Silent Sorority

Infertility Survivors Finally Heard

January 25, 2010

Permission Granted: Happiness Restored

Saturday started with an endorphin-elevating exercise session. By mid-day we were engaged in a spontaneous visit with friends. Later, an afternoon errand to the mall ended with me loading a treasure trove of deeply marked down stylish tops into the trunk, and the evening brought margaritas and carnitas in the cocktail lounge of a boisterous, brightly painted Mexican restaurant. The day brought a flashback to more than a decade ago before we engaged in the infertility dance. It was an altogether enjoyable day filled with goodness, laughter, and all around contentment, which reminded me of a few happiness studies I’d read in the past.

I was not in the frame of mind to fully appreciate some of these happiness studies in the midst of infertility heartbreak, but with more time adjusting to my new life, I’m now in a position to take away new meaning. Happiness comes in many forms, and apparently those without children around have it in more abundance. A few different reports and studies make that point crystal clear.

A USA Today story in 1997 reported on an Arizona State University sociology study concerning happiness. Among the findings:

  • “For all the joys of parenthood, the first baby’s arrival spurs a long drop in marital happiness that hits its nadir during a child’s teen years.
  • “Childless spouses are as happy as couples are before babies arrive. Without the buffeting cycles of child rearing, they tend to stabilize at this high level over time.”

A more recent New York Times piece shared findings from a scientific study of marriage revealing “the negative effect children can have on previously happy relationships…despite the popular notion that children bring couples closer, several studies have shown that marital satisfaction and happiness typically plummet with the arrival of the first baby.”

See also  The Powerful Effect of Simplicity

Corroborating these findings, Harvard psychology professor Daniel Gilbert learned that “the more kids you had, the sadder you were likely to be.” His other conclusions following a review of US and European studies:

  • “In reality … children do seem to increase happiness as long as you’re expecting them, but as soon as you have them, trouble sets in,” he said. “People are extremely happy before they have children and then their happiness goes down, and it takes another big hit when kids reach adolescence.
  • “When does [happiness] come back to it’s original baseline? Oh, about the time the children grow up and go away.”

And about those who always say that their children are their greatest joy, Gilbert had this to say to them: “The fact that parenthood crowded out all other things in life could explain why we considered children our greatest source of joy. `Yes, when you have one source of joy, it’s bound to be your greatest’.”
Terrific point, Daniel!

I’m coming to realize with each passing day that joy in different flavors does return when our grieving is done, and after we give ourselves permission to seek out new and different activities, interests and adventures.
* * * *
p.s. And if you’re up for reading more, I wrote this piece for Open Salon called “Curious Consequences of Older Motherhood.”

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Spontaneity 8 Replies to “Permission Granted: Happiness Restored”
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

8 thoughts on “Permission Granted: Happiness Restored

    Author’s gravatar

    I just finished reading a book by Geneen Roth. In it, she tells a story in which a man, horribly jealous that his neighbor has a cow and he doesn’t, finds a magic lamp. He rubs the lamp; a genie appears and offers the man a wish…only one. The man wishes for his neighbor’s cow to be killed.

    When we long for something that another has and we don’t (or cannot have) it, it is common to tear down the person who has the thing we want or the thing itself. Aesop spoke truth in his fable about sour grapes.

    I rejoiced when I found this site and realized that I wasn’t alone. I’ve felt alone and the only one for too long. I know that I have to accept reality… my childlessness. I want to accept it. I want to find joy in the here and now. I want to live in a state of wonder and gratitude and not in a state of deprivation. But I don’t think that I can truly find that joy if I have to discount the thing I longed for, for over two decades.

    Everybody has a journey. We, sisters of the silent sorority, wanted children and suffered the pain of infertility. Some of us lost marriages because of the stress. Others, those fertile women, got the children they wanted, or maybe didn’t want as it has always seemed to me, and suffered the pain of living a life that wasn’t up to their expectations. Some of those others lose marriages too because of the stress.

    I believe that everyone faces the same issue just in different ways. Nobody gets what they wanted or expected in life. We all have to find the silver lining in what we got, grow beyond the limitations and find joy.

    We are a minority and need each other for support in our society. We need it. But I think we only diminish ourselves if in searching out and celebrating the ways that our lives are rich, we have to discount what we spent so long wanting for ourselves…as if we are somehow better off.

