The problem with well-intentioned ‘baby’ comments

A friend once said to me, “you won’t be happy until you have a baby in your arms!”

The problem with this and other well-intentioned comments coming from well-intentioned people is that they believe it’s all about the endgame: the baby.

Yes, of course it is about that BUT it’s not solely about that and when we make the baby the focus, we miss you – the woman and more importantly we miss the mother you will become.

What the endgame comment does is exclude the psychological and emotional impact of infertility – it narrows the focus and misses the wider picture.

In general, for women the biggest issue is body image. Body image and self-esteem usually (though not exclusively) go hand in hand. If we make the infertility issue about the baby, then we are ignoring that your self-concepts are being threatened – that there is naturally a loss in self-confidence and self-esteem, and your body image will be adversely affected.

Many women experiencing infertility express feeling “broken”, “empty”, “less than a woman”; and many feel that it is a “personal failing”. Can simply having a baby resolve these psychological issues? And that’s what the endgame assumes.

I can’t help but wonder what kind of mother does a woman who feels this way go on to be?

And are we negligent if we just assume that a baby will make everything all better?

The stress of infertility treatment has been shown to make some women more susceptible to postpartum depression. And it’s no wonder, a study found that women with infertility felt as anxious or depressed as those diagnosed with cancer, hypertension or recovering from heart attack.

If your self-esteem and self-confidence aren’t openly addressed before or during pregnancy; can we confidently expect you to openly discuss postpartum depression (PND)? There is still so much stigma around PND alone. A woman who has longed and anguished for a baby, who has undergone numerous treatments, who has struggled for years; may feel she should be grateful for a baby and that she can’t complain if she finds herself suffering from PND – again she is silenced by shame.

And let’s consider if left untreated body image issues and self-esteem issues can lead to more serious mental health concerns.

So, what needs to happen?

Infertility treatment needs to consider the whole you – not just the physical issues you’re facing, but the psychological, emotional and spiritual issues too.

In an ideal world, I would like to see a long-term focus, that concerns how you will flourish as a family? What support may you need – especially post-natal? This may take the form of follow-up post-natal counselling sessions for example.

Nothing can prepare you for the stresses of having a baby; and yet there needs to be awareness of the infertility-anxieties that you may currently have, and that these and other anxieties may persist into motherhood if not addressed.

It’s also important for you to be aware of your mental health and to speak to your doctors as part of your infertility treatment; be conscious of your whole health and wellbeing and take action if you feel any part is adversely suffering.

Talking therapies can help whether during infertility treatment or after (it’s never too late).

Here’s how:

  • Personally, therapy helped me to reflect on my feelings in a safe and containing way, which at the time was super important because I didn’t feel I had anywhere else to offload. There is also something freeing about leaving it all there, it’s like dumping your rubbish. A good therapist will do that, become your support system.
  • Therapy is the mirror you never knew you needed. A therapist will reflect back to you, your own words – how you think and feel about yourself, which helps you to realise how negative and toxic your self-image has become. Then you can start to address your self-image or body-image. The endgame comment doesn’t reflect back to you, it passes through you because it’s only part of the story. Therapy is concerned with the whole story.
  • Therapy helps to build confidence and self-esteem, within the safety of the therapeutic relationship you can explore your image which can bring about new insights and perspectives on yourself, your relationships, experiences and what you want from life.

You might find in therapy you rarely talk about the endgame – why? Because the focus is on you of course.

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