Is it any wonder women who have struggled with infertility have difficulty finding peace or feeling accepted? Sheesh! The drubbing my people took in The New York Times Motherlode comments last weekend was brutal. (Warning: some truly hateful thoughts — and many of these came from parents!? Just what kind of example are they setting?) I think we might be ready for a group hug — at a minimum some validation and a grounding in why the nastier comments can cut so deeply.
As any observer of human behavior knows we crave a sense of belonging. Abraham Maslow made that clear in his seminal work on needs. As you’ll see here (left) his hierarchy calls out our need for “belonging” once our more basic needs are met. Without a sense of belonging we “become increasing susceptible to loneliness and social anxieties.”
And yet, as the judgments contained in many of the comments made loud and clear, it’s hard to find a sense of belonging when there’s a high risk of being rejected and condemned for being infertile and on a path that doesn’t include parenting in some form or another. Evidence of the smoldering stigma of infertility isn’t usually so overt but it’s clearly there and we’d be less than human if it didn’t do a number on our self-esteem at some level.
The definition of social stigma is:
severe social disapproval of personal characteristics or beliefs that are perceived to be against cultural norms, or an attribute that extensively discredits an individual, reducing him or her from a whole and usual person to a tainted, discounted one.
Nice, huh? As if the task of mending our souls after the losses of infertility aren’t tough enough! Seems laboring under a stigma makes the once painful sting of being chosen last on the playing field in elementary school or being rejected by the popular crowd seem like a cakewalk by comparison. Check out this a paper called, “The Social Psychology of Stigma,” and the erosive effects of stigma will become clearer still.
That’s why I groove on the idea of creating our own sorority or sisterhood. What a comfort — after facing failure and suffering — to find non-judgmental acceptance and belonging. The benefits, needless to say, are huge. By meeting our need for belonging, we not only can feel good about ourselves (self-esteem anyone?), we’ll have the emotional reserves and the boost we need to achieve great things. There are many ways to define success in life with meaningful contributions in roles that don’t include direct parenting.
As for some up close and personal sorority bonding, I’m about to get it — in REAL LIFE! Much as I enjoy communicating with y’all online. I’m going to meet — for the first time in person — a few of my peeps.
I was going to title this post “In the Company of (Infertile) Women” … but that’s just one characteristic of the talented, charming and interesting women I’ll be meeting in New York City Monday night. We’re coming from Rhode Island, Delaware, Quebec and California. Among the sisterhood gathering for drinks and dinner will be:
- Two contributors to A Fresh Start (Christina and Stephanie)
- Another Forgotten Patient essay contributor and dinner companion will be LaBelette Rouge, whose latest blog post is a keeper.
- Recording the event for a MORE magazine article will be Kate Johnson, who wrote this poignant review of Silent Sorority earlier this year.
I’m looking forward to this gathering. It’s not unlike meeting my dorm room-mates after a few months of exchanging pen-pal letters (remember those things we used to write on paper and post?) Yes, this is a first in many ways and will, I’m sure, lead to some great things.
Carrie, Charlotte, Samantha and Miranda have nothing on us! NYC here we come…