Infertility’s a Beast, Part 2: Tame It

In my previous post about The Infertility Beast, I introduced you to the 5 heads of my personal Beast: Betrayal; Entitlement; Envy; Grief; Immortality. (Side note: I capitalize the heads of The Beast because they are meant to be names, i.e., proper nouns.) In this post, I am going to talk about taming The Beast. Why not just “slay” (i.e., destroy, kill, obliterate) The Beast and be done with it, you ask? Well… it’s tricky. I often wonder if it’s even possible to slay The Beast. Some people assume having a baby is the answer to slaying The Beast, but I emphatically disagree.

I mean… who expects a teeny baby to slay a snarling beast anyway?!

And isn’t that pretty much what we are doing when we assume having a baby will quiet our Beast? Don’t fall for the lie. Beast-taming is a job for a grown adult, likely with the help of other grown adults. Even if I were able to somehow maintain a full-term pregnancy and give birth to a healthy child (that ship has sailed, but hypothetically speaking…), I suspect The Beast would still be there. Only, maybe it wouldn’t be my Infertility Beast anymore. Maybe it would become my “Insecurity Beast” or my “Inadequacy Beast” or my “Inartistic Beast” or any other kind of Beast that manifests in the midst of our greatest fears and discontentment.

Yes, this makes The Beast something that nearly everyone – not just those of us experiencing infertility – must contend with, but we will stick to the matter at hand for now.

No matter how many heads The Beast has or how powerful it is, it was most likely born out of those two aforementioned things: fear and discontentment. There are volumes written on each of these human conditions, by serious smartypants types, so consider this post my humble $.02 (two cents) on the matter and please be sure to read more from other sources as you can. But, even in the face of the inevitable fears and discontentments of this life, YOU can tame your Beast. By “tame,” I mean that you can reverse the power that has shifted to The Beast and put yourself back in charge, thereby quieting The Beast and restoring a sense of peace in your life. Sounds pretty awesome, eh? More on that in a moment. First, a glimpse:

The last Monday of my fourth and final pregnancy, week 13, lying on an exam table in the women’s care clinic with a gel-slicked doppler pushed up against my belly, I was nervous and needed a distraction, so I chose to focus on the poster directly above me on the ceiling, which featured butterflies. Six butterflies. One for each color of the rainbow except for my favorite color since toddlerhood, yellow. No yellow butterfly.

No yellow butterfly and no heartbeat.

But wait… that sound… 143 bpm (beats per minute). “There!” exclaimed the young nurse, optimistically.

The midwife frowned, shook her head, and gestured toward me, “That’s her.”

The pace of my own frantic heartbeat betrayed the stillness of my body and my countenance as I silently stared at the ceiling poster.

Then an ultrasound on an ancient machine confirmed no heartbeat. A second ultrasound at a different clinic (where my midwife also worked, which had more advanced ultrasound machines) confirmed for the final time, no heartbeat.

The ultrasound tech reminded me of a sweet high school friend I hadn’t seen in 10 years, which was God’s gift to me in that moment. As she helped me sit up, the midwife gently explained to Jared (my husband) and me what to expect if the miscarriage is completed at home. She warned the experience would be different – more painful, higher chance of complications – than our first 3 miscarriages since this one was considered a second trimester loss. And in case it didn’t complete in the next 72 hours, a D&C was scheduled.

I turned to Jared and blankly stated, “Screw it. I’m getting ice cream.”

Mercifully, there was a Graeter’s store across the street. In an effort to preserve this pregnancy, I had sworn off delicious sugar and all manner of unhealthy foods. But there was no way I was going to endure another miscarriage without ice cream.

In the wee hours of Thursday morning, the day the D&C was scheduled, many of my midwife’s warnings were soundly confirmed as I delivered at home. I found myself whispering praises to God, a surprise to my own ears; thankful I was able to miscarry in the comfort of my home instead of on an operation table. Thankful I could have a moment with just the two of us… “Hello and good-bye for now, Little One.”

* * * * *

There were 3 ways I considered tackling this post about how to tame The Beast. My first thought was to discuss taming each of the 5 heads separately. The second idea was to take a domain approach, loosely placing each of the 5 heads into a personal wellness domain as follows:

Physical domain –> Betrayal
Social domain –> Envy
Intellectual domain –> Entitlement
Emotional domain –> Grief
Spiritual domain –> Immortality.

Unfortunately, though I fancied myself quite clever on this one, I realized both of the first 2 ideas were only specific to taming MY Beast and might not necessarily work across the board. So, we are going with the third idea: General rules for taming The Beast.

