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.