Why being “strong” will not help you with infertility

I saw a post today, it bothered me, and then it got me thinking about why it bothered me!

It said and I quote: “strong women make strong mothers”

It was an IVF page, giving encouragement to those experiencing the challenges of IVF and infertility treatments – which is much needed and more pages like it too. I get the sentiment of the statement.

Because yeah, it’s a hell of a journey which often feels like you have no choice but to continue on it.

What concerns me is the word “strong”.

Language is problematic at the best of times because words mean different things to different people. And that word is powerfully descriptive.

I wonder how many women reading that will think that they have to soldier on without complaining or asking for the much needed support they deserve? And how many still will carry that belief into motherhood and feel that they should be grateful for the bouncing baby that they prayed hard for and so won’t bring themselves to say aloud actually this is really f**king hard?

That’s my concern.

When experiencing infertility, you can be made to feel like there are far worse things in the world to be upset about.

“I shouldn’t be upset; I know there are people in worse situations than me”

As a therapist this makes me sad because so many clients have learnt to invalidate their emotions, to play it small, to not feel the value of their experiences as they see it.

Because yes it’s true, there is always going to be someone somewhere who has it worse – but this is YOUR life, YOUR story and it matters.

You can be the hero of your story for sure – strong, shiny and glorious, continually fighting and triumphing; looking great while at it. But doesn’t make for a good story does it.

Or you can be the hero that strives hard to overcome adversity, who hits rock bottom and comes back to triumph another day – who looks like they’ve been in the fight of their lives and lived to tell the amazing tale.

Tell me, does any hero come without flaws?

The simple truth is you cannot know strength without being weak. And the hero knows this.

However, when statements like that are used it’s often without the context or the importance of its opposite: weakness. It takes strength to be vulnerable, to ask for help, to lean on others for support.

Life throws everyone challenges and it’s how you deal with those challenges that makes the difference; the more you can learn to be with your pain rather than hide it, numb it or escape from it the better you will be and feel.

By perpetuating the idea of “strong women” we silence those who don’t feel strong but think they must be.

What worries me more is the idea of a “strong mother” – I don’t even know what that means! Motherhood is the hardest, most under-appreciated role in the world. Of course, there are truly amazing moments but most of the time it kicks you on your ass backwards! And what makes it worse is the person kicking you is you!

You will never doubt yourself more than when you are a mother. You will continually question if you’re doing it right. You will feel like you’re not doing a good enough job on more than one occasion (plenty more). And you will cry – A LOT: from frustration, anger, worry but mainly from sheer exhaustion.

“Strong mother’s” don’t exist but real mothers do, and real mothers talk about the realities, the difficulties and how they really feel.

Mothers need support as much or more than anyone. And yet there is still a lot of work to do, to end the stigma around post-natal depression (PND). Many women struggle in silence for fear of losing their children, or out of shame of not being able to cope. 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, first by infertility and second by PND.

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.

The realism is that infertility takes its toll and we can’t ignore the fact – because by ignoring it there is detrimental effects for you and your potential family.

I’m not saying you’re not strong. I’m saying don’t hide your real feelings behind a façade of strength. It’s okay to feel pain and hurt and anguish. It’s okay to feel whatever it is YOU feel. It’s okay to ask for help.

It’s definitely okay to not be strong.

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