Don't let a diagnosis of infertility define who you are.
In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s famous book, The Scarlet Letter, the main character, Hester Prynne, is forced to wear a scarlet letter “A” on her clothing to identify herself as an adulterer. This stigma of her illicit act, visible for all to see, follows Hester and her little daughter, Pearl, everywhere.
Today it sometimes seems as if the stigma has been transferred to women who don’t—or can’t—have a child. Even though there is no “scarlet I,” and it’s impossible to look at a woman and tell she’s struggling to conceive, many women in that situation may feel ashamed, as if they are fundamentally different from other women. All too often they interpret that difference as either “There’s something wrong with me,” or “I must have done something wrong to deserve this.” These devastating conclusions are destructive and downright wrong.
Still, society can seem to reinforce these negative beliefs about infertility. As much as things have changed, many people still view the ability to reproduce as central to a woman’s identity. Even casual questions like, “Do you have children?” can leave intelligent women speechless and stammering for an answer. Underlying this shame may be overwhelming guilt that they’re letting others down, and that their struggle to conceive is depriving partners and even potential grandparents of a child.
So what can women do to rip that scarlet “I” off their chests? The following toolbox of skills, to enhance self awareness and offer guidance for dealing with others, can help.
Take a Breath Before Pursuing Fertility Treatment
With so many fertility treatment options available, you may be tempted to jump into something to “fix” the problem, and make it go away. But as great as this temptation may be, don’t do it yet. Instead, stop and take a breath.
The very diagnosis of infertility brings with it a sense of grief and loss. Something that was supposed to be between you and your husband has been interrupted. Whatever it was you dreamed about having a baby, it certainly did not include this.
So give yourself a little time to “be with” this turn of events. Let yourself cry, or be angry. Journal, take quiet walk, slam a tennis ball, talk to a trusted friend.
Listen to what your doctor has to say about your fertility treatment options, but don’t commit to anything right away. Take some space to come to terms with your infertility diagnosis and talk to your husband about your choices. For a little while at least, give yourself time to just be.