I am going to risk moving from comparing infertility to a football match to being in a concentration camp. Bear with me on this one…
Viktor Frankl was a psychologist during the war and ended up in concentration camps. Whilst he was there he studied the difference between those people that survived the continued mental and physical torture and those that mentally gave up and were not able to take any more – giving in to physical starvation or no longer being able to obey the guards meaningless orders resulting in them being shot.
Frankl identified a main differences between those that survived and those that didn’t. Those that survived gave up their choice in response to any given situation. When a gun was pointed to them and they were given an order they thought they had no choice, they do it or they die. They had also lost any sense of purpose in their life.
The good news is that things can be different.
Frankl began to show them that even with a gun to their head they had free will. They still had a choice whether to obey or not. Choosing to their attitude in whether to obey was still their conscious decision, no one could take away that sense of self, their freedom to choose. They could have chosen to die if they wanted to, some did.
“Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” Viktor Frankl
Frankl also starting showing the men in the concentration camp that they still had a purpose. They didn’t believe they would survive the ordeal, not knowing whether their wife/family were alive or not, they suspected not. So, everything they had, their roles as a husband/father had been lost, they felt life had no purpose. You can imagine how that would be in a concentration camp. Frankl showed them how their purpose was to be the best husband/father they can be, how they didn’t know their families fate and they had to ensure they survived for the sake of their families – what if their families survived and they didn’t? They needed to ensure they were there to continue to be the father/husband to their family.
Frankl recognised these two factors (having a purpose and awareness of choice) are a key element to someones level of happiness in life and after the war went on to utilise them in his own approach to therapy.
I can see that on our infertility journey. We didn’t choose it. We had no choice. I also believed we were born to parent. We both worked in youthwork, were respite foster carers, we parented/mentored many young people – it’s what we loved to do the most, seeing them reach their full potential. I believed our purpose was to be parents and we had no choice in our childlessness, we didn’t choose infertility, I began to feel powerless and lost in life.
The good news is that although you cannot change the fact you are currently struggling to get pregnant you do have control over your response to that. Infertility may be the gun at your head however you can chose how you respond.
Do you accept the situation, begin to find peace and move on, or do you continue to believe your thoughts and the stories they are telling you, fight reality and feel the anger, pain and resentment – which is exhausting.
As I have said before accepting does not mean giving up, far from it. It means continuing the journey from a place of peace and being resourced rather than depleted and exhausted. I woke up one day and realised I had given all sense of choice in how I feel to the infertility. I was almost using it as an excuse to feel sorry for myself. Then I realised I had a choice. I could either go one feeling sorry for myself, angry with the world or accept and begin to move on to a better place.
What about purpose? We were so heavily involved in many local projects and commitments our purpose became to put ourselves and our marriage first for a change. So our purpose at that stage in our life was to have fun as a couple and invest in our relationship, not that there was anything necessarily wrong with it (although infertility can be a strain on any relationship), we just decided it was time out time and energy went on ourselves for a while. We planned for me to jack in my job I didn’t like and we were to go around Europe with a campervan without dog (yep, another childless couple with a dog!).
We were able to get to this place from a place of acceptance – not denial or running away. We went through the grieving process, grieved our childlessness, without giving up – when you grieve someone you do not stop loving them and wishing they were with you again, however once through the grieving process it is from a place of peace.
“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom”. Viktor Frankl