Falling into the baby (fulfilment) trap
“I’ll be happy when…”
It starts off simply enough, four simple words. Possibly not phrased that way. Possibly simpler. A want.
A simple want that comes from a simple idea – I describe it as being like Inception™️.
A simple thought that grows to an all-consuming want, that takes over every thought, every feeling and every action.
I’ve been there.
Cave with metal bars and gate opening on to a sunset sea-view
I now understand it as the Fulfilment trap.
It’s a trap because you literally fall into an idea or a want that is so hard to get out off. It’s a trap because it’s hiding something else.
There are many kinds of traps – jobs, cars, houses, marriage.
Mine: having another baby.
It might seem almost incredulous to put that there – because it’s natural to want to have a family, in fact most people want children, in fact that’s exactly how the human species are designed – to pro-create, to carry-on the said species.
So why does having a baby belong in the fulfilment trap?
The fulfilment trap is the belief that X will bring the happiness you desire. The belief that happiness comes from something external to yourself. The things we accumulate have become a marker for success and therefore, our happiness. For some that would be a new car, a bigger house, a better job.
For others its getting pregnant and having a baby.
And when that idea becomes all-consuming, when you make plans around actualising that idea; that’s when we need to search a little deeper for what else could be going on.
It wasn’t just that I wanted another baby, it was also that it wasn’t happening – it made the want even greater, almost unbearable. When the idealised object is out of your grasp, you tell yourself that you’re not worthy, you’re not good enough, you’re a failure. It becomes that there is something fundamentally wrong with you and that is why you haven’t achieved it yet.
This all happens outside of conscious awareness of course.
So, what could be happening on a deeper level? What is the want possibly attempting to fill?
Existential vacuum anyone? The pervasive emptiness, that you will do anything to fill. And this I believe is where most people find themselves, especially in the therapy room. Asking, who am I? What’s my purpose? Why am I here?
These are hard questions to answer. So hard that many people don’t even attempt to ask the questions in the first place.
As children we are not taught about fulfilment, a teacher wouldn’t ask what makes you happy. And parents have expectations on their children – what they will grow up to be, who they will be, excluding all notion of what might make them happy (again mistaking things and wealth, as a marker for success and therefore – happiness). We are taught that there are lessons to be learnt, answers to be got right – to achieve and accomplish, to try harder, to do better.
It’s ingrained into our collective conditioning that a happy life follows a simple plan: school, university, good job, therefore good wage, work, marriage, children, end. There is so much missing from here, it’s unreal! And yet it’s no wonder that so many of us feel so unhappy and disillusioned with our lives that aren’t going to “plan”.
Life cannot be followed by a step-by-step, one-size-fits-all plan. We know this and yet we strive for it because “everyone else is doing it”. Our friends have good jobs and earn good money. Our friends have really nice houses and go on really nice holidays. Our friends are happily married and have 2.4 kids.
“I should be too…”
If there is anything that will leave you feeling more unfulfilled about your life, then it’s that one little word – SHOULD.
We “should” all over ourselves, and it’s harmful. Constantly thinking about what we should or shouldn’t be doing, compared to others, compared to the “plan”. There are no rules – there is nothing we should be doing, there is only what we want to do and what we don’t want to do. Yet that seems harder to locate within ourselves – what we really want.
I’m not saying that every woman that finds herself with fertility issues or struggling to conceive is stuck in the fulfilment trap.
What I’m saying is, for some women who find themselves in that empty space of trying to conceive, where they are in despair and desperate to get pregnant – there maybe other issues to be addressed. What lies underneath the want? Perhaps more reflection is needed on that for a while, from her, from the fertility industry, from society as a whole.
The other part of the trap – is inevitably the coveted object doesn’t bring the happiness that is expected. The emptiness pervades.
Not everyone who has a child(ren) is fulfilled.
It is an idealised notion that a woman should be fulfilled by motherhood alone and we now know that it is not the case as more women open up about the stark realities of modern-day motherhood.
So, if it is not fulfilling – what is missing? What is the answer to the fulfilment trap?
Firstly, it’s acknowledging that nothing outside of ourselves can change what is within us. Which means we have got to unlearn what is no longer serving us – that being: valuing false wants over real needs.
Discovering what our real needs are, takes commitment to getting to know ourselves. How do you do that? Taking the time to discover what makes you happy, what you like to do, what you don’t like to do. To ask yourself, if I had the car, or the shiny new handbag – would that be enough, or would I want something else?
It’s sitting quietly with yourself and asking those important life questions. It’s making time for this every day. I call it my daily check-in. I’m not doing anything – not washing up, not reading, those are all me-time; this is different I’m talking about a check-in, a conversation with yourself.
I truly believe that happiness is not something that you pursue, it is something that you are. How do you know you are it? Ask yourself. Find yourself.
If you are truly happy would you still have wants? Or would they be different wants?
My wants have changed – I’m happy and I want to do more of what I love to do, what I enjoy.
That want for a baby has changed – I don’t long for it anymore, I don’t torture myself. Most importantly I don’t feel empty without this baby anymore, I feel the opposite.
And that comes from feeling more than enough.
When we don’t get those wants, when we fall into that fulfilment trap, we start to feel like our lives – the things in it, the things around it are not good enough, we aren’t good enough.
The British paediatrician and psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott coined the phrase “good enough mother” in 1953. I think its something we can start to think of not just in terms of motherhood, but also in our daily lives’ mothers or not. The concept is that it’s ok to fail, important even especially when coming to terms of living in an imperfect world. More so important, as everyone seems to have got the memo that despite the world being imperfect, we should all have perfect lives.
Winnicott reminds us of that old proverbial saying “to err is human” (Alexander Pope). There is no perfection. Life is not perfect. Perhaps then we can see that, good enough is pretty good.
Time to tear up that memo!
It’s also about realising that chasing that car or house, or baby is keeping you distracted from ultimately chasing your real desires. Those things that we are scared to do, that we tell ourselves that we can’t do, that seem impossible. We are paralysed by fear – the fear of failure, that we don’t even try, that we don’t even allow ourselves to dream our dreams.
Many will be saying at this point – “but I don’t know what I want to do!!” And I say, “but have you even asked yourself?”
Go on, sit down, close your eyes and ask yourself…
Lastly, it’s acknowledging that no matter what, another person cannot fulfil you, not even your own child. A baby grows into a child into an adult, fully self-serving, an individual – external to its parents, with its own ideas, values, wants and opinions. Ultimately, you have no control over their lives than you do anyone else’s. The only thing you control is you – your thoughts, your feelings, your actions.
Be happy for yourself, choose happiness for yourself, your relationship, your family and your life – be the change that you want to see in this world now and for the future that you want for your (potential) child(ren).
Don’t fall into the trap, instead make the choice for how you want to live.
Leave a comment below. Most importantly if you need to talk please contact me at email@example.com, I specialise in fertility counselling and women’s health – don’t suffer in silence.