Anger is an expected part of the grief process. You feel vulnerable, helpless, and you draw your shield in an attempt to protect yourself. People often feel uncomfortable with the world “anger” or “grief” since the loss experienced can be relatively invisible to self and others, and therefore, treated as less legitimate. If you question this, just try and find a greeting card at the grocery store that addresses infertility and/or pregnancy loss. For me, I spent an inordinate amount of time residing in Angry Town. As an established regular, I was known to order the skinny non-pregnant latte with the daily special – mercury-laden shark.
Looking back, anger restricted my experience and participation in the world at large. Entire populations were cut off from me, which limited my exposure to potentially threatening people (i.e., expectant moms) and yet simultaneously undermined my humanness. Was this a choice? Yes – and – No. Allow me to explain…
At a highly conscious level, I realized that steering clear of all things pregnancy and infant was an act of self-preservation. Simply witnessing an expectant mother gently stroke her protruding belly could derail my entire day, and therefore I chose as much as possible to opt-out. A therapist friend of mine, when learning about my infertility struggles, set up a lunch with a close friend of hers that had a similar experience and is now a mother by way of adoption. This woman, let’s call her Becky, responded to my avoidance strategies by saying something nostalgic like, “Well I took every chance I could get to be around babies. Some of the women in my office got pregnant and I hosted each of their baby showers. I loved knitting little hoodies for those bundles of joy.” I wanted to vomit. What was wrong with me? Here Becky was immersing herself in Baby Land and celebrating others happiness while I was raging at the universe and sidestepping the very experience I wanted desperately to have. Our process was very different, and when I put my therapist hat on, I think Becky had been in the stage of grief known as “bargaining.” This stage is where we try to negotiate with ourselves, God, and/or the universe, striking some kind of deal such as “Okay universe, I’m going to be be really, extra good, and in return, could you notice and reward me accordingly with a healthy baby?”
Try not to judge your process. It is uniquely yours and also shared.
At a less conscious, deeper level, I had a running narrative that fed my anger – one of injustice. The secret password to join any infertility group is always – UNFAIR. To illustrate, a female client of mine recently shared a feeling of being “duped” by the world, explaining that her entire life had been choreographed around motherhood. “Why did I play with all those dolls, pretend to change their diapers and feed them? Why was this nurturing trait continually reinforced in me, so much so that it became an expectant next step to pursue motherhood as an adult? What am I suppose to do now? Who will I be?” Her plight seemed extremely unfair to her, even foolhardy, and speaks to what I’ve started calling our “fertility privilege” (addressed in another blog). And you might have noticed something else in her questioning – the identity crisis.
Crisis and infertility belong together. Synonyms for crisis include – emergency, disaster, catastrophe, and calamity. It also can be understood as a critical turning point or a crossroads. Describing infertility as a crisis to one’s human experience honors that pain. Allow me to share some lyrics from The Eagles song “Hole in the World” –
There is a hole in the world tonight.
There’s a cloud of fear and sorrow.
There’s a hole in the world tonight.
Don’t let there be a hole in the world tomorrow.
They say that anger is just love disappointed.
Anger is just love disappointed, and it does cast a cloud of fear and sorrow. However, to experience the emotions of fear and sadness consciously is to be vulnerable.
Many of my clients equate vulnerability with perceived weakness. I respectfully and wholeheartedly disagree. Anger is the shield that protects us from shame, from humiliation, or from great disappointment. How dare you do this to me! I don’t deserve this! It makes sense to use protection against something threatening, and yet the very use of armor can compromise our human experience, as I mentioned earlier. Our lovely local Texan, Dr. Brene Brown, has extensively researched shame and its manifestations, shedding light on how to identify when you’re in shame without acting from it (i.e., the shield). How does this relate to infertility? In every way, I believe. The use of anger shields disconnect us from others and ultimately, from ourselves.
Next time you’re feeling irritable, restless, impatient, or angry, dig in a bit deeper. Take some deep breaths, then ask yourself, “What’s going on under the surface?”
I’m willing to bet that there’s a hole in your world and you may need to allow yourself to feel the fear and sorrow.