The Unspeakable Truth

rink murray mdIt was something we didn’t talk about.

Because we were both secretly ashamed of it, my wife and me didn’t admit it to each other. We barely wanted to admit it to ourselves. We certainly didn’t discuss it with even our best friends – some of whom may be reading this now.

And before I go on, let me say that I believe what I am about to tell you says much more about my wife and me than it does about our friends. At the same time, what I am about to describe is a nearly universal experience for couples with long-standing infertility.

So here goes.

When we were struggling to get pregnant and you got pregnant … we hated you.

It’s true. (Though my wife denies this, officially.)

We hated you because you were so happy. We hated you because you didn’t want to tell us you were pregnant, because you didn’t want to hurt our feelings. We hated you because we felt abandoned. It was one more reminder that we were relatively alone in this predicament.

It was even hard to feel happy for other infertile couples who finally conceived. When they got pregnant, we felt even greater abandonment.

There were times when I tried to soften this word, tried to work around it and redefine it. I’d call it anger at our situation. I’d call it envy, jealousy, resentment, spite.

But in the end, all those words and all those emotions still felt the same … they felt like hate or some other withering emotion.

And like hate, this emotion took much more of a toll on my wife and me than it did our friends.

In fact, I’m not sure anyone ever knew how we felt. My wife hosted baby showers for friends, visited new mothers in the hospital, held new babies and marveled at them.

So no, we weren’t totally consumed by these negative emotions, but they were always there … like a slacker college roommate who never left the couch. While our friends were largely unaware, we had to live with the negative emotion. We had to secretly wonder what it said about us. In some ways it was further confirmation that we were just bad people.

In talking to patients, I’ve come to realize how common these feelings are. With rare exception, patients have confessed that they feel this way, too. Nearly always, the patients are wracked by guilt over these feelings. They think they are being petty and spiteful. They think they are terrible people because of it.

I tried to talk my way around these feelings, to shun them, to shut them out. But I have to confess, it was only after I could openly admit my feelings that I could begin to work through them.

These feelings were nothing, if not humbling. They were a reminder of my imperfection. But knowing how common these feelings are, knowing how imperfect so many of us are, has also given me comfort.

Perhaps that’s why I’m so willing to share my experience with my patients. I can see the visible relief on their faces when I confess this story.

I give them permission to be angry. I am hoping they have the same experience I did: by embracing the pain, it starts to ease.

Jim Benton, author of the very funny “It’s Happy Bunny” series, writes: “Hate is a special kind of love we give to people who suck.”