Catnippy Headlines and Trading Places

I’ve been so busy enjoying myself (and I mean downright relishing my life and the freedom that comes with being a family of two) that I’ve been less inclined than usual to sit down at the computer and write, even with a juicy headline as catnippy and compelling as Women Who Suffer From Infertility More Likely to Become Alcoholics, Study Says.”

I kid you not. A new Danish study reveals that:

“women who remained childless after fertility evaluation had an 18 percent higher risk of all mental disorders than the women who did have at least one baby,” Baldur-Felskov said.

While “these higher risks were evident in alcohol and substance abuse, schizophrenia and eating disorders,” according to the researchers, there was a silver lining, our slice of the infertility population appeared “lower in affective disorders including depression.”

Oh, snap! I would have been all over that bit of irresistible infertility reporting if I was, say, the post-infertility-trauma blogger of 2009. (Fortunately, I didn’t know then that I had such a high probability of substance abuse or I would have worried endlessly about that, too. While I’m glad researchers and clinicians are finally getting on the clue train here about the need to provide adequate support and understanding when infertility treatments fail, a part of me is glad I didn’t know about these statistics when I was at my most vulnerable.)

What did I do when I saw this story and other similar pieces (“Infertility may increase risk of mental disorders”) baiting me last week? I turned off my computer, pulled on my most comfortable shoes and joined some friends for a two-hour hike soaking up the best of Mother Nature. This lack of desire to pounce on such infertility headlines is the kind of development I never dreamed possible a few years ago.

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Those days of vacuuming up any and all things infertility, or working through associated concerns, worries and/or moping about my faulty uterus are but a distant memory — which is why I was so surprised to see angsty emotions surface recently by none other than friends who are also mothers.

It’s like there’s been a complete role reversal. We’ve traded places. Now they’re the ones consumed with low-grade depression, envy and moping as they deal with the downsides of parenthood. Clearly the mommy honeymoon period is over.

What I hear regularly today from “the moms” is frustration at being misunderstood or devalued by their spouse and/or children, gnawing concern about a lack of direction in their lives, a rootlessness. They express impatience and wonder when they can be liberated from what, today, feels like an endless stream of demands on their time.

Holy Toledo! How did this happen? I spent my 30s and early 40s in a state of perpetual dissatisfaction, and now — approaching the end of my 40s when I’m in a state of extended bliss — my more fertile counterparts are now in the doldrums.

What say you on this switcheroo, readers?

Pamela Tsigdinos

Writer, blogger and, oh, yeah, infertility survivor. My memoir, Silent Sorority, tells the whole story. There's a movie in there somewhere. Given the quirkiness needed to relate it all I'm thinking Jennifer Lawrence would be a good fit.

15 thoughts on “Catnippy Headlines and Trading Places

  1. We all want what we can’t have is so true. But I wish I could shake some of those women out there and tell them to wake up and “smell the roses” because they are Mothers. If they just stopped running around, trying to do everything and pace themselves they would take in the many special moments they get to have with their children. (Spending time with your children is more important then having your house look emaculate.) Mothers want time alone to take a breath but what they don’t realize is that they CAN take a breath with their children, and stop thinking about what they have to do next and take everything in. This can be done several times a day. It may even improve their relationship with their children. Doing homework or other activities with your child is a blessing not a curse. It’s all about your perspective. Parents can expand and grow through their problems within their family dynamic but us infertiles can’t. No matter how hard we try or how smart we are we can’t have children.

    (“Infertility may increase risk of mental disorders”)This statement is so true because it is unnatural to not have the ability to have children. A part of our soul dies because of this fact. I have not felt completely whole since I came to the realization that I would never have children. I am stronger than I have ever been and more confident but I have to be that way in order to survive. I’m not ashamed to say that I take one pill a day for my anti-anxiety/anti-depression which stems from my infertility. I will do what I need to do to keep going and to live a happy life. And I’m proud to say that I’m much happier these days :)

  2. My catpha is “conquests”. Appropriate?

    One thing about parenting is that it doesn’t give you a lot of space to think. One thing about infertility is that it does. Absolute bucketloads of the stuff. More than you want at the time.