1.) Know your Beast.
I hope you’ve read about my Beast and its 5 heads in the previous post. If you haven’t yet taken the time to identify and get to know your own Beast, you may want to do that now. It may help to get a sheet of paper and jot down the answers to the following questions: How many heads does your Beast have and what are their names? How long have you known your Beast? How do you know when The Beast is striking (i.e., how does The Beast impact your daily life)? How do you respond when it strikes? Perhaps you could ask someone close to you who has your deepest trust if they have ever spotted your Beast and ask what they have observed about it and how they see it impacting you.

Bottom line: Take a good, long, honest look at your Beast so you really know what you’re dealing with moving forward.

2.) Stop Feeding The Beast
The Beast finds plenty to eat without you even trying, so avoiding deliberate feeding is best. It’s all in your response to The Beast. Success usually comes in the form of giving yourself an extra dose of grace and exercising self-care. For example, the Betrayal head feeds on shame and self-disgust. You saw in the story above how I responded to Betrayal… I ate ice cream. I ate a LOT of ice cream and other junk over the next few months, enough to gain 25 pounds (!), apparently trying to punish my body. It backfired. Not only was I still infertile, but I started to despise the way I looked, too. This was all Beast food. The summer following my final miscarriage, after some good grief counseling among other things, I committed to doing something big and something good for my body; I concurrently did the Beachbody P90X workout program and The Maker’s Diet. Well, most of it anyway. I only lost 12 pounds over the course of about 9 weeks of solid commitment, but I emerged healthier, stronger, and more ready than ever to face down The Beast.

Bottom line: Self-care in response to Betrayal put that head in its place like nothing else could, and kept me from feeding The Beast further. To this day, if I get too off track with self-care (in any domain, but especially the physical), Betrayal rears its head. You’ll see self-care is a common theme throughout all aspects of taming The Beast. What kind of things does your Beast feed on? How can you respond to The Beast in order to avoid feeding it? In what ways can self-care help you tame your Beast?

3.) Chop Off the Entitlement Head
I dreaded addressing Entitlement because I know how super-sensitive I used to be about it and I have no doubt others reading this might be as well. Please stick with me, even if it stings. Of all the different heads we Sisters on the infertility path might experience with our Beasts, this is probably the most common one I’ve seen. Also the most destructive. Entitlement tends to strike hardest toward the beginning of the infertility journey, when reality is starting to settle in. This is partly due to the fact that our society makes reproduction an entitlement of adulthood – having children is seen as an inherent right. Though the topic of whether or not biological reproduction is, indeed, a “right” is a hairy one, I don’t mind sharing that I personally no longer claim it as a right. The point is that society undeniably feeds our sense of reproductive entitlement from the get-go, so infertility (which usually feeds the perception of a right being violated or denied) easily puts that sense of entitlement into high gear and often takes it to a very unhealthy place, which is a feast for the Beast (see #2 above). Please go back and read about my Entitlement head for a refresher.

All the talk about “taming The Beast” does not apply to Entitlement. Entitlement cannot be tamed. I repeat: ENTITLEMENT CANNOT BE TAMED. Besides adding to your personal misery, likely without you even realizing it because it often goes unspoken and is also adept at puffing up your ego, Entitlement objectifies babies by degrading them to something earned or deserved based on personal merit of some kind. It makes them a “right” to be obtained or a prize to be won in the fertility game. It sounds ugly and wrong because it IS ugly and wrong. It will take discipline – it will require you to face your fears and your discontentments honestly and boldly. It will require a different level of humility and surrender than we are comfortable with in our society. It may even require you to reframe your sense of identity and your entire perspective, but Entitlement can be slain. Hear this: Once you are freed from Entitlement, it is a game-changer. Your whole perspective on infertility and life in general will absolutely be transformed for the better. And taming The Beast without the Entitlement head is practically a breeze.

