

  10. Kareno

    September 9, 2007 2:30 pm

    Well girlfriend, I think I’m the perfect match for all the things you mentioned, right now and here. I’m overweight wanting to be thin, living in a small part of a house that I’d love to own, not having to share it with a bunch of students. And even though I love my Ka, I would really like a bigger car, and being single is hurtful most of the time, having been married for almost 8 years makes being single so much different than before.

    NONE of these things comes even close to the hurt of being infertile. I can lose weight, I know I’ll live in a big, beautiful house, driving a smart car if I really want to, and Mr. Right is somewhere out there. But knowing that I will NEVER have a baby growing inside me is excruciatingly painful. There is no “maybe someday” for me concerning children.

    Like you I’m sick and tired of the people that expect me to “get over” being hurt because of my childlessness – it’s not something you deal with like any other loss. If you haven’t dealt with it first hand you won’t ever know how it feels, how it kills you from the inside slowly, day by day.

    It’s like Deathstar said: If you don’t keep on filling your heart with other things, the whole in your soul grows bigger, threatening to swallow your everything.

  11. Lindsay

    September 9, 2007 3:09 pm

    Right on, PJ. What resonated most for me was the realization that our emotions are not bad. They are there to signal to us when something is amiss or great or whatever. Do we have to put on a happy face sometimes? Sure, but we don’t have to deny our feelings. I’m glad you were able to have a great consult with yourself.

  12. lady macleod

    September 9, 2007 4:15 pm

    Well done! Different circumstance, but I can’t tell you how many times, after my husband was killed, that I was told “it’s time to get over it, get on with your life.” YOU decided when the grief is done, YOU decide when and IF you can/want to get over it.

    Keep yelling.

  13. chicklet

    September 9, 2007 11:01 pm

    Sing it sista – NONE of it is like infertility. I ignorantly probably thought it was pre-IF, but now, jesus no. I often compare it to a boyfriend/husband dumping you unexpectedly when you’d been planning how to redecorate or your anniversary plans – they both break your heart, but only one happens AGAIN AND AGAIN AND AGAIN.

  14. mchope

    September 9, 2007 11:49 pm

    Wow. Thanks so much for that post. It couldn’t have been said any better. I felt your pain reading it because I share your pain. The hurt of IF is as unique as it is excruciating and we should not have to apologize for how hard it is to deal with these feelings. They can be stirred up in the strangest of places, the most unlikely of times, and in the most every day situations…and they never fail to run over you like a truck. I, too, am tired of shoving my feelings aside to make others feel better in my presence. Our wounds may not be visible physically so I guess all we can do is give them a voice instead, and once again you have done that perfectly. Wishing you brighter days and a big wet blanket for the office baby naming crew. That or a sensitivity chip to install in them. Take care.

  15. JJ

    September 10, 2007 3:36 pm

    Thanks for letting me be in the “room” for that conversation! Very moving PJ…and thanks for sharing these feelings.

  16. Chrissy

    September 12, 2007 7:38 pm

    This post hit home with me so hard. I just recently joined a Christian infertility small group, and was told I didn’t need to raise awareness about infertility because it made pregnant people feel weird around me. That it made them feel guilty for being pregnant. Their suggestion is to just talk while in the group, and don’t so much as mention infertility in the outside world. I think that is so stupid, and such a bad way to deal with it. I really wanted the support of the group, but I’ve not been back because that’s just not what I was looking for.

  17. foreverhopeful

    September 18, 2007 6:35 am

    You describe IF so well. What a great analogy about IF being forced off the main highway onto a less traveled, lonely road. SO so true. Its true, its not just a bump in the road and people have no idea (not a clue) how hard and how painful and lonely this road can be.

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