    I put forward the hypothesis that whilst your mum counterparts are only just waking up to life’s basic existential crises, you have yours behind you, unless you didn’t cope with it well and abused substances and fucked up your brain (thankfully no, in your case!)

    Now here’s a study I’d like to see on parenting after infertility (not really the subject of your blog, but if I may). Post-natal depression is more common when there is a history of infertility. But what about after the post-natal period? Do our infertile sisters who later become parents suffer as much of the later-onset depression this study talks about (I presume they’re talking about a longer than post-natal time period)? Or once we get past the post-traumatic part of the game does our time thinking stand us in better stead?

    I wonder.

    Love to see an interventional study aimed at supporting women through the decision to remain childless and whether that alters results, also.

  3. Astute observations, as always, Bea. Thanks. Like you, I think there’s much to be learned from those who confront infertility, regardless of the outcomes we encounter. This particular disease, as defined by the World Health Organization, and the emotional wake it creates gets short shrift as the focus disproportionately (and narrowly) is on achieving successful conception and pregnancy — full stop. 

    We are cast adrift once we reach the final success or failure outcome, ironically, just at the time we most need the support to reconcile all we’ve been through. Clearly there’s more work to be done here.

  4. Glad you’re finding happiness, Catherine. It’s not an easy road to reconcile the losses associated with infertility…

  5. Interesting, Pamela, & good points, Bea. My own observation is that so many of the mommys I know are so wrapped up in their kids & their activities… and then the kids grow up and leave the nest, & the moms are left there wondering, “Who am I, now that my kids are gone, and what do I do next?” — sort of the same place we were in, post-IF. Also, sad to say, I have seen more than a few husbands & wives left looking at each other & asking “Who are you??” Not all of them are still together. Infertility can be hard on a marriage, but so can parenthood.

    Glad things are going well for you these days. Just this morning I ran into another childless-not-by-choice woman I know “in real life” — she & her husband endured infertility, several losses & a failed adoption before throwing in the towel. There was much sadness & bitterness, but she told me life is good for them these days too. So glad to confirm there is light at the end of the tunnel! : )

    P.S. Believe it or not, one of the captcha words is “eybreed.” Ummm, don’t think so. ; )

  6. A mommy friend of mine once told me that it may be God’s grace not to have kids. The words came at the right time (we were already surrendering to life without kids at that time), so I totally agreed with her. :-)))

    (FYI: she was really careful in saying the words so as not to hurt me and she knew where I was in my IF journey, so she wasn’t brash enough to say the words to me when we were still so sorrowful in our IF journey)

    Nowadays I want people to CELEBRATE the fact that we’re happy now without kids because I feel that we’re “IF survivors” (so even though we DID want kids at one point in life, we don’t need/want them to infuse us with hope anymore because the hope only makes us feel that we’re not complete as a family). :-))))

  7. Regarding the study that infertile persons are likely to become drug addicts, have mental disorders, and all that “good stuff”, well I say that is nothing new and the probabilities are really the same for everyone. However, I am not medically declared infertile, but have been trying for 2 years (I am 36). And I feel, during this limbo period of can I or can’t I, more prone to mental disorders, drug addition, or depression… I am not sure if this is where I can bring up the topic of this frustration. I have never written on a blog before let alone one about infertility, so not sure what the rules are.But fuck the rules, I am going through soo many emotions- I try to reconcile that because I do not know if I am capable(I should use we – my partner and I), we should keep trying and think positive. Other moments, I see there are soo many parentless children, and maybe that is the direction try. But never have I imagined a life without trying anymore, a life without a child. I am afraid to know that I am infertile.
    Amel, I find your last statement soo well put. Congrats! :)

  8. Mary, SO SORRY to hear about your TTC journey. THANKS for celebrating with us! :-D Everybody’s TTC journey is tough, but I hope you’ll both find the strength and peace during this journey more and more often and that the both of you will bond even more. :-)

  9. dear Pamela,
    I love your sentence:
    “Clearly the mommy honeymoon period is over. “

    I felt really bad some years ago, when I was in the middle of all unsuccessful IVF treatments. And that was the time when almost all my friends were at the top of their mommy honeymoon period, which made me feel even worse.