    Author’s gravatar

    Dear Veronica,

    If you’ve only just found this site, you’ve missed reading three years of some 300 entries on my previous blog Coming2Terms about my very painful journey that details more than 10 years of trying to conceive with much promise, hope and longing, and the gut-wrenching grieving that followed. After 13 years of torture, I am now in a place where I feel genuine happiness.

    This post was not meant to discount what we all worked so hard for. It is meant to remind ourselves (perhaps I was too ham-handed and not gentle enough) that we can return to the days before infertility shattered our lives and find happiness with both the ordinary and the unexpected.  I wrestled a bit with how this post on happiness studies would be taken. When I first started reading about these studies I didn’t even have the capacity or desire to want to know that there was happiness for couples without children.

    We are each in different places along the continuum of healing and I don’t expect we will ever all agree on everyone’s view of the journey and how to accept our childlessness. What did I do on Sunday? I spent it with my niece and nephew reveling in their charm, intelligence, and delightful ideas. I started deeply into their eyes more than once marveling that I’m biologically related to them and saw a part of my own childhood in their gestures and looks.  It naturally made me wonder how my children might have been. Instead of resenting the universe for not having mine, I took great satisfaction and happiness in knowing that I had these wonderful children in my life.

    So the point of the post is not to discount children but to remind ourselves that it’s okay to give ourselves permission to feel joy after much pain caused by infertility, and to know that parenting is not the end all be all but only one way to live, that a life without direct parenting can also be a life that brings great reward.

    Author’s gravatar

    I had the most uncanny experience last week that is living proof of these studies. I ran into my ex-landlady on the street; I have not seen her in over twenty years. The first thing she said is “You look exactly the same” and the second comment was the dreaded, “Do you have children”?

    When I replied a sheepish, “No” she saved me from my embarrassment by replying, “Good for you! It’s a thankless job that exhausted me and took over my entire life. And the only reason people do it is they think these kids are going to take care of them when they’re old. Yeah, right. They can’t wait to get away from us.” Another neighbor overhearing this chimed in “It’s overrated”.”

    Perhaps she was having a bad day, or just had a fight with one of her kids but in all honesty, it’s the first time a parent so candidly confided to me that children have not equaled happiness in life. It actually did make me feel good, not because of her unhappiness, but to finally hear that not everyone is so unrealistic about parenthood.

    I believe the more I couldn’t achieve being a mother, the more I wanted it and that I developed an over idealized version of it as the panacea, in the same way that I created a mental prison for myself living with the deprivation of infertility.

    Veronica, it’s not to say one is better over the other, just that life is unfair. I think most of us infertiles would have done almost anything to receive “the prize” but at the end of the day, you have to know when enough is enough and to count your blessings and to be grateful. And for me, that has taken many years.

    Author’s gravatar

    Great points Beth and Misfit…what you’re both saying, and I fully agree, is that balance and perspective is key. There’s good and bad associated with every sort of circumstance. One state of being is not BETTER than the other, but that’s how the two extreme camps  position their decisions … mothers/fathers cast aspersions on those who choose not to parent and those child-free by choice in the extreme punch back equally hard at times. Those of us who didn’t make the conscious choice to be infertile obviously then are tortured by the parenting is the only way to go point of view.

    This reminds me of another post I wrote not long ago after watching the two camps go at each other:  No, You Suck More.

    Like Beth, I found the more I disproportionately focused on wanting the one thing I couldn’t seem to achieve no matter how good I was, how hard I worked, how much I sacrificed, how much I wanted it, the more desirable that end result became and the harder it was to step away from. Layer on top of that the primal, biological drive to reproduce and it’s easy to understand the laser-like focus I and many women (who want to conceive but can’t) develop. We convince ourselves that we will only find joy and fulfillment in delivering a child with the one we love. The alpha pregnancy  losses and the grieving compounds our sadness creating a black hole drawing in any and all sense of joy and spontaneity.

    It took several years of unwinding — requiring huge amounts of  intense effort in and of itself — to get outside of the decades-long physical and emotional pursuit of an outcome that wasn’t in the cards for us. The extreme parenting vs. non-parenting camps adamantly defending their choice only makes it harder for those of us caught in the middle. There were days when I felt like a ping pong ball – believing the parents one moment, and then very much wanting to believe the child-free by choice if that’s what I was left with, which in turn left me exhausted and perplexed.

