Obligation to give back?

But first, I’d like to offer a sincere apology to all the poor buggers that goo.gled “fat fuck.ing” and ended up on a site about infertility and dead babies.  Sorry for your luck pal, no porn here.  You’d have to come to my house to see some fat fu.cking — no, wait, infertility and grief have screwed that up too.  Move along, nothing to see here.  Good luck on finding what you’re looking for.


The real subject of this post is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.  I’ve mentioned it before, but I became the leader of our local infertility support group some time in 2011.  When I went to my first meeting as a member, it was such a huge relief to be with people who understood.  Sure, I’d been reading blogs and “connecting” with people online, but it’s not the same.  It felt so good to be able to share my feelings and have my feelings and thoughts shared by others.  I think it was at that first meeting, that the leader announced that she was looking to step down and was hoping someone would step “up”.  My social worker self made me do it.  I have excellent group facilitation skills… I can do this!  But more than that, I didn’t want to see it die.  I waited to see if anyone else was interested, but when no one showed interest, I knew it had to be me.  I wanted so badly for it to keep going.

And so it did.  But then the bottom fell out of my world and I no longer wanted to do it.  I put the group on hold for several months after we lost Abby.  I could barely do anything, let alone run a group.  And there wasn’t enough of a base to the group that it would run on it’s own.  There was never a strong membership, but rather people just checking it out here and there if the topic appealed to them.  There was no real connection among the members and there was often different people every time.

In September, I got it going again, but nothing had changed.  And why would it?  I never did much of anything to promote it — I barely gave it any of my energy at all.  Because I simply don’t have any energy to spare.  And so, I too, have decided to step down.  The part of me that doesn’t like to fail is crushed, but the part of me that doesn’t have a drop of energy left, wins this one.  Mostly, I’ve made peace with my decision.  I truly believe that the person who runs the group should be “resolved” in their infertility battle.  I compare it to 12-step meetings: the leader is in recovery, not active addiction.

Which brings me to my original thought (damn, that was a big set-up), what is the obligation to give back?  Lots of “resolved” members of the group in it’s previous incarnations remain connected through the online message board, but not one person is interested in taking over the group… much like when the last leader stepped down.  How many infertiles get pregnant/adopt/decide to remain childless and just want to forget the whole damn ordeal of getting there?  I’ll admit that when I was pregnant, there was a big piece of me who just wanted to forget.  I wanted to pretend that I was a normal fertile.  I wanted to leave infertility behind.  I wanted to forget it ever happened.

I have had a grander “vision” for this support group from the very beginning.  One day, I would like to be in private practice and I would like to offer counselling/therapy to other infertiles.  There are huge parts of me that can’t imagine listening to stories of heartbreak and sadness, all thanks to infertility, as a job — but there is a bigger part of me who wants to make sure that no infertile ever has to think they are alone.  When I was seeing a counsellor after my loss, I could not find anyone local who had experience with infertility.  I live in a fairly big city with no shortage of therapists and the only person I found that was “local” was still at least 40 minutes away and was on a sabbatical!  Ultimately, I would like to have a practice that offers both individual and group support for those experiencing infertility.  But I can’t do any of this until I am through it myself.  Hence, my strong belief that the leader of the support group should be resolved.

Perhaps it’s my desperate attempt to give meaning to any of this.  If it means a career shift and an opportunity to help others, maybe it will all be worth it?

What do you think?  If you’ve gone through something in life that changes your life, is there an obligation to give back?


15 responses to “Obligation to give back?

  • Kate

    This is a great post. I see your point about feeling the need to be resolved before taking on any therapeutic leadership role with re: to IF. It does seem like there are a shortage of qualified counselors (and by that I mean those with professional and personal experiences).
    My own experience as a birthmother is what ultimately led me to pursue my MSW. As a social worker, I did “give back”, I guess, in my role at the adoption agency I worked for. But it wasn’t easy. Even though I was “resolved” and in a good place about my own experience, it was really tough. I didn’t last long at it before I had to step away. That’s just me, but there is something to be said for the fact that having been through the thing you are providing counseling for can be both good and bad.
    I do know that my clients were always very grateful to know that i had been through it, walked in their shoes, etc. That did feel good to provide that level of empathy and support. But I’m not sure I can/will go back to it either.

    The fact that you kept that group going for as long as you did while still going through the depths of IF hell really says a lot about your strength and character. I hope someone else steps up now, though, so you can continue to get the support from the group that you need. Until you don’t need it anymore.
    But, for now, please take care of yourself.

