Fertility Envy - how to spot it and how to heal
Envy gets a bad wrap, despite the gifts it brings. When we experience envy, we are either being shown what you deeply desire for yourself or unearthing a culturally-placed belief that is not authentically ours. When someone becomes pregnant and you want to be, but are not yet, it is natural to feel a combination of anger, grief, and jealousy. In this case, these feelings stem from your heartbreak that what you want is not happening for you right now.
Alternatively, your feelings may stem from other people trying to reinforce a cultural narrative that does not fit you. For example, if you do not want children and people frequently ask you why you don't want children, when you're going to have kids, or insist that you will change your mind, it is reasonable that you will feel angry, embarrassed, ashamed, or upset. In this case, your feelings arise from other people trying to force you into a story-line you do not want.
This article will address the first of these situations: when you experience envy and other "shadow" emotions after witnessing someone get something that you want in the realm of fertility.
Let me start by saying that your ability to get pregnant, remain pregnant, carry a child to term, birth vaginally, or become a mother do not define your worth. Additionally, your ability to have biological children does not remove your ability to be a mother. We do not hear this enough and it is important to ground ourselves in truth. Everyone's fertility journey is different, but is is likely that you will experience a range of emotions in your journey. Fertility challenges can show up as any of the following:
Not getting pregnant when you want to or thought you would
Getting pregnant earlier than you wanted to
Receiving news that it will be difficult for you to conceive
Having a partner who is not ready to become a parent when you are ready
Not being sure if you will be able to conceive
Experiencing miscarriage or multiple miscarriages
Birthing a stillborn baby (click here for more about this experience)
Not having a partner in your life at the time you thought you would be or want to become pregnant
Being the pregnant partner and having a gender identity that is not accepted by the dominant culture
Experiencing sexism, racism, or queer-phobia in your pregnancy care
Discovering that previous medical care you received from dominant Western culture may have adversely affected your fertility
Learning that you were never told important things about how your body works and now it is affecting the life you desire to create (for example, not understanding your menstrual cycle and the times during which you can actually get pregnant)
Being blamed or judged for anything that "goes wrong" with attempting pregnancy, carrying a child, or birth
You experience judgment or judge yourself for how you conceived or gave birth (i.e. through intercourse, with a donor, with someone you are not committed to, by freezing your eggs, with IVF, c-section vs. vaginal birth, hospital vs. home birth, who you had there, using medication)
It is okay to feel jealousy, envy, anger, rage, sadness, unfairness, judgment, frustration, hopelessness, despair, grief, and any other emotion that comes up in your fertility journey. It is okay to be angry when someone tells you they are pregnant and you have yet to conceive. You can tell them you are excited for them and find places and people with whom to express your anger and jealousy.
When shadow emotions show up, you may feel bad, un-evolved, basic, or wrong. These would all be harsh judgments to make about yourself and your experience. When someone gets pregnant/carries to term/has your ideal birth and you are struggling to attain it, it is natural to feel a range emotions. The problem is not that you are experiencing these emotions, the challenge arises when you:
Try to pretend you are not angry/jealous/enraged/miserable/despairing/judgmental
Refuse to make space for your emotions when they are crying out for expression
Try to stuff down your emotions or force yourself to create "better" emotions before the more difficult feelings have run their course
Lie about your experience and feelings to the people who you know would respond with love, making it impossible to receive support
Attempt to speed up the process of grief and anger
Convince yourself that you are the only person who experience these undesirable emotions
Tell yourself that you are flawed, bad, imperfect, or wrong to feel these feelings
When we do not allow room for our honest experiences, we create issues. When we deny our envy and anger, we prolong our own suffering. If we can summon the courage to feel our feelings, we honor and allow them to flow out of us. Have you heard the sayings "what we resist persists" and "you have to feel it to heal it?" They are very fitting for this type of experience. If we walk around pretending like we're doing fine and have no feelings about all the other pregnancies and births around us, we dishonor ourselves. When we deny our authentic experience, we cut ourselves off from healthy emotional expression, nourishing support, and courageous vulnerability.
In order to support yourself through this experience, find people and places you trust where you can express yourself. If you are not sure where to begin, start with telling yourself the truth by journaling or creating art. Envy is a difficult emotion to experience, but feeling it does not make you wrong or bad. In the moments when you are consumed by difficult feelings, I invite you to engage with the following questions:
Will you allow yourself to have compassion and empathy for yourself?
Can you treat yourself gently and with love when these emotions arise and not beat yourself up for not "being a better person," "being more spiritual," or "being woke?"
Are you willing to accept that these emotions are part of your experience right now?
Can you gently remind yourself that these emotions will not be with your forever and they need space to move through right now?
Will you allow yourself to find a safe space in/person with whom to share your true feelings about the situation that triggered you?
Are you willing to express your feelings in a healthy and supportive way (i.e. journaling, sharing with a trusted friend/therapist/family member, attending a support group, creating art, or dancing)?
Can you speak to and treat yourself in a way that is loving (i.e. "I know this is hard;" "I'm so sorry ____ hasn't happened for you yet;" "what can I do to make it better?")
Will you allow yourself to rest, take a break from people, socialize, take space to feel your feelings, or anything other action that feels supportive and loving?