Suffering as Identity and Status

I think its time to continue exploring the theme of identity and how it is influenced by infertility and fertility treatment. I’m new to the blog world and the world of ‘infertiles’ in this space. Although my husband and I have been struggling with infertility for over 5 years, I have never been part of or felt part of a community of infertiles. Up until the point when I started this blog 2 month ago I never read blogs about infertility or joined support groups or the like. Rather I tried to forget or repress the tag of infertility, as I have written about in a previous post (Tagged with Infertility). I stubbornly refused to take on that identity, to let it influence my life and who I am. But of course it still did and I am trying to come to terms with and deal with that. Not the least by writing about it here.

Now I’m reading and discovering this amazingly rich blog world full of other (mainly) women’s experiences with infertility and treatment, being written about in all kinds of different ways. Today I came across a debate on Jay’s blog (http://the2weekwait.blogspot.com) which truly stunned me. Jay is pregnant after going through IVF and still writing her blog, which logically enough is now centered on her experience of being pregnant. This however has resulted in her receiving hate mail and nasty comments which in no uncertain terms lets her know she should no longer be writing on a blog which is about infertility. In her latest post she calls on other infertiles to comment on one such comment. So far she has received 122 comments all of which express outrage at the nastiness of the comment she has received. And I can only agree.

However, what struck me in both the ‘hate’ comment and all the many comments in response to it, was how fundamentally the suffering of infertility and fertility treatment impacts the identity of us who go through it. The event we all long for and which is suppose to be a happy ending to our temporary liminal state of trying to become pregnant is not easy to handle for the rest of us still ‘stuck’ in our inbetween of trying, waiting and hoping. I know the feeling myself and it’s not surprising.

What is surprising is the extent to which women who have become pregnant after treatment still identify as infertile – namely as ‘pregnant infertiles’. I sense in many blogs I read that when the event of pregnancy does come along as a result of a long process of treatment, it  does not mark the end of suffering, but the beginning of a new phase of it characterized by anxiety over problems that might occur etc. Liminality has in a sense become permanent. It never goes away. As I also wrote in my previous post, infertility cannot be cured – only circumvented. And the reason for that might be the profound impact that the suffering of both infertility and fertility treatment has on our lives and identity.

Recently I read an article published in Qualitative Sociology Review (to read click here) about women’s infertility and identity. The research which the article is based on showed that infertile women are caught in the discrepancy between the potential identity of being a biological mother, that they wish for and sacrifice so much to achieve, and their actual identity of being infertile that they try to do away with. So much is invested in the potential identity, increasing the negative consequences of the actual identity which is one of suffering – similar to that of people suffering from chronic illness and disability. These negative consequences include physical and financial ones, but also isolation from people, ex. friends who have children, and letting go of other identities (career etc.) to become solely focused on the potential one of becoming a biological mother.

There is much in this article I do not agree with and I shall return to that in a later post. But what did give me food for thought was the conclusion that the more we invest, the more we sacrifice, the more invasive treatments we go through, the more we stop doing things we would normally have done etc. in our quest for biological motherhood, the more we risk taking on an identity from our suffering. Or rather an identity of suffering takes over. To varying degrees of course.

That the identity of being infertile has taken over and developed a (highly disfunctional) life of its own is clear in the ‘hate’ comment Jay shared with her fellow infertiles. It talks about belonging and non-belonging, it talks about degrees of suffering indicating differentiation in status amongst member of a community and it talks about an ‘us’ who want’s to exclude ‘them’ – the pregnant ones.

I do not want to go there, or anywhere near it, and I do not think that must of us struggling with infertility get to this point. But I do think that it’s crucially important to try to be aware of how powerful the impact of going through infertility and fertility treatment can be on our lives and whole beings. I want to believe though that I have some choice in the matter of how much I take on an identity from what I am going through. As with everything else I have gone through and will be going through in life. It should not define who I am or be a source of a sense of belonging.

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2 responses to “Suffering as Identity and Status

  1. Pingback: The parable of the watch springs (what our infertility story is really about) « still counting stars

  2. I can’t stand the hate. I know plenty of people who have incredibly difficult pregnancies but worry about expressing this on their blog in case they get bombarded with “If I was pregnant I’d love my piles” type comments. It is ridiculous to assume that just because someone doesn’t relish every aspect of pregnancy that they aren’t grateful.

    Mind you I also don’t approve of people inciting their readers to respond to the hate and perpetuating it.

    Move on!

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