Harvard Medical School recently completed a study indicating that a woman’s chances of conceiving improve by more than 50% with involvement in an infertility support group.
That would seem to simplify the decision process – should I/we join a group? – fairly substantially. But the truth is, pride and a longing for privacy can be hard hurdles to clear. Even if Harvard’s right, are those increased odds going to be enough to alter the outcome of your story? And if not, is the public exposure of your private struggle worth the downside risk?
Author Barbara Brown Taylor thinks so, and her reasons are worth considering. In her new book, An Altar in the World, she writes, “At the very least, most of us need someone to tell our stories to. At a deeper level, most of us need someone to help us forget ourselves … [because] the main impediment to living a life of meaning is being self-absorbed.”
Anyone who’s experienced infertility can tell you that self-absorption is par for the course.
It’s human nature to be self-absorbed. We’re all inclined to see ourselves as the stars of our own story – and everyone else as the supporting actors, bit part players and non-essential walk-ons. Social media like YouTube and Twitter reinforce that perception with their subliminal message: “It’s all about you.”
When infertility strikes, our story takes such a dramatic turn, we become hyper-aware of the spotlight. Anticipating social scrutiny, we instinctively seek privacy (or, at least, internet anonymity). We don’t want our “audience” to see anything other than our success; this uncertainty feeds our fear of failure. We want applause, not pity or patronizing advice; this vulnerability fuels our desire for secrecy.
Ultimately, we want the public perception of us to match our highly-prized self-image. We are successes, not failures. We are good people destined to become great parents… aren’t we? Afraid to expose our feelings honestly, we struggle alone — doing all we can to hide the truth of our long, difficult journey.
Taylor makes clear that there is a better way: seeking to share our true selves with others who are also struggling. “Encountering another human being is as close to God as I may ever get – in the eye-to-eye thing, the person-to-person thing – which is where God’s Beloved has promised to show up.” In other words, if we are to find God in the midst of this journey, it may well be through others making the same journey.
“Paradoxically,” she continues, “the point is not to see Him. The point is to see the person standing right in front of me whose heart holds things for which there is no language, whose life is an unsolved mystery.” Can we set aside our own struggles long enough to be fully present for someone else? Someone who also needs to sense God’s presence — through us?
If we are to benefit from community, we must. Otherwise “the moment I turn that person into a character in my own story, the encounter is over. I have stopped being a human being and have become a fiction writer instead.”
There’s the valuable insight.
Community gives us an opportunity to share our stories and be heard. It also requires us to set aside our tendency to think of everything in terms of our selves. Rather than being fiction writers, we can offer the very real gifts of presence, compassionate listening, and sincere support. If we do, an infertility support community will not only increase our odds of conceiving, it will enable us to help others increase theirs, too.
All in the presence of God.