While this isn’t a 12-step program, the first step is admitting that you have a problem. Only you know if Entitlement has you in its jaws, but there is a good chance that if it doesn’t now, it has at one time or another. Only you can determine what kind of response will slay Entitlement. Here is what worked for me: I found that Entitlement simply could not survive in an environment of genuine gratitude and delight. I once had a friend struggling with severe depression tell me that I was one of the most joyful people she knew. This caught me off guard as it was barely a year after the miscarriage and I had become aware that Entitlement was still a struggle for me. Not long after that, an acquaintance slipped a note in to my mailbox simply to say that my smile encourages her and that “I glow with contagious joy.” Again, I was like… Huh? Me?! But those words encouraged me and gave me hope that I was going to be victorious in the battle. The light was starting to shine through the clouds, freedom was within reach. I post quotes and Scriptures around my home (my favorite place is inside cabinet doors that I open often) that inspire me and remind me of who I am in Christ. I make an effort to welcome a gift-perspective daily (Jared recently blogged about gift-perspective as a Christian, feel free to check it out). I found my talent anew and I practice it. I spend time in nature where I feel extra close to my Creator. I take self-care in all domains seriously (i.e., physically, intellectually, emotionally, socially, spiritually). I foster meaningful relationships (more on that in #4 below). Jared and I, openly and often, reflected on what motivated us to become parents. We rooted out anything that was selfish or not of pure love toward potential future children and rejected it outright. This helped us make the decision to close the door on biological reproduction permanently. I’m not suggesting this is the right choice for everyone, but it was absolutely the right choice for us and, now several years later, we have only been blessed by that decision and have no regrets. Most importantly, I eventually renewed my identity as a child of God through Jesus Christ and have stayed deeply grounded in that identity. That is when Entitlement took its last gasp. That is where my joy comes from and it is untouchable.

Bottom Line: Entitlement is the easiest part of the Beast to hold on to, sometimes unknowingly, but it is also the most destructive. It cannot be tamed. Cut off Entitlement and be transformed for the better! Is Entitlement one of the heads on your Beast? What will help you defeat Entitlement once and for all?

4.) Connect, Connect, Connect
One thing The Beast loves to do is isolate you because The Beast apparently knows we were all made by our Creator explicitly for meaningful relationships, so it will do everything in its power to restrict that in your life.* It’s The Beast’s classic move – keeping you feeling alone on the path so that it can make itself your main companion. Creepy, right? Some alone time, unplugged and disconnected from the world, is healthy and needed, but too much can lead to indulgent forms of wallowing that can easily carry you away to the dark places you do not want to go. Being on the infertility path is just plain hard on all of your most important relationships. Without deliberate care, those relationships will start to show the battle wounds pretty quickly. Even if you and your spouse are currently in a good place with each other, I would still recommend talking with a trusted counselor. I have personally participated in one-on-one counseling and Jared and I have also done marital counseling. Both were extremely helpful. So helpful that I can’t imagine walking this path without a good counselor. Counselors are very familiar with The Beast, they’ve been well trained in Beast-taming, and the right counselor will empower you exponentially as you face your Beast (they may not call it The Beast, but it’s the same idea). They are also pros at helping clients with anything and everything to do with relationships. The sad reality is that GOOD counselors are not always plentiful, especially in rural areas. I know this from personal experience. If this is the case for you, maybe finding a counselor open to working with you over video chat or other online means is a good option. Counseling is an act of strength, wisdom, and beautiful self-care. Regardless of whether you decide to pursue a counseling relationship, be intentional about maintaining the health of your relationships, especially your relationship with your spouse and others who are closest to you.

Another important way to connect is by finding at least one other friend who is also on the path. Preferably a friend who is also well aware of her own Beast. In the first week following my fourth miscarriage, I had returned to full-time graduate classes and was not doing well emotionally. Another classmate, a stranger to me at the time, noticed and reached out to me by saying, “Me, too” in an email. We have been friends ever since. I can’t quite describe how much of a lifeline that was to me… it made such a difference. Since then, I have become a “Me, too” friend to many Sisters on the path. We might not live in the same community or talk as often as we’d like, but we understand each other and we share a special bond that I deeply cherish. That very first “Me, too” friend inspired me to facilitate a local chapter of Share, which is a national infant and pregnancy loss support organization. If you haven’t yet, I would encourage you to seek an infertility and/or pregnancy loss support group in your area and get involved. You will find support on your journey in a way nothing and no one else can provide and also, even if just by your presence (if you don’t feel you have the strength to do more at this time), engage in the precious task of supporting others in their journey. Even in your pain, even when The Beast is snarling, even when you are at your lowest, most of us Sisters have so much to give and gain from a support group setting.

Bottom line: Relationships are everything. Don’t let The Beast isolate you! Reach out, connect with others, passionately guard the health of your closest relationships, find your “Me, too” friend and don’t shrink away from the opportunity to be a “Me, too” friend to others. Maintaining strong relationships is the major key to taming your Beast. Who is your “Me, too” friend? Do you know someone who could use a “Me, too” friend? What can you do to guard the well-being of your relationships with those you love throughout the hardest parts of the journey?

Go forth and tame your Beast!

*Talking about the idea that we are all made by God for loving, meaningful relationship is one of my passions, but I know the concept might sound a little obscure for some people as it borders on “Christianese.” Forgive me, please. I hope to write more on this in the future. In the meantime, if you’d like to discuss this further, or anything I’ve written here, please don’t hesitate to contact me at TwirledPeace@gmail.com

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