Recently Jjiraffe wrote an interesting post on the Pain Olympics and the discussion there (the comment section of that post is particularly inspiring) prompted Mel to write a post about the origins of the Pain Olympics in our particular community. I found that post to be really interesting, as I LOVE to delve into the history of the ALI community and I find it fascinating to read posts from so many years ago.

Mel’s post (and in more detail some of the posts she linked to) mentioned a brouhaha that erupted when the term Pain Olympics was first coined and was being discussed. From what I understood, the editors of Redbook started a blog about infertility and it ended up that both the contributors were parenting after IF. People in community were upset that there was no one still “in the trenches,” currently undergoing treatments for infertility contributing to the blog.

As I read through various posts about the Redbook scandal I couldn’t help but notice the similarities to a recent discussion on Bitter Infertiles in response to a letter that chided the podcast for not being more diverse. The idea was that because the entire “panel” of contributers to Bitter Infertiles is now pregnant, they need to bring in someone else who is still undergoing treatments, implying that the women on the show are no longer capable (or perhaps relevant) enough, to be the ones tackling the unconquerable hydra that is Infertility.

I find these conversations to be really eye-opening because they show, over and over again, that people have a rubric with which they gage people’s membership in this community, that people review others’ credentials and determine whether or not they qualify to comment on the subject. Not everyone  does this–at least not all the time–ut it happens, and probably more frequently than people actually write, or comment, about. While I think the Pain Olympics generally plays a part in that, ultimately I believe it’s the intrinsic need we all have to relate easily and well to a person that drives someone to bring up the topic of someone else’s credentials.

I haven’t written much about this here yet, but I’ve been taking careful note of how my blog has changed–not just in what I write about but also in how other people respond–since we received our diagnoses. I went, in the span of a month, from being a woman who struggled marginally to achieve her first successful pregnancy and was not easily achieving her second, to a woman who was dealing with two infertility diagnoses and the inability to afford treatments. As I mentioned before, learning of my low AMH and diminished ovarian reserve, on top of our MFI issues, I felt I had been handed a hardy, laminated membership card to the infertility club. After years of existing on the outskirts looking in, I actually belonged; my credentials were adequate.

And as more test results came in and it became clear that I really was infertile, I watched to see if my blog changed, if the comments changed, if how I felt about writing changed. And the truth is, I think it has changed, all of it. I’m writing more now than I ever have before (and frankly, I believe I’m writing better posts than I have in a long time.) More people visit my blog now than ever before. More women have left comments than ever before. I have more new visitors than ever before.

If I were to believe that this community is dictated by the Pain Olympics, it would hold true that more women are reading me now because I am more worthy of being included: I’m no longer a benched player in the Pain Olympics, I’m now actually participating in the games. But honestly, I don’t think that is why more people have visited my blog or reached out to me. I’m getting more comments because more people can relate to my story and have sage words of wisdom, or advice or experience to share. They are coming to tell me their own stories so I don’t feel alone, so I can use their successes as sign posts on my own meandering path, so I can find hope when it seems there is none. These women are coming here because my story is now more relevant to them and their experiences. I am more relate-able.

And really, when it comes down to it, that is what this community is all about, we are looking for other people we can relate to, who have stories similar to our own. Of course we don’t only follow people who have matching diagnoses, but we’re drawn to people walking similar paths. I’ve read many admissions from bloggers undergoing IVF that IUI blogs are just not interesting to them when they are focused on the intricacies of an IVF cycle. I know women who have children after IF tend to band together in this community because other women who’ve gone on to parent after infertility understand the complex mixture of elation, gratitude, guilt and PTSD associated with resolving their infertility in that way. Similarly, women who choose–sometimes because it’s the only option–not to parent also tend to congregate on each other’s blog, where they can read about other women who are moving on with their lives without the children they wanted so desperately to have.

I think, when people complain that their story is not being represented, it’s not so much because they feel anger or jealously (although that can absolutely be a PART of where they are coming from), but because they want their story to be told. They want to hear about people experiencing something like what they experience, so they can learn from those stories and find hope. I know my situation has put me in a unique situation because the more blogs I find with diagnoses like mine, the more blogs I find about IVF. Accept we can’t afford IVF, so these stories aren’t that helpful for me. I know I will not be attempting expensive treatments, barring some miracle, and while it can help to see how successful couples with DOR and MFI issues are in their pursuit of treatments, it really doesn’t help me understand my own story any better. It doesn’t help me find a way to resolve my particular infertility journey.

Does that mean I think women who can afford IVF suffer less than I do? Absolutely not. I choose not to pursue IVF because it takes both a financial and emotional toll. I honestly don’t know if I’m strong enough to undergo a cycle like that. I may not follow a women who is undergoing IVF not because I think her pain pales in comparison to my own, but because her experience doesn’t help me understand mine.

I think the Pain Olympics is always going to be a part of a community where longing, despair and grief are what ties people together. When I see someone pulling the Pain Olympics card I know they are suffering a great deal and I can only hope that they are getting the support they need to eventually pull out of the darkness. But I think sometimes, what we call the Pain Olympics is actually something else, it’s not about who suffers more but about who suffers similarly, who we can relate to, who we can understand and who can understand us. And ultimately, I’m not against that kind of banding together, as long as it’s done with diplomacy and grace.

19 responses

  1. I could not have said it better myself! Yes, yes, and YES! Honestly, it makes me happy to feel that I am not alone on this topic.

