I read a striking article in the Washington Post today that highlights how western reproductive medicine can fail at times, especially when it comes to egg-freezing, and how shocking and heartbreaking this can be for women who’ve felt that they’ve done everything right. It emphasizes that while egg-freezing (not embryo-freezing) can be effective (I've seen it work several times!) the odds aren't always presented realistically by IVF clinics. One provocative statement that struck me was what Dr. James Grifo, one of the pioneers of oocyte-preservation, of NYU commented mentioned in terms of women feeling that they are "in control" their fertility and the ways in which that becomes a burden:
Your whole life it's beaten into your head that you're in control and if you can't have a baby, you blame yourself. There has to be more dialogue about what women can be responsible for and what they are not responsible for.
I agree that we need to be having this conversation more. Feeling responsible for our fertility, from anxiously preventing unwanted pregnancies to procreating when our careers and lives have come together or when we’ve finally met the right partner, is a significant burden we carry as women. It represents another set of conflicting and competing expectations ("don't be fertile" followed by "quick, be fertile before it's too late" message) that Brene Brown explains triggers a lot of our shame as women.
A client and I recently chatted about the idea of "circle of influence" which she explained was based on Stephen Covey 's self-help work. I gathered that the idea was to make choices to change or improve what is within our circle of influence (that which we can change) and to stop worrying about what is outside of it (those things we cannot change). Reminds me of the serenity prayer, which must be popular for a reason…. I tend to perseverate about things that have already happened when it's completely useless and a waste of brain bandwidth. I'm now planning to read The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People (which yes, I've purchased already, but never read) since this makes sense to me. The circle of influence idea totally applies to the fertility journey-- we can certainly make choices that will improve our fertility, ensure that we are getting safe and high quality medical care, and optimize our health and lifestyles, but we cannot turn back time. (Nor should we want to! Who wants to be a freshmen in high school again? Or a freshmen in college? Or even for some of us, back in our early thirties? Not me, that’s for sure).
It seems to me that even if we experience grief for what we imagine might have been, we can also gracefully move forward, even in times of deep fear and uncertainty, with faith in our own wisdom, intuition, and the support of others to get us through whatever comes. I like to think of it as informed Taoism: recognizing that you can be accountable for your choices and make the wisest choices in the moment without thinking you are driving the ship, or in charge of the universe, or powerful enough to control your own body or nature. I know, easier said than done, but that’s why it’s called practice.
It's an honor to be part of others’ journeys that bring up so many existential questions. One of my personal and professional goals is to empower women to release the burden of being overly responsible for so much in this life. Let's promise to help each other remember what we are responsible for and let go of the rest! We have so much to share with the world that goes beyond our biology and will change life for the women of the future. I think we can all feel a cultural shift in this direction right now: women are claiming their voices and rights in revolutionary ways. Let's hold each other up and support each other in forgiving ourselves for things that were never our fault in the first place. Fist in the air, sisters! We got this.