Monday, May 2, 2016

#MicroblogMondays: unnecessary competition

Not sure what #MicroblogMondays is? Read the inaugural post which explains the idea and how you can participate too.

Back in those first days of trying to get pregnant (and before a diagnosis of infertility), I joined an online forum for women who were also focusing on charting and timed-intercourse. Overall, the experience there was a good one, with many of the women supporting each other and forming in real life connections. 

There was one post, though, that left me with some negative emotions. Written by a participant who was pregnant for her 7th time, she experience sadness and frustration with family following her SIL announcing her first pregnancy. She felt that her in-laws where more excited about her SIL's pregnancy than her own and expressed jealousy over it. 

Being someone who was rapidly reaching the year mark, it took a lot to not fire off a short retort verbally slapping her. It shouldn't matter, but more importantly it called into question why she was pregnant for a 7th time as it strongly suggested that pregnancy had become a way for her to find self-worth.

This morning, there was an incident on the bus that brought this memory back. A visibly pregnant woman was actively crying on her phone following her SIL's announcement about her pregnancy. She cried loudly about how the family responded excitedly to the announcement, leaving her to feel like her own pregnancy wasn't as important. Granted, she confessed, her SIL had been trying for years to get pregnant and seemed so sad with her own pregnancy announcement. But she couldn't understand why her in-laws would be over the moon when she her pregnancies weren't as celebrated.

In that moment, a high-schooler turned around and caught this woman's eye. Shaking her head sadly, she said loudly "I'm sorry." Surprised, the woman started to complain but this teenager stopped her. 

"I'm sorry that the only way you can feel special is by getting knocked up." 

You could have heard a pin-drop in that moment. 

There is a competition that isn't talked about among women, which is the competition in procreation. With infertility, we talk about missing out on the firsts we envisioned, such as giving our parents their first grandchildren or having to live through those painful pregnancy announcements. We experience jealousy when family members seamlessly do we torture our bodies to do. It is torturous and hard.

But this flipped jealousy is something no one talks about. That a family may be waiting hopefully for their loved ones living with infertility to announce the news they've been hoping and praying for, resulting in those who do so without issue to feel jealous of that response. Upon reflection, given how much focus corporations and society put on the expectant mother, this isn't a surprise that feeling special would be attached. From weekly updates to gender reveal parties to long debates about birth plans, there is a lot of focus that happens as a baby is gestating. After all, it is a special milestone as one is closing the chapter on one aspect of life and moving to another.

Still, there is a competition that can arise when one doesn't feel welcomed into a family. When there's a need to feel accepted or special. And it's sad because it is so unnecessary if not down-right destructive. To hear stories about those living with infertility being told that they don't know what real love is because they can't conceive, despite breaking themselves by enduring fertility treatments. To hear about jealousy following news that this same couple is finally expecting. To have a couple be subjected to ridicule or disparaging comments because they have closed the door on biological children and are either pursuing adoption or living as a family of two. All of it is based on a foundation of insecurity and malice.

Last week was National Infertility Awareness week, with the theme of #StartAsking. There were many good posts talking about support and why that support is so necessary. After today's incident, I would add that we also need to address this competition, taking the focus away from glorifying pregnancy at all costs and focusing instead on the family, regardless of its size. Just as many preach that we need to put less emphasis on the wedding and more on building and maintaining a marriage, so too should we have a similar focus on family building instead of on pregnancy.

My thoughts all morning have been about that pregnant woman on the bus. How sad she looked masked behind jealousy and anger. And I can't help feeling sad for the baby she is carrying. Because everyone does deserve to be happy in life. But we have to find it within ourselves. 


  1. What a very powerful and very needed post! Thank you. Even though I am happy with my own family, I still experience those pangs of jealousy...and it's hard not to let those turn into anger or resentment. I think the really important thing is what you said: focusing on family...whatever that may look like! Again, wonderful post!

  2. You're right. We experience so much grief because we seek fulfillment from outside ourselves.

    What an exchange. Wow. I wonder how it impacted the woman and the teen, too.

  3. Yeah, any time you enlist others to pump up your self worth, including a fetus, probably not going to end well.

    I dislike being the centre of attention (unless I'm performing) and did not feel that gestating a baby was meant to be a spectator sport. Sometimes I wondered if I was missing out on the fun but probably not.

  4. I love this post, thanks for sharing.

  5. But what if she was sad because she really was treated differently by the family? What if the inlaws played favourites, and this was just one more way they were rubbing her face in the fact that she wasn't accepted? I've seen that play out before, and it is heartbreaking when two SILs are pitted against each other, the children of one woman celebrate and the children of the other women endured. Was there more to the conversation?

  6. Honestly, it was only 10 mins where all of this happened. I don't know the whole story.

    But it brings things even more to my point of competition. If she was being excluded, then what the hell is going on with the family? Why aren't both pregnancies being celebrated? And that poor kid.

    It just left me feeling so sad because it is not necessary.

  7. Cristy, this is a really excellent post. Though I'd dispute one thing. I think some of us do talk about the procreation competition. Those of us without children - and indeed those who go through infertility - are often subjected to it. I have to say that it isn't just women, having heard men tell my husband to "prove he's a man and get her pregnant." I see it in the infertility community too. Women congratulating themselves for getting pregnant, because they "tried harder" or "didn't give up" or did X, Y or Z.

    We had a woman like your woman-on-the-forum visit our ectopic site. She went on and on about how stressful she found her infertility, during her pregnancies for her 7th and then 8th children. When she wasn't pregnant, she admitted she would cry when she heard that others were. Like the woman on the bus, she seemed to have this need to feel special when she was pregnant.

    When we separate ourselves from our immediate reactions, or with the benefit of time when we're out of the infertility stress and grief, you're right, it is possible to feel sorry for those women, for their inability to feel compassion for others who have suffered trying to get something that came so easily to them, and for their feeling that by celebrating someone else's happiness, it was taking away something from their experience.

  8. I actually worry about this with my own family. All of my siblings are step or half, and I have more family from divorces/marriages than I do family by blood. Even with using donor eggs, my child, would be the first biological grandchild for both of my parents, and grant parents. Now, while my step/half siblings that have had children are perfect, they tend to give special treatment to their biological parents over my mom or dad (I think those sort of things just tend to happen no matter how hard we try) I think there will be a HUGE shift in the family if we have a successful IVF.

    The "competition" that you speak of is definitely something that used to bother me. When my sister-in-law had a girl I thought (that's ok, we could still have the first boy) her two boys followed not to shortly after. When my half sister's, step-sister had a baby, it killed me because almost 8 years younger than me her children would be the first to call my half sister "aunt". She is now pregnant with her third while I am still childless.

    Life has a funny way (or not so funny way) of keeping us in check. All the plans, all the competitive things that resided in me have been challenged time and time again. I suppose that's one of the reasons infertility makes me the lucky one. I have an appreciation for this process of procreation that many may never have. I am thankful for that.

  9. Late to the party, but I love your "StartAsking" "ask." I literally laughed out loud when I read about the teenager's remark to the woman on the bus. There's one kid I can't imagine will be going out to get pregnant deliberately because they can't imagine doing anything else with their life. ;)

    Going one step further, I think we need to ask why we place so much importance & value (& self-worth) on our ability to procreate. I like to think I'm a person of interest and worth, and I've accomplished many things in my life -- but I know that, in some people's eyes, I'm not someone they can relate to or easily talk to because I don't have children (and because the one that I did have, briefly, DIED). I can't help but feel that nobody has ever been as excited for me or about something I was doing as those few short months I was pregnant, with the possible exception of when I was getting married. :(


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