    To get all philosophical (with the help of Wikipedia): “Aristotle often focused on finding the mean between two extremes of any
    particular subject. For example, courage is a mean between two feelings (fear and
    confidence) and an action (the courageous act). Too much fear or too
    little confidence leads to cowardice, and too little fear or too much
    confidence can lead to rash, foolish choices. Aristotle says that
    finding this middle ground is essential to reaching eudemonia, the
    ultimate form of godlike consciousness. This middle ground is often
    referred to as The Golden Mean.”

    Here’s to the middle ground! May it bring new peace and happiness…

    Author’s gravatar

    I read another article on this (linked from stfuparents.tumblr.com, natch) just yesterday, and I must admit I’m of two minds about how to take it. Certainly, the returning to innocence and joy after letting the IF journey become part of the past is a source of hope. And it makes sense – dating is fun, spending time carefree with the person you love is fun. Why wouldn’t we be joyful with that person, even without children? We build up motherhood so high, we can’t be happy with anything else, no matter how wonderful. At least, I do.

    On the flip side, about children making marriages unhappy – well, I don’t know. I mean, clearly, both infants and teenagers are STRESSFUL. But some of the most joyful people I know are parents of big families. The better organized they are and the more balanced their lives are, the happier they are, but still, they do seem to be pretty happy (and not just to the degree that they’re trying to make me think so). Of course, I also know people for whom having children has been less of a blessing. I know single mothers whose lives have been very burdened by becoming mothers unexpectedly (though of course they love their children). And I know young marriages where the children came immediately, and they face the dual strain of young parenthood and getting into the groove with marriage. Of course it can be done, and I’d have been happy with a honeymoon baby if I’d been so lucky. But I can see that it isn’t so easy for them.

    I would say, though, that my end-point in this internal monologue is that babies are people. People are good. Changing diapers also means fostering the growing life of a new human being, and whether annoying or not, that should certainly be a source of joy. My hope is that I will be able to love the life I have without regret, without diminishing the gift I’m living without. I’m not doing very well so far :)

    Author’s gravatar

    Pamela-
    What a wonderful blog—and title happiness restored!! I love everything it implies…. :)

    After infertility–there is a long period of depression and then healing–at least for me. Once the healing began–peace came next.. It took a long time for me to see all the good and happy things around me–my husband, my cats, my family, my friends–and my job. I am a kindergarten teacher :) and for years it was painful to be around children, young families having babies etc..Now I find happiness in every day I am at school–enjoying these children I have been blessed with and can share a small part of the lives with as their teacher. My perceptive as a teacher has changed–I see each child as a “miracle”—a blessing. I treat them that way too! :)

    It is not always easy–the road of infertility is bumpy, long and empty–but now I am finding some flowers here and there along the road, some trees and even the sun!

    After not noticing anything along the road–I am truly looking around for things to be happy about in life! I want to be happy and I am actively going to look for happiness in all that I do! :) I need to make up for some lost time!
    Min :)

    Author’s gravatar

    Hey PJ!

    Nice new digs! There is a beautiful energy here and it will be source of great comfort to many women who follow in your footsteps.

    Thanks for your thoughtful comments on my blog. It means a lot.

    I’m looking forward to following your continued story and learning about your new life. And why don’t you put a trip to Australia in your year plan? Just thought I’d put that out there……

    Much love
    B

    Author’s gravatar

    I just found Coming2Terms a few months with many of the posts helpful and cathartic. As a 42 year old childless not by choice married woman, I can relate. We tried for about 10 years to have children without success. And over the past three years or so, I have been coming to terms with my infertility and am in a pretty good place. My 18 year marriage is very happy and there are many things my husband and I do together and find very enjoyable. Our life is fulfilled.

    I think articles like the 1997 USA Today and New York Times that you reference are somewhat validating to us in the Silent Sorority because we have been stung so many times by thoughtless comments and lack of insight from friends, family, acquaintances and large parts of overall society in general. The idea that you cannot possibly be really happy or fulfilled if you are not parents.

    To me and I’m sure quite a number of infertile women the results of these kinds of studies are not seen as a catty victory, but merely something we have known all along; being a parent is not the end all be all. Our families make us happy, our jobs give us satisfaction, and we are ok with our lives without children. One thing that really makes me sad is the fact that many friendships have never come to fruition because of childlessness, again a misguided notion that we would have nothing in common. We have the pain and stress of going through infertility and our fertile sisters have their own brand of pain and struggles too.

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