The following excerpt from my book speaks directly to those in an infertility struggle, but keep in mind that the tenets apply no matter what adversity you might be dealing with.
by Helen Adrienne, LCSW, BCD
Gain from the Pain:
Would You Believe There’s an Upside?
So what do you stand to gain by suffering through the delay in getting your baby? Your cheerleaders, who are on the other side of the infertility battleground, are eager for you to know what the experience meant to them so you can hang in there. This book has been, among other things, an invitation for you to ponder how this experience could turn out to have been surprisingly beneficial. Read these stories. Which resonate?
Growth from adversity always involves coming to terms with something that you would never have chosen. Looking for what is to be gained from any adversity is not what concerns you at first and may even annoy you. But it is a way to assign meaning to your life and avoid living with bitterness.
Not Just Strength but Inner Strength
When I was a little girl my grandmother used to use an expression that I did not connect with at first. She would say, “You should do such and such – it will put hair on your chest.” Hair on my chest? I was preoccupied with the not-so-hidden message that she thought it was better to be a man. Eventually I understood that she was saying more than that. She apparently thought that men had a corner on the strength market. On another level, ‘such and such will make you strong’ was the communication I was supposed to derive from her words. There are other less judgmental expressions of the “what doesn’t kill you will make you strong” ilk.
The issue is not just about getting strong. It is about feeling strong, owning the strength that can build in the face of challenge. The life force, the Popeye Effect, whatever you want to call it, is a hard-wired aspect of our nature. It is just there, but some of us are more purposeful about developing it than others. Developing inner strength can be both a conscious and an unconscious byproduct of adversity.
Melissa, an artist, put it this way: “If it had not been for this amazing challenge in my life, I would still be afraid of the great unknown and would wonder if I had the balls – I mean ovaries – to get through it. I now know that I can and will get through anything.”
But some of us are born into environments where developing inner strength is not encouraged and may even be discouraged. This kind of environment can rob us of the drive to feel and use our capacities, leaving us likely to form an inaccurate picture of ourselves. Personalities, or aspects of our personalities, get formed around distortions. When adversity brings us face to face with ourselves, we have a chance to course-correct. All of us get tossed around by life. As Gilda Radner once said, “If it ain’t one thing, it’s another.” My point is that with awareness, if our sense of ourselves has gotten distorted, we can set the record straight.
Self-awareness can open us up what needs to be changed and your resolve to work toward change can be fortified. And as you continue to navigate turbulent waters, self-awareness can bring you to a realization of what has changed due to your efforts. Reveling in the self-awareness that develops cannot help but call attention to increasing levels of inner strength. In the process, we stand to discover or rediscover who we were really born to be and as a consequence, connect with our in-born authenticity. Inner awareness and inner strength make for a wonderful partnership and form the substrata upon which gains from pain accrue.
The Heart of the Matter
Seeking authenticity or connection to your in-born realness does not mean that you have been inauthentic. It just means that the lessons that come from the impact of unavoidable stress give us a chance to evaluate what feels right and what does not. It is up to us to recognize and honor the messages which bubble up from the inside. Honesty about aspects of our life style which are not working or facing stress warning signals are gifts if you let them be. Recognizing these messages can be challenging. They can be quite subtle. Sometimes we don’t have access to our true selves. Sometimes our suffering can block access to hearing that inner whisper. Sometimes we don’t hear what is coming from within even if it screams at us. As Oscar Wilde once said, “Some of us trip over the truth. Most of us get up and keep going as if nothing happened.”
Realness is simple when we are infants. When we are hungry or uncomfortable, we scream. When we are afraid, we scream. When we are content, we are free to vocalize and play with abandon.
As we get older, with years of experiences stamped on our templates, that inner knowing and freedom to express how we feel can get glossed over. The infertility diagnosis all but guarantees that even those of us who are usually in touch with what we are feeling, get bumped off track. Now you have a chance to quiet yourselves, the better to learn to hear or see or feel – and trust – the whispers or shouts from within that can put you back on track. You will feel the resonance of you truth if who you are is congruent with where you are going. The synopsis of how others gained from their pain can be a beacon shining on what you can gain as well. Read on.
Ellen, a photo editor, called me when I had already written seven chapters of this book. “Was it too late to participate?” she asked. I gladly set up an appointment to speak with her.
When I opened the door, I noticed immediately how well she looked. Her facial features were soft and relaxed. Her twin son and daughter were 14 months old and she was back to her very challenging job. Yet she looked younger than her 42 years and younger than she had looked when she was in the midst of the infertility crisis.
Ellen told me that she had a breakthrough moment recently which made her say to herself, “Oh my God, I want to contact Helen and be a part of her book. All of a sudden, I realized that I am using all of these things that I learned. I’ve grown from this experience.
I realized the incredible joy that has resulted from our pursuit of this goal. It is a miracle. Miracles are possible if you really set your sights on them. I am joyous every minute that I’m with the babies and never forget that feeling when I am away from them.” No wonder she looked so good.
This breakthrough came at a point in time when Ellen had been feeling stressed and tired from her two full time jobs – work and motherhood. She felt jubilant to realize that not only did being a mommy bring her to a place where joy, all kinds of joy, were central to her life, but she now was realizing that she had the tools to apply to this next challenging phase of her life when the combination of parenthood and professionalism intensified demands on her. When she realized that the self-awareness tools she had learned and used to get through the infertility crisis were the tools she could recruit now to deal with her new life stressors, she called me immediately because she wanted you, the reader, to know it.
In her twenties and again in her thirties, Ellen had participated in Outward Bound. They had been the biggest challenges of her life. Now she understood that infertility “was like Outward Bound in that it strips you to be face to face with yourself and shows you your inner strength. I now know that infertility was the biggest Outward Bound of all.” I might add that it can also be the biggest inward bound experience if you let it.
Ellen also wanted you to know that “when you are at the beginning of any challenge, it is never obvious which path you should take.” She began her quest to parenthood at 39. Herbs and acupuncture did not bring her FSH down. Clomid and inseminations got her nowhere. Ultimately, the third Reproductive Endocrinologist and the second Ovum Donation cycle was when she hit the jackpot. Her babies were born when she was 41.
Authenticity for Ellen cuts a wide swath. It resides in the awareness of her inner strength, in an unshakeable resolve to do everything possible to get to any goal, and in never letting herself move very far away from experiencing joy. Along with joy has come an intense love. This struggle really opened her heart to the babies and her husband in ways that had been unimaginable.
Ellen also takes great pleasure in the awareness that her level of self-esteem has risen. She has achieved a belief in herself and a faith that if she needs help, she can get help. If she has one regret it was that she did not reach out to me for emotional help sooner, now thinking that the struggle might have been shorter.
An important aspect of living from a place of authenticity for Ellen that she wanted to be sure I shared with you, was the importance of acceptance. “I realized along the way,” she told me, “that people who are successful don’t keep trying to do something the same way when it doesn’t work. I had to step back from myself and look at the bigger picture with flexibility. I accepted ovum donation and I was prepared to accept adoption if need be.” … .
For many more examples of how it is possible to benefit from struggling with infertility, read the rest of chapter 10 in On Fertile Ground: Healing Infertility.