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The 'Happiness Paradox' of Dealing With Infertility

A couple weeks ago a friend posed a question on Facebook:

How do you tell the difference between being thankful for what you have versus settling? How do you know you’re happy, truly happy versus when you’re merely trying to convince yourself you are happy? More importantly, how do you stay thankful for what works in your life without settling for what doesn’t solely to be happy?

I’ve decided to call this the “happiness paradox.”

On the surface my life is amazing. I have a loving husband, a wonderful circle of friends. I have a job I enjoy, one that positively impacts the world around me. I have hobbies I am passionate about and able to pursue. It’s a life anyone would be thrilled to have. Except it’s not the life I want. For close to two years now, my husband and I have struggled with
infertility. We have undergone numerous tests, surgeries and taken medications all in an attempt to have a child, to become a family of (at least) three. Until our family feels complete, we are not fully happy regardless of what it may look like to the outside.

Here’s where the paradox lies. According to countless articles, quotes, blogs, I should be happy with what I have. I should accept my life as it is. But I also should always strive for more and never settle. What do I do? What is anyone supposed to do? How do I reconcile what I have with what I want?

Currently when we’re in between cycles, we test drive what life would be like if we stayed DINKs (Duel Income, No Kids). It gives me the chance to see if I am happy and can accept the life I currently have. We jet off to Iceland for a week because we can. We go to farmer’s markets, binge watch Netflix all weekend in our PJs, and enjoy boozy brunches. We don’t worry if we’re out from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. because the cat will be fine.

Do you know it took me 10 minutes to craft that paragraph? It took that long because those sentences are as much about convincing me we’re happy being just the two of us, having childless freedom to do what we want, as it is about describing our life at this specific point. To be sure, we do all these things because we want to and we enjoy it. I love lazy weekends, uninterrupted time with my husband and being able to stay out (and sleep) till whenever.

But some of what we do is so I don’t have time to dwell on what we don’t have. So I don’t have time to slide into depressions thinking about how wonderful a father my husband will make and might never have the chance to be. Depressions stemming from yet another baby shower invite or a Facebook gender reveal. From seeing and hearing about our friends’ mother-daughter days and father-son outings, wondering if we’ll ever have days like those.

I would trade our current lifestyle in a heartbeat for a world in which I’m Mom and my husband is Dad. I would trade sleeping till 10 a.m. to being woken at 3 a.m. to cries of, “Mommy!” I feel hollow at times describing and living my perfect, happy life. Which means I’m definitely not as happy with what I currently have as I try to convince myself that I am. And therein lies the paradox.

In the happiness paradox how do you know what is settling versus what is true happiness? I know accepting my life in its current state, wonderful though it is, is settling. I know this because despite all the medication and their awful side effects, despite surgeries and their risks, despite knowing all I put myself through, put us through, does not guarantee a baby, I
only know I will forever regret if I don’t try.

If one thought or a series of connected thoughts constantly run through your mind, it might be worth listening to. If in the quiet moments like right before you fall asleep or when you daydream, you long for that “other,” maybe you should listen. That could be your subconscious, your heart pushing you. The other can be becoming a parent, moving to a new city, going back to or starting school, beginning a hobby. Whatever your heart tells you.

One might say though that you can’t constantly be chasing the other forever, and that’s true. For us, there’s a set limit as to how many IVF cycles we can pursue, the number insurance will cover. We will spend a lot of time in those quiet moments listening to what our hearts tell us. I believe it is in this quiet that your heart speaks to you. Those moments are raw and hard to deal with at times because we may not be ready to hear what our hearts have to say. If you’re constantly chasing, constantly running, you may leave your heart no time to tell you what it wants.

The final part of my friend’s question included, “How do you stay thankful for what works in your life without settling for what doesn’t solely to be happy?” For me, knowing I am doing all I can to pursue my motherhood dreams gives me leeway most of the time to be happy and grateful for what I currently have. I am thankful I have experiences, opportunities, grateful for my friends and family though I am still discontented my life that doesn’t yet include a child. I have learned being grateful for what you have and still wanting more aren’t mutually exclusive.

I know my life is good right now, although I know my life isn’t what I want. I know I’m happy now, although I know I spend time convincing myself I’m happier than I actually am. I know I’m grateful for what I have, although I know I want more. I know my heart says I will regret not doing everything in my power to make my life into the one I imagined it would be, the life I want to have.

Getty image by Photo_Concepts