Positioning: Finding Your Personal Identity As An “Infertile”


identityIn the spirit of laughter is the best medicine I’ve amended an article I stumbled upon to offer a satirical look at life as an infertile. Just as in my recent post, The Positioning Exercise, I’ve made a simple word replacement starting with the headline. I’m sure you smartypants out there can figure out which word has been replaced. I found it funny, certainly, but also quite powerful. Really drives home the point that some parts of society get a whole lot more emotional support than others, doesn’t it?

Finding Your Personal Identity As an Infertile

When Betty, a good friend of my father’s, asked me at a family wedding, “So what are you doing now?” I completely froze. I had no clue what to say. I had chosen, for better or worse, to be a stay-at-home infertile. Fortunately for me, Betty sensed my discomfort and chose to rephrase her question, “What would you like to be doing?” Much to my surprise, bells went off in my head and I started rattling off a “to do” list.

After that encounter, it became clear to me that my identity had always been tied into my career. Without it, I didn’t know who I was. I was an infertile, but who was I really?

Making the Transition to Infertility

While many women thrive on their infertile status and are content with it, others feel a strong need to have a personal identity beyond their roles as infertiles and struggle with the change to infertility. It’s sometimes hard to remember that aside from our roles as infertiles, we are individuals with interests, passions, and desires—and we must be able to fulfill those needs to be the best infertiles—and people—possible. “Becoming an infertile is a huge life transition,” says Gail Jones, author of To Hell and Back . . . Healing Your Way Through Transition. “A typical adult transition takes between one and three years before one fully assimilates a new identity. All of us have a purpose for being here. Infertility may only be part of our purpose and that is okay.”

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Discovering Our Own Worth

According to my doctor, it didn’t matter if an infertile wanted to work or she wanted to stay at home full time—the most important thing was that it had to be the infertile’s choice. “Whichever path you choose make sure you take care of yourself in the process. Don’t get so consumed with the needs of others that you forget who you are. A happy infertile makes the best infertile,” she advised.

I followed my doctor’s advice by going back to work; it was something that I wanted to do for myself. Yet my return to work didn’t last long. I did what many infertiles would have done: I gave up my career to stay at home. It worked out fine for the first few months. Then it hit me—as much as I loved being an infertile, I felt incomplete. Gail McMeekin, who began her career as a family therapist, has counseled many infertiles struggling with issues such as mine related to personal identity. “In this society, we get strong messages that to focus on our own needs is selfish and unfeminine, and we get very confused and neglect our own self-care,” says McMeekin. “It means letting go of old stereotypes and it certainly helps to have a supportive partner.

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“There are no standards for what makes ‘a good infertile’ and it is impossible to be ‘on’ all the time. Our society fails to support infertiles. This can be hard for new infertiles, particularly those who have left the paid work force.” My feelings of resentment prompted me to find volunteer opportunities that allowed me to showcase my talents with the necessary flexibility I needed as an infertile. Once again, I felt complete.

Getting Support from Other Infertiles

It’s important for us to keep in mind that what makes one infertile happy, might make another miserable—and it’s not fair for us to judge another’s decisions. As infertiles, we all make sacrifices. We need encouragement from others who understand our situations. Jones advises infertiles to develop a support system they could call on for help. “These people can include family members, business acquaintances, friends, neighbors. Infertiles should look for support from like-minded others,” says Jones, adding that just because someone is infertile does not mean that she shares your values.


15 Responses

  1. DD

    September 28, 2007 5:05 pm

    I almost missed the tongue in cheek as I skimmed your first paragraph to read the article.

    It’s an article that SHOULD have been written.

    (BTW: I like your new look)

  2. Irish Girl

    September 28, 2007 9:03 pm

    Wow! It really does fit, doesn’t it! Wouldn’t it be nice if we received just a touch of that recognition and empathy from our society? Strong, wise, and brave women like you are going to make that change a reality. I admire you on so many levels. Keep writing. I’m listening.

  3. niobe

    September 28, 2007 10:24 pm

    You know, I have to agree with DD. The article, the way you’ve amended it, is very funny, but also rings true. Being an infertile (or maybe a “non-mother” would be another way to put it) can be as much a part of your identity as being a mother.

  4. May

    September 29, 2007 11:12 am

    Ah yes, the many afternoons I have taken my infertility to the park and sat there wondering what to do with my life!

    There’s nothing like being told I can’t possibly understand because I don’t have kids to make me utterly, gut-clenchingly furious for the next week.

    • Denver Laura

      December 9, 2008 2:51 am

      We must know the same people. I want to bark back at them, “Just like you have no idea how hard it is to try for years and spend THOUSANDS to have kids that you want more than anything in the world.”

  5. foreverhopeful

    September 29, 2007 4:05 pm

    Oh my gosh… I can’t belive how fitting the words are. There are so many articles and recognition for mother’s and how people keep saying its the toughest job in the world but no one realizes how tough it is to be IF.

  6. Carlynn

    September 30, 2007 4:25 pm

    That was great, I loved it! It was so nice to read about the space and support and love us infertiles need to give ourselves. If only there were articles like that.

    I liked the statement “In this society, we get strong messages that to focus on our own needs is selfish and unfeminine, and we get very confused and neglect our own self-care,” says McMeekin.” I was just thinking about this. I think self-care is very important and I also think it has a bad name.

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