A woman last month asking for a consultation ended her email with “It’s my fault my husband isn’t a dad.” That line broke my heart. She’s not alone in blaming herself for her infertility, for the fertility treatments failing, for the depletion of their budget caused by repeated in vitro fertilization cycles. Have you ever carried this guilt on your shoulders? Have you ever thought that your husband would have been better off married to someone else—someone, let’s say, who was fertile?
The Woulda, Shoulda, Couldas of Infertility
Blaming ourselves for infertility may be futile, but it gives us the illusion of control. No one likes to think that we live in a world where awful things can just happen. It’s far preferable to believe that we caused our suffering because if that’s the case, we can also fix it. Oh, it only it were true!
The truth is that all the forethought and perfect living in the world can not always prevent the tragedy of infertility or failed fertility treatments. Sometimes bad things just happen; sometimes Clomid, IUI, or even IVF doesn’t work, and there is nothing we can do to make it work. And even if there was something we could have or should have done in the past to prevent our infertility, it doesn’t do us any good now to play the shoulda, woulda, coulda game.
We each come into marriage with baggage. It’s unavoidable. Some baggage is heavier than others, but helping the other person carry the load is what a lifetime partnership is all about. We also each bring our own unique sunshine, and our partner gets to bask in that beauty as well. The light and dark are both part of the package that is you. So, if you’re going to blame yourself for your baggage, the least you can do is give yourself credit for the unique goodness you also bring.
View from One Who’s Been There
I received the following from one of our Creating a Family community. It seemed too wise and thoughtful not to share.
Blaming yourself? Totally normal. I did it for years. It was *my* body doing the failing, after all, not my husband’s, so it was my fault, right? Nothing I have ever said has upset my husband more, but I couldn’t help it. I kept thinking “if only…”, trying to find a reason, trying to find the culprit, even though deep down, I knew it was totally baseless.
For me, the self-blame came from an almost desperate need for control. If it was my fault, I could somehow fix it, right? And in the maelstrom of cancer, infertility, and adoption, there isn’t much you *can* control, is there? No wonder we look for something or someone to blame, even if it is ourselves. You *did* lose a part of yourself – your uterus and ovaries. You didn’t lose your life, your soul, your ability to be a good mother or your chance to have children. All those things, the things that make us who we are, you have.
In the end, though, those struggles, along with others, have led me to be a more flexible person and more flexible parent. I am more likely to let the little things go, and roll with it. I have fewer preconceived notions about who I, or my husband, or my son is “supposed to be”, or what motherhood is “supposed to be like”. It was those very struggles, and the long (what felt like interminable) wait that have led me to feel the overwhelming gratitude I feel every single day (not all day, mind you – he is two, after all- but every day) that this beautiful little soul is in our lives. We are so very aware of how precious each day is now, and are able to more fully live each day with him. Just our experience so far. I hope that knowing that others have gone through something similar, and survived, and have started to maybe even thrive, gives others some comfort….
How do you handle the occasional dips into infertility self blame?
Image credit: Andrea Schunert First published in 2013. Updated in 2015.
Add Your Comment
I have been married for eleven yrs to a loving and supporting man. All the years I blamed myself for my infertility, sometimes I’m ok about it but then I will just feel low and wish that he could have married someone else or if I only knew that I’m infertile I would have not considered marriage. All he ever does is to assure me that with or without he loves me. If only I can accept myself .
Oh Beverly, you are so much more than your fertility. Please consider going to a therapist. You deserve to be happy.
Yep–this is me, and I have been struggling with it for over 13 years. Even though my hubby has never blamed me and has been the first one to jump in there and say that we’re in this together, I can’t help but feel guilt that it is *me* keeping him from our dream.
Melinda, like I said in the blog–we’re all a mixed bag of blessings and baggage; and sometimes the two are the same. Our spouses, if we’re lucky, love the whole of us–the good, the bad, and the ugly. And for that we are truly truly blessed.