  • Mo

    I don’t know if it’s an obligation as much as a need. I’m going for a career change for the same reason- to help women with IF and loss. Why? Maybe to make these last three years mean something? I think that explanation makes the most sense.

  • SB

    I don’t think there is any obligation to give back. However, sometimes experiences create passion for something, which can make you better at it than anyone else. Course, you need to make sure you’ll all up to date on your “use of self,” because that’s pretty important when dealing with something so close to home. It can be a powerful tool or it can be harmful if not used correctly. I believe I am a social worker because of natural skills I was born with, an intuitive sense, the way I was raised, and for sure, experiences I have been through. I have no doubt as to why I work in health care:) For the record, I have always thought you would be a fantastic therapist in private practice. I’ve always thought of you that way…

  • Cristy

    I’m nodding along while reading this. Support groups are a tricky thing. I most certainly agree that someone who is resolved (and not newly resolved either) should be the one leading these, yet too often people jump ship once they do because they are so desperate to forget they ever went through this experience. And people wonder why infertility and loss are so taboo.

    Look, you need to come first. So no guilt. Regarding the group: well that’s a hard one. RESOLVE support groups can be such great resources to people. But it’s only as good as the members of the group want it to be (note that I’m emphasizing the plural here). It should not be your job to organize something WHILE dealing with all the pain and heartache for a group os women who may or may not show up. It’s just too much.

  • Alicia

    Oh M, you have not failed, you have succeeded. You have found success in stepping down and taking time for yourself, which is the ultimate achievement. Bravo and congratulations.

    I don’t think that anyone has an obligation to “give back” in any set way. You are giving in so many ways by being open and honest to yourself about your journey.

    You are rocking it. Good job in stepping down. Time to take some time for M.

    • Heather

      very well said Alicia… M, you are an amazing person and an inspiration in everything you do – whatever you choose for your future, those around you will be blessed and grateful to be part of it. You are a born leader, and you will know best when to use these skills again – if not right now, then later on.

  • Daryl

    I wouldn’t call it an obligation, either. More like a calling some people feel. Clearly not everyone feels called to give back or your group wouldn’t be without a leader! But I agree the important thing now is to take the best care of yourself you can.

    (Also, I love your disclaimer at the beginning of this post! I’ve had some search terms that have made me think people leave my blog sorely disappointed, too.)

  • marwil

    I’d like to think that you give back if you feel a passion for it, that it is something you really want to do and can handle. And I do agree with your argument that one should be resolved before being a leader of a support group. In fact, there’s an organisation here in the UK that has the requirement that you should be at least one year past your own loss before being allowed to start a group. Which to me makes sense.
    Please don’t feel guilty about this, it’s not your responsibility on your own to get it going again. If there’s enough interest somone else will step up. I’m sure. if not immediately, maybe in the near future.

  • Sadie

    I don’t think there is any obligation, and I would agree that your priority right now should be YOU. You can’t be any good to yourself, let alone others, if you don’t recognise that (which is a guess what you mean about being resolved).
    I’ve thought about this post since reading it yesterday. It’s really thought provoking, mostly because I’ve grappled with the reverse of this. I contributed for a long time to an online forum for loss, where a lot of the newer parents who contributed were trying to conceive their rainbow babies. After a while, I began to feel like I was so far from their hopes for the ‘happy ending’, with my years of infertility and recurrent loss, that I was better not being involved. My story sure wasn’t what they wanted to hear, whether I was resolved to it or not.
    Please don’t think of this as a failing of any kind.

    • Wannabemom

      Nobody wants to hear the story about the someone who hasn’t had their dreams come true, but to the person who keeps getting their heart broken, there is comfort in know they are not alone. I’m a realist. I’d want you on my message board 😉 I remember going to a “support meeting” that my clinic hosted and the guest speakers kept going on about how “it will happen for you, you just have to hang in there” and I finally spoke up and said “you know what, I appreciate your faith, but there is a percentage of the people in this room who will statistically not make it… and that’s a reality”.

  • Wannabemom

    Gah… I’m trying to comment on what everyone said… but to sum up my thoughts.. thanks for your thoughts. I appreciate the viewpoint of seeing it as a passion or a calling versus and obligation. That makes sense to me.

  • Sadie

    Thanks for saying that 🙂 I appreciate your realism. One of the things that is sometimes hard for me to stomach in the infertility world (though certainly not that of loss), is the pervasive ‘it will happen for you’ mantra, because, well, if you wish and you want it ‘enough’, that doesn’t mean you’ll get it. And I’ve found so much comfort in being able to connect with people who are in my situation, and understand that happy endings don’t all look the same, and that sometimes it just sucks.

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