Survivor’s guilt happens when we’ve been through something awful and made it out the other side while others haven’t. It was the last thing I expected to feel when I finally got pregnant. I imagined nothing but joy and relief and sunshine and puppies. While there was some of that but there was a lot of guilt too.
Over the past 20 weeks, my brain has been full of a million thoughts. It isn’t fair. My journey only lasted a few years. I didn’t have to go through IVF. I didn’t have to struggle with recurrent loss trying to make my dream a reality. It shouldn’t have been this easy. I thought of the women who had endured so much more than I had and questioned why I made it and they didn’t. Surely, they deserved it more. I felt immediately that I shouldn’t be too happy, or too excited — I needed to suppress my joy. I felt like I had somehow betrayed the people I had connected with through online and face-to-face infertility communities.
Maybe you, reader, have also made it to the other side and can relate to these feelings. Or maybe it is something you will experience in the future. If you find yourself struggling with survivor’s guilt, I’ve found these reminders helpful.
Ask yourself “Am I confusing a feeling with a fact?”
This is something we tend to do a lot as human beings. I feel guilty therefore I am guilty. However, just because we feel something doesn’t mean it’s true. All you’ve done is achieve the goal that all women struggling with infertility strive for. While it isn’t fair that so many women have to deal with the grief and pain of infertility, it is not something you have done to them and not something you can hold yourself responsible for.
Remember, there isn’t a limited amount of luck to go around.
Why am I pregnant? Because I got really, really lucky. Good thing there isn’t a finite amount of luck. You getting pregnant doesn’t diminish the chances of anyone else getting pregnant. It’s not a “you or them” situation.
Remind yourself how the people close to you feel about you getting pregnant.
Maybe some people who are struggling with their own challenges aren’t going to be overjoyed for you, and understandably so. However, there are people in your life who love you and may have even been walking this journey with you — how do they feel? This pregnancy is a gift, so rather than rejecting that gift because you somehow feel undeserving, share it with those who love you.
Don’t rule out the benefits of being on the other side.
Sure I feel guilt now, but I also felt guilt before I was pregnant. When someone, even a friend, would announce that they were pregnant, I would be jealous and self-pitying. I couldn’t just be happy for them — it was always tainted. Now I revel in being completely, blissfully, enthusiastically happy for others when they announce they are pregnant. Maybe this has been a benefit for you too, or maybe there is something else that you can celebrate.
Consider how you can give back to the infertility community.
Now that you’re pregnant, or have had a child, you may not be involved with the infertility community in the way you were before. However, you have insight and compassion that many people don’t have. You can still provide a listening ear, information from your past experiences, and maybe sometimes a story of hope for others. If you have the capacity for it, you can still be a support for people dealing with pain that can only be understood by those who have walked the path before.
By Catherine Wilde