The Guilt of Joy

There’s been a bit of talk about pain within the infertility experience in the ALI blogosphere of late. Jessica seems to kick things off talking about this concept of The Pain Olympics, which triggered a historical overview of the Pain Olympics over the years from Mel over at Stirrup Queens. Esperanza keeps the conversation going here.

I wrote a little bit about pain a couple of weeks ago, about learning to swim in it like a fish, breathing in the pain along my journey. And in a lot of ways, pain is an intrinsic part of the infertility experience, be it the sting of an IM needle into your hip or the heartbreak of an adoption fall-through. There is immediate pain: needle pricks and speculums and transvaginal ultrasound wands – but there is also lingering pain, the kind that gets triggered again and again down the road: birth announcements, shower invitations, Mother’s Day followed right behind with Father’s Day…

Pain is a defining factor of the infertility experience.

…Which makes those rare moments of joy a rather complicated subject, one that we as a community often struggle with. I’ll admit that even now, it’s one I struggle with here in this space.

jumping-on-the-beach

I’ll be candid: I feel less interesting as a blogger lately. My pregnancy is going fine for the most part. I hesitate to write about the mundane or even the “I’ve never been pregnant before is this normal” posts because I know the kind of pain they can cause. I vividly remember glazing over pregnant bloggers’ blogs while in the very thick of our infertility journey. Some I just stopped following entirely.

But mostly, I just feel like I’m kind of boring right now. Because let’s face it: if it bleeds, it leads. There’s not a whole lot of excitement or drama in my life right now, which – I’ll admit – is a nice change of pace given the last four years of my life.

I feel like there’s two sides to the pain coin, when reading about painful or traumatic experiences on other infertility bloggers’ blogs. On one hand, we can measure ourselves and our experiences against someone else’s. It allows us a moment of pause to stop and consider, “Gee I’m lucky I’m not her” and/or “Well, maybe I don’t have it so bad right now.” On the other hand, these moments of comparison can also swing wildly in the other direction with, “Oh, you think that’s bad, well look at my story…”

For some, reading about all things horrible and awful in another person’s life allows us to take stock in our own gratitude. For others, it’s a springboard into competition and one-up-man-ship.

My question in the latter instance is this: what exactly are you trying to win by suffering the most?

(My gut says things like: validation, acceptance, sympathy, attention. But maybe it’s more complex than that – I don’t know. I used to be friends with a one-upper. Key words here: used to. I cut that person out of my life over 10 years ago because I had really had enough with this imaginary game of “I’ve suffered more than you” with her.)

And so this brings me to the flip-side of pain: joy. And more specifically, how reticent we are to embrace joy when it comes, let alone write about it on our blogs. I think for a lot of us, joy comes wrapped in a big ol’ bow of guilt. We feel guilty about celebrating and honoring the moments of joy in our lives because our RSS readers are often filled with stories of gut-wrenching pain. We ask ourselves silently: who are we to feel such joy when there is so much pain around us?

Allow me another moment of candidness: I got pregnant at the same time as two other bloggers I read. One is currently experiencing some rather intense complications with her pregnancy. The other lost her baby just shy of reaching her second trimester. I don’t know if my blog is in their RSS readers, but I was hyper-aware that they might be. How could I post about my joy about finally rockin’ a tiny baby bump when for one of them, that dream literally died?

The survivor’s guilt is overwhelming some days. But it’s not just relegated to the survivors alone, as moments of joy can be as immense or as microscopic as our self-awareness allows and at any point in our infertility journeys. That’s one of the reasons I love Lori’s Perfect Moment Mondays: a deliberate, intentional time each month to stop and reflect on that one moment of joy, peace, clarity, or self-awareness.

I just wish we didn’t need to give ourselves permission to write about these moments of joy. I wish that joy flowed as freely as the pain, that we didn’t have to hesitate or water down our posts before hitting “publish”.

But maybe that’s just the survivor’s guilt in me talking.

I’d love your thoughts on all of this: Pain Olympics, survivor’s guilt, giving ourselves permission to be joyous… and what are your moments of joy right now? Here’s mine :)

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Comments

  1. says

    Thanks for posting this, Keiko. For me, reading about others’ pain reminds me that I’m not alone in mine. And reading about their joy reminds me how beautiful and amazing life is, in all its contrasts. I used to compare my pain to others’ but with experience has come an understanding that pain is pain. Period. It is subjective & cannot be accurately measured, so there’s no point in comparing. I’ve been having some complications that are likely ending in miscarriage, but I don’t begrudge you your joy and peace. I also wish I could make your “survivor’s guilt” go away. You deserve to just enjoy where you are at.

  2. says

    I remember sitting in a strange mix of joy, guilt and fear when I carried my first successful pregnancy after 14 years of infertility. My baby boy is 2 and I still feel it from time to time. I chose and still choose to embrace the joy. My miracle was my own but I know it encouraged more than hurt others. Life is seasonal…marinate in your season of joy. Your experience / journey… The highs and lows are all part of the amazing story you get to tell that will change lives.

