In The Company of Women

Is it any wonder women who have struggled with infertility have difficulty finding peace or feeling accepted? Sheesh! The drubbing my people took in The New York Times Motherlode comments last weekend was brutal. (Warning: some truly hateful thoughts — and many of these came from parents!? Just what kind of example are they setting?) I think we might be ready for a group hug — at a minimum some validation and a grounding in why the nastier comments can cut so deeply.

As any observer of human behavior knows we crave a sense of belonging. Abraham Maslow made that clear in his seminal work on needs. As you’ll see here (left) his hierarchy calls out our need for “belonging” once our more basic needs are met. Without  a sense of belonging we “become increasing susceptible to loneliness and social anxieties.”

And yet, as the judgments contained in many of the comments made loud and clear, it’s hard to find a sense of belonging when there’s a high risk of being rejected and condemned for being infertile and on a path that doesn’t include parenting in some form or another.  Evidence of the smoldering stigma of infertility isn’t usually so overt but it’s clearly there and we’d be less than human if it didn’t do a number on our self-esteem at some level.

The definition of social stigma is:

severe social disapproval of personal characteristics or beliefs that are perceived to be against cultural norms, or an attribute that extensively discredits an individual, reducing him or her from a whole and usual person to a tainted, discounted one.

Nice, huh? As if the task of mending our souls after the losses of infertility aren’t tough enough! Seems laboring under a stigma makes the once painful sting of being chosen last on the playing field in elementary school or being rejected by the popular crowd seem like a cakewalk by comparison. Check out this a paper called, “The Social Psychology of Stigma,” and the erosive effects of stigma will become clearer still.

That’s why I groove on the idea of creating our own sorority or sisterhood. What a comfort — after facing failure and suffering — to find non-judgmental acceptance and belonging. The benefits, needless to say, are huge. By meeting our need for belonging, we not only can feel good about ourselves (self-esteem anyone?), we’ll have the emotional reserves and the boost we need to achieve great things. There are many ways to define success in life with meaningful contributions in roles that don’t include direct parenting.

As for some up close and personal sorority bonding, I’m about to get it — in REAL LIFE!  Much as I enjoy communicating with y’all online. I’m going to meet — for the first time in person — a few of my peeps.

I was going to title this post “In the Company of (Infertile) Women” … but that’s just one characteristic of the talented, charming and interesting women I’ll be meeting in New York City Monday night. We’re coming from Rhode Island, Delaware, Quebec and California. Among the sisterhood gathering for drinks and dinner will be:

  • Two contributors to A Fresh Start (Christina and Stephanie)
  • Another Forgotten Patient essay contributor and dinner companion will be LaBelette Rouge, whose latest blog post is a keeper.
  • Recording the event for a MORE magazine article will be Kate Johnson, who wrote this poignant review of Silent Sorority earlier this year.

I’m looking forward to this gathering. It’s not unlike meeting my dorm room-mates after a few months of exchanging pen-pal letters (remember those things we used to write on paper and post?) Yes, this is a first in many ways and will, I’m sure, lead to some great things.

Carrie, Charlotte, Samantha and Miranda have nothing on us! NYC here we come…

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.

  1. Julie

    I know I felt pretty lost and excluded until I read your book (I kept thinking “exactly!”) and then found this site. So thank you (again) for creating a place where we can connect with other women who understand.

    Have fun in New York!!

  2. loribeth

    I would say our situation fits the description of “stigma” to a T. I am sure I would not have adjusted to childless/free living as well as I have without the support of my online friends. I am soooo jealous of your New York get together!! & to know that it will be featured in More — even better. Have fun (I know you will all do us proud!), & if you are ever in the Toronto area, I will be first in line at the bar to buy you a drink. : )

  3. inBetween

    That NYTimes commentary was CRAZY! I kept reading in absolute disbelief and disillusion. There are some really really mean people. Why comment at all if you can’t be supportive?

    You deserve 5 million gold stars for putting yourself out there for that kind of freaky reaction. Thank you, and I’m so sorry.

    a big fan, inB

  4. Kathryn

    I didn’t read all the comments (i usually can’t stand them – from other times you’ve been quoted or had an article – some are so vile & vicious). But of the 2 pages this time i thought that while there were some comments that were cruel or clueless, there were some who “get it” & were able to try to explain the the clueless. Who frankly probably are still clueless.

    I don’t understand why some of the folks are the most ugly over the adoption issue. NO ONE is suggesting that having a family thru adoption is “second best.” And most who suggest that we “just adopt” have no clue about the toll – financially, emotionally, & in all other ways – that adoption requires.