I have been on this ride my whole life. It’s me. So many times I see the pain I have caused my husband, and my family. I have phases, the sobbing why me, the angry its not fair, the obscessed crazy lady, and my poor husband deals with it. The man must love me because the last ten years he has been there and is still there. We both deal with it differently I hide my emotions to the outside world then vent on him in private. He is unrealistically optimistic maybe it “could” happen or just shuts it down and avoids it altogether.
I felt the chills go up my spine when I saw the title of the post – it could have been taken straight out of my own thoughts. My hubby and I were high school sweethearts, so I’ve known him since he was 16. And in all that time – over 15 years now – I’ve known one major thing about him: that he wanted kids. His youngest sibling is 15 years younger than him, so he got the experience of having a small child in the house when he was a teenager/young adult and was always talking about how much he looked forward to having kids of his own.
Then we started trying and, well, I have PCOS. Along with extremely finicky ovaries that even our well-respected, experienced RE has trouble with. Worst of all, there’s the knowledge that no matter how much persistence, money, time, emotion, hard work, or anything else we throw at this, there is no guarantee we will come out with a child. That it was my body that was messing up, that it was somehow me that couldn’t give him this child he’d wanted his entire life is one of the most painful parts of infertility for me.
For the record, he’s NEVER held me responsible and always said it’s something we’re in together that both of us have to figure out/deal with. He’s a great guy. Even so, I still find myself struggling with some of those thoughts of self-blame.
But that line: “We each come into marriage with baggage. It’s unavoidable. Some baggage is heavier than others, but helping the other person carry the load is what a lifetime partnership is all about.” It’s wonderful. I love that last paragraph. In fact, I may have to print that out and put it somewhere where I can see it, because it’s that good.
Thanks for this post and acknowledging this feeling in infertility. Thanks also for the reassurance and the great words/wisdom here. (Sorry for such a long comment, this really touches a nerve with me!)
Katherine–thank you for your comment. It made my day.
I liked the Amy and Rory exchange. I thought it showed how not talking to your partner about how you feel about your infertility can absolutely destroy your relationship. Amy blamed herself and thought that Rory would be better off without her. People do that sometimes and it hurts too much to say that out loud, so she didn’t (until that moment). Instead, she let it fester inside her and she pushed Rory away because of it. You’re right. It’s not a good depiction of what people should do, but it was a very moving scene depicting the things that people do despite the “shoulds”. I thought the take away point from it was that communication is essential. If you don’t talk, you lose all the good moments you could have been having with each other to depression and anger… Didn’t want to hijack the thread, but I wanted to give another perspective on that scene.
Kelley, you certainly didn’t hijack, you added dimension. I have got to start watching that show. One of my kids loves it and keeps telling me I need to catch up.
Rayne [I NEVER failed my husband. My body failed me but I had no control over that. It is a disease that I didn’t create, it was just the hand I was dealt. ] Well said!!
Yet another good post and oh so true. Before we had a reason for our infertility issues, I just knew it was me. I even told my husband to find another woman to fulfill the things I couldn’t, giving him a child. And I was serious. It was unbearable to know that everything we tried wasn’t working and every test was finding nothing wrong. That’s how we spent the first 5 years of our marriage. Imagine knowing at 23 that I wouldn’t be able to give my husband a child. That’s what a woman’s body is made for after all. And I longed to be a mother and experience pregnancy. I blamed myself all the time for failing as a woman, as a wife and just in general. It was a horrible way to feel. Many dark days in that place. After our 3rd IUI and 2nd miscarriage, we decided to forget having a biological child and just be parents. We brought home our newborn son in just 9 months after we made that decision. And it was by far the best decision we had made. It allowed me to be a parent, to grieve the failure of my body a little less and to enjoy life a lot more. But don’t let that make you think that I quit blaming myself. We did more testing when our son was 2.5 years old and found out the cause of our issues and guess what?? It was me! Big shock. Thankfully, we were able to receive treatment and get pregnant (so my husband will get that baby that is his own flesh and blood). But what I learned from all of this….I NEVER failed my husband. My body failed me but I had no control over that. It is a disease that I didn’t create, it was just the hand I was dealt. A child that looks like us was never the most important thing in our marriage, the wanting to become parents was. And we had the most amazing son. I will never blame myself for what I can’t control, as hard as that is, because without those struggles I wouldn’t know how strong I am, we are as a couple and we wouldn’t cherish being parents like we do now.
