Helen Adrienne L.C.S.W.

On Fertile Ground

Gain From the Pain

Emotional growth from dealing with the infertility challenge

Posted Feb 09, 2012

Would you believe there’s an upside to infertility? You may think that it’s illogical to think so, but it was the question that I asked in a questionnaire I sent to former patients in preparation for writing my book, On Fertile Ground: Healing Infertility. I asked the question because knew that this condition is ripe for growth.

Any adversity always involves coming to terms with something that you would never have chosen. Looking for what is to be gained is not what concerns us at first. You may even find the idea annoying. But asking,“What’s the upside?” is a way to assign meaning to your life and avoid living with bitterness.

I imagine that you’ve heard the expression, “What doesn’t kill you can make you strong.”

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 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.” Melissa is the mother of two sons now after her battle with infertility.

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, can 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 to what needs to be changed and your resolve to work toward change can gain momentum. 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.

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 your truth if who you are is congruent with where you are going.

Over two dozen women enthusiastically responded to my questionnaire. And chapter 10 of my book is filled with examples of the ways in which veterans of the infertility battle felt that they gained from the pain.

For examples of how it is possible to benefit (!) from struggling with infertility, read chapter 10 in On Fertile Ground: Healing Infertility.