  3. says

    I remember the survivor’s guilt well, but after five years and secondary IF, it’s now faded to background, and certainly didn’t dampen the joy. I also understand about the boring blog! I stopped posting on my own blog some time ago when I was kind of in a holding pattern IF-wise, and just didn’t want to transition into another kind of blog.

    I think that appreciating your own good fortune is one possible reaction to other people’s pain, and competing or wallowing is another, but my goal is just to let it be and abide with those who are suffering. In the end, other people’s pain is about them, not me. Each person’s experience of pain is shaped by their unique personality, history, circumstances, etc., so comparisons aren’t terribly informative. I don’t always succeed in not comparing at all, but I feel better when I do.

  4. says

    First of all I just want to say Congratulations to you! You deserve this happiness. I haven’t made it to the “other side” yet as far as infertility goes but I sure hope I do soon. I have had a few positive tests and I do at times feel a little guilty for even getting as far as I’ve gotten when so many people have never once gotten a positive test. On the other hand I still don’t know what’s worse getting a negative result in the beginning and mourning that or the loss of a pregnancy. I believe both are hard. I’ve learned it’s not about “trumping” someone else’s journey. It’s unfortunate any of have to be on this infertility journey to begin with. I’m in the middle of the dreaded TWW on my 7th IVF cycle. I’ve had 3 pregnancies end prematurely. I wish no one ever had to experience loss and pray if I get another positive test next week that this one will stick for the whole 9 months.

  5. says

    You’re probably too young to remember the TV game show, Queen for a Day, which was my first exposure to the pain olympics (though I didn’t know it at the time). I wrote about it here: http://lavenderluz.com/2007/09/love-and-other-impossible-pursuits-2.html I could not figure it out!

    Thanks for the shout-out about Perfect Moment Mondays. It IS interesting, now that you mention it, that we grant ourselves permission less often to feel joy than to feel pain. For many years, I though if I paid too much attention to joy and happiness they would evaporate. To have joy I had to deny experiencing joy…uhhhh….that makes no sense. Over the last decade or so I have been moving more and more into seeking and welcoming the happy emotions.

    Here’s to free-flowing joy :-)

  6. says

    In addition to all of the other reasons I’ve made up for not posting more, I almost didn’t post about my daughter’s birthday (or the cake) because I thought, “well, I don’t want to become an annoying mommy-blogger who talks about her kids … my audience doesn’t want to read that, right?”

    The post wasn’t exactly my finest, anyway. But it was full of second-guessing. Every time I post something about my kids, even if it’s more about me, I feel survivor’s guilt. Even though Mel has made it clear that you can be a fabulous advocate even after you have kids, and you can post about whatever the spirit moves you to say.

    Thanks for the thoughtful post about this, Keiko.

  7. says

    If it’s survivor’s guilt, then I also have it, having survived in a very different way (shock horror) than you or other pregnant, infertile bloggers. I agree with this. That we feel guilt in our joy. That was the point of my Huffington Post piece (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/linda-rooney/infertility-grieving_b_1455880.html) last year – to say that it is okay to feel joy. Yes, my story is very different from yours, and as such I’m not at all bothered about upsetting those still in the midst of the battle (because it’s not likely to happen). But the argument is still the same. After all we’ve been through or are still going through, we deserve to feel joy when we can (fleeting or lasting) – whether it’s when we’re in the midst of despair, of loss, or in our new post-infertility lives.

  8. says

    Well, I’m happy you feel boring right now because that means all is well. And, you’re not boring! That is why I could never have a blog just related to IF. I usually only blog about infertility when I’m feeling upset or angry in some way.

    As for the whole pain Olympics, I see what you’re saying. I have had people try to Pain Olympic me and it completely turned me off. I wrote about it last fall – http://www.whitneyanderick.com/?p=5015.

    Hope you are doing well.

  9. Gailcanoe says

    I understand your confusion and your feelings of guilt, but I miss your posts. Only one a week is not enough! Write about the mundane, the weather, the food you are eating, just write about anything. Please!

  10. says

    This is a lovely post Keiko. Firstly, I am thrilled you are rocking a lovely baby bump. Secondly, this whole drama is part of why I am stopping my blog once Molly turns one. I feel irrelevant as a blogger now. My life is pretty damn great and if you are still in the trenches, that isn’t really what you want to hear. I think I still have a lot to offer people who are trying to get pregnant but I don’t think they want to hear it from me any more. The time will come shortly when I try for a second but for those suffering primary infertility – will they even care? D

    As to pain olympics, I understand them, I understand when someone comments and it is from a place of deep pain but I hate hate hate anonymous comments. Those just drive me crazy!

  11. says

    Wow! When and how did I miss that you’re expecting! Congrats!

    This topic is probably one of the reasons I don’t post nearly as much as I did while TTC and pregnant. Now that I’ve “reached the goal” do I really have much to say that others still trying are interested in reading? I’d like to thing I serve as a bit of a success story and give others hope, but at the same time, I know it does hurt some to read that I’ve achieved what they so desperately want. 2nd, I’m trying to spend my time with my little before she’s all grown up.