The biological issue may be mine, but the pain is ours. For me, remembering that is important. To take the fault on to my shoulders and let it weigh me down wouldn’t have been fair to him or to me. My husband doesn’t care that it’s my body that’s a bit whacko; he cares that we had to struggle with infertility. His pain isn’t any less deep than mine because his body works properly. Infertility is our challenge and our burden and our pain regardless of which body contains its root cause. Doesn’t make the pain go away when you’re in the middle of it, but sharing the struggle lets you both feel ownership of the experience and, we found, makes it easier to tackle.
Besides, it’s not like we’re not in this together. We made a joint decision to try to have kids, we cried on each others’ shoulders every month when I needed to go to the store to pick up more supplies, and we made a joint journey to identify why the easiest route to that goal of parenthood wasn’t working. We then made a decision together to become adoptive parents. The daughter we are now raising is our child. If we (I) had managed to get pregnant, then we would still be raising our child. Not his child, not my child, but our child.
Last but not least…we got married because we loved each other, crazy flaws and all. We didn’t marry each other to become parents. I never saw my husband as a sperm donor to have my biological baby, and I really,really doubt he ever saw me as a uterus and egg donor so he could have his biological baby. It’s really important to remember that we’re all whole people with lots of dimensions. It’s so easy, especially when loaded up with doctors’ appointments ad infinitum, to get focused on the bits that don’t work, but we all have so much more to give to each other, especially when going through hard times. Arms for hugging? Still work. Sense of humor? check. A mouth to smile and laugh and share supportive words or the pain of a particularly bad day? yup. Eyes and ears for watching and listening carefully? absolutely. A heart and warmth to share experiences and pain and make them just a little bit easier to bear? Yeah, all that too.
Anon AP, it is sometimes hard to remember when in the midst of pain and fertility treatments, but then people can read your wise words to help them keep infertility in perspective. Thanks for sharing them.
Carole, I think I would have answered a simple “yes”.
The thing is sometimes we are not the one assigning the blame, other people are… Some family members when they found out we are struggling to conceive their first question was “so is it you or him”? One of these people being my own mom
Oh, oh! and one more thing because I’ve been pissed about this ever since it aired. Anyone else watch Doctor Who? There’s an episode in Season 7 called “Asylum of the Daleks”, and as part of the plotline, two of the main character are getting a divorce. In the middle of a big ol’ fight, they get into an argument about who loves whom more, and this delightful bit of dialogue comes out [if you want an explanation of the box thing or Demon’s Run, then it’ll take a while. Just go with it…]:
RORY: Amy, you kicked me out.
AMY: You want kids. You have always wanted kids. Ever since you were a kid. And I can’t have them.
RORY: I know.
AMY: Whatever they did to me at Demons Run, I can’t ever give you children. I didn’t kick you out. I gave you up.
RORY: Amy, I don’t
AMY: Don’t you dare talk to me about waiting outside a box, because that is nothing, Rory, nothing, compared to giving you up.
That’s right, Ladies and Gentlemen! If you really love someone then, if you can’t have kids, it’s apparently Noble and Grand to “give them up” so they can go off and have kids with someone else. And not tell them about your reasoning. A whatawho? And oh yeah: bite me, BBC.
I know representations of infertility and its aftermath in media weren’t the topic here, but the question of fault just brought this to mind. One of many such examples in books and TV and movies that rile me up.
PS: for any who were wondering, Rory and Amy make up, decide they love each other and that the whole divorce for infertility thing is ridiculous. Yeah, yeah. Damage is done, stinkers.
Yeah Anon AP, screw the BBC for their stupidity! (And for the record, I have no clue who these guys are or anything else about the show–just showing solidarity for the infertiles of the world.)