    My husband & i would love to have a family however that happened. We have explored all options & the fact is, it simply will not work for us, short of having our own children. That is not going to happen. There are a multitude of reasons we can’t foster or adopt or use a surrogate, etc. People can’t possibly understand. We have looked at this from all angles & agonized over it. A “family” beyond the two of us is not going to happen. Adoption/alternate family building is simply a different issue from the pain & sadness of infertility/miscarriage.

    Last week i posted on FB 3 times references to this article & other “awareness” of infertility/miscarriage. I don’t have “tons” of friends on FB (about 100). NOT ONE even acknowledged those posts.

    In a brief email exchange not too long ago, a woman i know only very casually asked if we have children. “We’ve not been blessed. It looks as though God isn’t going to give us that desire.” I responded, which is my general way of saying, “No. It hurts. Leave me alone.”

    The response i got to THAT was, “If you don’t have children, don’t blame God. There is a huge number of children out there needing good homes. I only have one child myself, but i would have adopted . . . ” This woman doesn’t even know me, but feels she has to say this? Let HER adopt! She doesn’t know the pain & agony i’ve been thru to have to make this statement!

    Thank you, Pamela, for being the voice. I wouldn’t be able to. Those comments are so ugly & painful. I have a lot of admiration that you continue to use your voice in spite of the hurt.

  5. Leslie Rush

    I can hardly believe the nastiness of some of those comments. I guess some people get pleasure from denigrating other’s pain. Thanks again, for your thoughtful commentary, Pamela. And I too am extremely jealous of your NYC get-together.

  6. Sandy

    I kept reading and reading and finally started to draft a comment. I spent an hour or two trying to get my/our point across. Ultimately I decided not to put myself out there, it was an obsession (because I would have been obsessed in checking) that I didn’t need on Mother’s Day weekend. Trial and error have taught me not to be terribly vocal about my loss and that’s a shame.

    I too was surprised at the “just adopt” tone or that we/you were whining and simply should not bother to express our opinions. Your piece was well written and in my mind simply tried to put a different perspective on Mother’s Day.

    Thank you for posting. I’ll take the group hug with others on this path. Toast those of us that aren’t able to make it to NY.

  7. Sara

    PJ- thank you for continuing to be the voice of so many. The comments that you received were for the most part uneducated and heartless. If adoption really was the ‘answer’ to an infertile couples problem, I believe that they would take that option. I don’t want to say that I wish those people would experience what we have been through to make them understand- I wouldn’t wish my heartbreaking journey on anybody- I just wish that there was someone way for them to gain an understanding of what IF does to our lives, our families and friends. The loss of a child or several losses- and then having to try to come to terms with the cards that you have been dealt- knowing that a living child will never be a part of your life- I just wish that there was some way to help them to understand the pain that we live with everyday. I wish you luck with the convention in NY, I only wish that I was closer to be able to attend it- but I know that we will be well represented by you. Thank you for all that you have done for us in trying to get the message out in to the public.

  8. Deanna Jewel

    Hi Pam! Just wanted to say hi, found you on She Writes and your struggle to publish sounds like mine. I got tired of the publishers telling me how to write my stories, they didn’t have a venue for what I wrote, and on and on. I didn’t want to wait for one of the houses to finally decide on me, which could have been years, and it has, so I just went out and did it and am happy I have the control that I do. I wish you luck!

  9. DM

    Thanks for taking the time to share your heart and help others via this site. Support groups are VERY important. Working on this with a family member. Courage, strength, faith! and hope.

  10. Heather

    Pamela,
    Thank you so much for this blog. I often feel very alone at times now that my husband and I have left the infertility treatment and are trying to determine “what’s next?”. I think a lack of acceptance/belonging and empathy (next to our lack of our own child) is the greatest loss of all when dealing with infertility. The hurtful comments and the unwanted advice are so hard to take. I find myself wanting to crawl away into the safety of my home where I can be shielded from the world. I understand the happiness all couples experience with their children…why can’t they even try to understand the sadness and loss we have experienced with infertility? I know I am beating my head against the wall by even asking this question…that I will need to learn to accept the fact that most people will forever remain insensitive. But right now the wound is so deep, so tender. Thank you so much for this post! (BTW, I also bought your book and absolutely loved it!)

  11. Julie

    Heather,
    Hang in there! We are all in this together! You are right that you have to develop a somewhat thick skin to deal with the insensitive comments, but I have hope that we all can get through this and find our “what next” and be incredibly happy! If you ever need support (or need to vent), feel free to email me: mathkiss@gmail.com.

    Julie

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