Silent Sorority

Infertility Survivors Finally Heard

March 23, 2012

On Tribal Loyalties

What drives our tribal instincts? Whether political or religious, social or sporting — our identification with tribes seems to have an outsized influence on our thinking and behavior.

My desire to understand how tribal associations govern our actions was inflamed once again a few weeks ago when a renegade group within what had been patchwork community — a loose federation of infertility blogs — opted to secede.

The action, aggravated by perceived exclusivity, prompted all manner of hurt feelings, accusations and second guessing. To help provide an airing of grievances a few bloggers, (yours truly included) banded together to host healing salons — encouraging a conversation that culminated in this roundup of summaries.

Now that the dust has settled, I’m back to trying to understand what is it about humans that makes us feel the need to strongly identify with one tribe or another. I certainly find myself gravitating to women whose lives look more like mine. In my research I came across this piece on Time.com by Michael Shermer ruminating on our divisive political process. He observed of modern humans:

“We are a scant few steps removed from the tribes of our hunter-gatherer ancestors, and a few more leaps afield from the hominid ancestors roaming together in small bands on the African Savanna. There, in those long-gone millennia, were formed the family ties and social bonds that enabled our survival among predators who were faster, stronger, and deadlier than us: unwavering loyalty to your fellow tribesmen was a signal that they could count on you when needed.”

He also noted:

“Research in cognitive psychology shows, for example, that once we commit to a belief we employ the confirmation bias, in which we look for and find confirming evidence in support of it and ignore or rationalize away any disconfirming evidence.”

In hindsight, given the super sensitive nature of what brought women to the infertility tribe in the first place it’s not unexpected that many felt betrayed by fellow tribeswomen who identified and blog badged as “parenting/pregnant after infertility and loss.” It translated to a sense of disloyalty or tribal abandonment.

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I was reminded of an F. Scott Fitzgerald quote:

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”

It is in that vein that I was delighted to become acquainted (and re-acquainted) with a set of bloggers whom I might have overlooked — “non-non-moms” — who shared with me a larger mission: a desire to nurture fellowship, find common ground … all on equal footing. It’s good to know that even after the infertility scars have healed and we’ve moved down different paths we still have each other’s backs.

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Pamela Tsigdinos
Pamela Tsigdinos
Writer, blogger and, oh, yeah, infertility survivor. My memoir, Silent Sorority, tells the whole story. There's a movie in there somewhere. Given the quirkiness needed to relate it all I'm thinking Jennifer Lawrence would be a good fit.

COMMENTS

12 thoughts on “On Tribal Loyalties

    Author’s gravatar

    I have noticed that I have changed tribes many times during my life. Life changes and the glue isn’t as strong as we thought it would be. It saddens me every time this has happened. I have noticed that my ties to certain people have remained, and I cherish those ties and the people that I can hang on to. I don’t think the breaking from the tribe that you are talking about has affected me like it did many of you. I am a new member finding my way here, but I can imagine the hurt many of you have felt from this action. I am very grateful for finding this tribe in the world and the connections and commonalities that I have discovered.

    Author’s gravatar

    That’s a great Fitzgerald quote.

    You’ve got me thinking about tribes, and how awesome it felt when I found this one.

    But it’s ever-evolving, as am I, and when I look back at my early commenters, I see that I’ve had probably 80% change in my tribe over 5 years.

    Here’s to re-acquainting :-)

    Author’s gravatar

    LOVE this post. To be honest after all the heated debate, I’ve been wondering about the same thing. I’ve felt frustrated with my own needs to join a tribe with others (it doesn’t help that I’m having PMS now) that I had just realized after reading so many posts on the topic of PAIL.

    Anyway, LOVE all the quotes! :-) THANKS for sharing!

    Author’s gravatar

    Thanks, Amel … there’s nothing like a little PMS to stir up emotions is there?
    Our involvement in a tribelette serves to make us that much more willing to look out for each other. ox

    Author’s gravatar

    Yes — we’ve always had a bit of a kindred spirit thing going haven’t we? While we’re moving down very different paths we’re still very much connected at the heart…

    Author’s gravatar

    So glad you’ve found a welcoming embrace, Heather. It’s comforting to have ties to people who knew us when, and it’s a bonus to know that as we change and evolve we can find new tribal connections to those who understood and accept us for all that has shaped our lives…

    Author’s gravatar

    I’ve been thinking about this post for ages, but due to ill health haven’t felt up to comment.