    Now some friends already face lots of problems that having pre-teenagers & teenagers brings. And I am problem free :)

  10. Catherine, I agree with your first paragraph – taking time to enjoy the activities with children would be a part of Buddhist teachings. Being mindful, in the moment, rather than resenting it would make a huge difference to some parents’ perspectives.

    I am however going to take your second paragraph to task. It is natural to have children, yes, I agree with that. But it is not unnatural to not have the ability to have children. It’s a part of nature – there is always an infertile section of any community (human, animal or plant). That’s natural too. It’s just that our society doesn’t allow us to feel that this is natural. We simply may not be on the side of nature that we want to be on. And I feel for you that you don’t feel whole yet. I’m hoping you’ll get there.

  11. Love this post. Glad you’re out enjoying life!

    I think I’m like you these days. I look at studies, and generally can remember another study that said the opposite, and so I shrug it off. Particularly that one, as I heard a study the other day saying mild wine consumption (one to two glasses a day) strengthens the bone density of middle-aged women, so I’m celebrating that at the moment rather than worrying about what’s wrong!

    The “switcheroo” amused me. Yet it doesn’t surprise me. Here I am, after years (though not as many as you) of trying to conceive and pregnancy losses and fertility treatments, and then a couple of years coming to terms with that, and I look at friends who had babies at the same time as I had losses (10 years ago). And they’re STILL caught up in the daily … dare I say it grind (yes I know there are joys too) of 24-7 responsibility and care for small human beings, when I’ve moved on. I wonder if they are impatient (you’ve confirmed they probably are), when I am in fact the one who – having healed – is liberated.

  12. Interesting. Granted I tend to not pay a lot of attention to studies anymore since if you dig a bit deeper you will likely find flaws in the process. Interesting though that the mommy’s are feeling dissatisfied and for the first time in so long I’m happy as all get out with my life and the freedom I have.

  13. Reading this entry, I’m reminded of a conversation I had with my mother in my early 20s, when she admitted to me that she regretted having children when she was so young, and not pursuing a career. Even though she had raised 4 healthy, independent, kids, had owned several businesses, has a PHD and several master’s degrees, she was now in her late 50s and the only “Career” she could find was working as a secretary, making minimum wage (not that there is anything wrong with this). She always said to me, don’t get married and have kids till your 35. It was my mother’s regret that pushed me to spend my 20s in school, work, traveling, and put off kids and marriage. Either by design or by coincidence, I was married 1 month before my 35th birthday and started the baby making process shortly after – only to discover, having a baby would require medical intervention. The irony is that now I’m the one who wonders with regret, what if I’d married younger and started sooner – would it have made a difference? I wouldn’t trade my 20s and the adventures I had for anything, but I do wonder. When I told my mother of my struggles to get pregnant, she replied “having children is not the only thing in life that defines a woman”. Seems like such a simple and obvious statement, but it stood as a good reminder for me, especially in a culture that reveres “mommy-hood” as if its some kind of saint-hood, when in truth, so many of the mother’s I know, including my own, struggle for an identity of their own, an identity that is more than a reflection of their husband’s wife, and their children’s mother.

  14. Thanks for your thoughts, Lizard. Your comment underscores an important point… for many women over the decades, the way we (and others) value and view ourselves continues to be difficult to reconcile. The challenge is magnified today with so much online/social media personal branding (e.g. 140 character self-definitions). The ways in which we define or identify ourselves has never been so out there for everyone to see and assess.

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