    How funny that we both posted on the same topic, on the same day, around the same exact time! I wonder how many others out there are pondering, struggling with this too.

    Sent from my Windows Phone ________________________________

  2. Love this post.

    I will add, though, that I believe the pain olympics to be prevalent in the IF community because we’re all suffering at some level. I just wrote a comment on Mel’s post today which, I think, clarifies it for me. We play the pain olympics – in both ways, against ourselves OR against others – when we have unresolved anger/pain. It’s how we validate (or try and talk ourselves out of) how much the whole situation sucks.

    At the end of the day, pain is pain. The need to validate that pain, or avoid feeling that pain, is where we get into trouble. Labeling it “not as bad as” or “more than” someone else’s pain is nothing more than creating attachment to – or avoidance of – the pain in the first place.


  3. Such good thoughts here.

    I can say from my end — as a Reader — I read you before you were diagnosed and I read you now, and my reading and commenting habits of your blog haven’t changed. They are still dictated by how often you pop up in my Reader coupled with the rest of life affecting my reading/commenting schedule including work, play, and what device I’m reading on (phone vs. computer). So I’m not saying that it hasn’t changed for others, but I do want to throw that point in there.

    Which also begs the question: are the posts different because YOU relate to the subject matter differently. You have something you need to say, something you need to write. Those types of posts perhaps beget more comments because that intent and interest spills over to the Reader. There is a huge difference in the number of comments I get on a post I felt I HAD to write vs. the ones I write simply because I’m bored and feel like talking. Does that make sense?

    • I’m sure there are more comments because my posts are more thought provoking as I work through this heavy shit. I also think more women are offering support because I need more support. But I have definitely noticed a trend of women stopping by and sharing their stories when they are relevant. And I really appreciate that.

  4. Back with one last thought. I’d also say that I’m more likely to read a situation I’m not living or don’t understand because the point of reading it is to gain understanding. I don’t read blogs just to have thoughts confirmed. I read them as a window to a house I don’t live in.

    • One thing I forgot to touch on is I think people do this more (seek out similar stories) when they are working through a challenging situation. When I wasn’t TTC again yet and even when I was, before my diagnosis, I was open to reading whatever. And while I’m certainly not going to drop all the blogs I read that aren’t going through what I’m going through, I’m no longer in a place to add those kinda of blogs. Right now I have a problem to solve, something I’m struggling with and I don’t have the band width to absorb other people’s new stories if they aren’t relevant or if I don’t already have a relationship with them. I think when you are resolved you can be more open to who you follow, at least that is te case with me.

  5. First, this is a great post! I really appreciate your insights, and think that you’re onto something with the idea of representation. In both of the cases referenced (the Bitter Infertiles and the Redbook incident), the publication that triggered the controversy had a title that made at least some implied claim to represent the infertile experience in general, rather than a particular individual’s experience of infertility (like most blogs), and both were group efforts So, I can see how it would feel jarring to a new reader/listener to arrive and find that this place that was purported to represent the experience of infertility was actually occupied by a group of pregnant women. I’m not saying that looking elsewhere rather than complaining wouldn’t be a better and kinder strategy, but rather that the thought process behind the complaint may not really be about the Pain Olympics at all. Really good point.

    Having said that, I’m like Mel in that I read a diverse set of things to gain insight, but then again, I’m not in crisis right now, and I agree that makes a difference.

  6. Yes. I said some of this in my comment on Mel’s blog – but I think you have done it far more eloquently. I love your last few paragraphs. Bravo!

    I found your blog because you found mind (I think that’s how it went), and I continue to read (and hopefully offer support) because I find you interesting, I like the way you write, and the way you make a genuine attempt to understand your feelings about what you are going through. And I’d be doing that if you were pregnant with #2, doing IVF, adopting, or not trying at all.

  7. I will echo what others have said- great post! I agree that the Pain Olympics will always be somewhat unavoidable in a community like this, but I hope that it can be minimized in comparison to the love and support the members give to one another. I will admit that I don’t engage in a lot of IF discussions because I feel like I can’t “compete” in the POs. While yes, we struggled to conceive our first, once we did minimal interventions, we got pregnant, and then of course had no trouble (surprise!) with the second. However, on the flip side, I feel like a lot of people do the same thing with me and Grayson’s situation- they don’t want to engage in conversations about “normal” kid health problems because they know how much we struggle with- which that makes me uncomfortable too.

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  9. Well said and great discussion here in the comments. I am really tired and thus can’t form many coherent thoughts, but wanted you to know that I was/am here and read this. This part of your post really resonates with/speaks to me:

    “I think, when people complain that their story is not being represented, it’s not so much because they feel anger or jealously (although that can absolutely be a PART of where they are coming from), but because they want their story to be told. They want to hear about people experiencing something like what they experience, so they can learn from those stories and find hope.”

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  12. Sorry I’m late to comment, but I absolutely LOVE this post…so well-written and spot on. I did indeed seek solace in experiences similar to mine, to help me through a challenging time. No one I knew IRL had these issues, it was so so validating and reassuring to know there were others out there. Now that I’m THROUGH that time, I find myself, like Mel, seeking out experiences different then my own—to gain a broader understanding of “the human condition”, if you will. But, when I need advice or reassurance or simply to know I’m not the only one, I’m back to the familiar—those that “get it” because they’ve lived it.

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