    First, I am delighted too that the recent discussions tended to bring tribes together, rather than further separate us.

    Tribes are I think inevitable, even tribes within tribes. Look at any group, and there will be sub-groups, sub-tribes, cliques and hierarchies etc. People like to feel they belong to something – perhaps because we all feel so alone – and sadly it seems human nature that this often involves rejection of the “others” to accentuate their belonging to their tribe. And of course, sensitive people in “the others” feel that rejection acutely.

    Author’s gravatar

    This post reminded me of the book “Willful Blindness” that I read last year.

    It’s difficult to break out of our tribes & embrace differences… but I think it’s ultimately more rewarding and enriching when we at least try.

    Author’s gravatar

    Hello Pamela,
    I just caught up on what has been going on in the wider infertility community. I must say that I have been quite churned up since reading the original posts and comments and then coming full circle back to your summation.

    My feelings have been one of sadness that we who are not parents after infertility and who are not trying anymore are looked over within the infertility community. The original question was thus lost on me as I was distressed at this feeling that I am being marginalised again. I do feel a strong sense that I am living other people’s worst fears and my story is unwelcome by the wider infertility community. I find that kind of ironic since I am truly infertile and live that reality every day.

    I remember not long after stopping treatment I contacted what I understood to be a group of women who had left fertility treatment and been unsuccessful. I emailed the coordinator of the group asking if I could speak to one of their members who had been unsuccesful. The email was very blunt in its reply “None of our memmbers have been unsuccesful. However you are welcome to be our contact person for other unsuccessful people…” I had similar feelings now as I did then, that the wider infertility community is now no longer a place I feel welcome. No-one made me feel unwelcome, it is just that I felt that i was no longer, to use your terms, in their “tribe”. It was at this point I sought out blogs such as yours Pamela. I now strongly identify with the “moving on” blogs and rarely visit the other infertility sites.

    I even find it difficult talking to other women who have had infertility and are either TTC or will in the future as I always think they will be in the other “tribe”. I find myself feeling almost dismissive of their anxieties as I think “well, you might (stress might) have to go through infertility treatment but the odds are in your favour that you will take home a child”. I feel bad about feeling like this but I suppose I do not want to open up to them about how awful i feel at times as when they do get pregnant and have babies I am still the one in the “infertile/childless tribe”.

    So, Pamela you and a few other blogs are my tribe in relation to my infertility experience. However I am also part of other tribes not related to my infertility, which are more and more becoming my main identity.

    Author’s gravatar

    Hi Charlotte,
    It’s ironic, isn’t it, that many women who enter into the infertility community looking for help and support become the very people who withhold it?
     
    I’m apalled that the support group contact you reached out to was so cold-hearted and dismissive. Makes you wonder what kind of mother she is, no? I know it’s small consolation, but you’ll always be welcome here …
    all the best, Pamela

    Author’s gravatar

    Hi Charlotte and Pamela,
    The emotional feelings around fitting in, being accepted and having genuine support (like someone’s got your back in the toughest of times) is what I feel can be provided by tribal security. I’m constantly questioning whether these emotions are things we can instill in our relationship with ourself (I’m hoping yes! would solve a lot of problems)

    I’m in a situation experienced by Pamela – living some people’s worst fears, and therefore that makes my story either unwelcome (I had a similar conversation/rejection with the infertility hospital after stopping) or my life story is vaguely heard before being brushed aside by those who are too afraid to really listen or use their empathy.

    It’s a very strange way to live, even as I try to find my own place in the world. This blog is one of the few places where I have found folks in my ‘tribe’ (like Charlotte). I’ve been considering starting my own blog to use my voice, but still feel the stigma from experiences of using my voice among people offline.

    I’d never heard of PAIL until recently, and in my opinion, it’s a life situation far different from those women who will absolutely NEVER have the the family they’d imagined and still desire. The ‘seem’ similar but are worlds apart as the change is immense. We should not have bad feelings about moving among tribes if our situation changes, but there should also be respect for those who will never experience a change and have to live with their current way of life… forever. Easier said than done I guess. But I am still in the ‘infertile/childless tribe’ and feel that it is very much a silent tribe. I would like to change that one day.

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