Pain Monopoly

Our group of locals meets under the banner of WAITT, and at the last meeting, we were given the homework assignment of writing a post about the Pain Monopoly.  I won’t name names about who gave the assignment, but I will say that she’s about as far behind in her infertility homework as she is in her summer coursework.  But that’s beside the point.

So the Pain Monopoly.  I think the best way to explain how I view the Pain Monopoly is to give an example from my own life: I have a friend who just suffered a very early miscarriage.  She already has one child, conceived the first month they tried.  She sent out an email last week talking about potty training, work, etc. and then followed up in the last paragraph saying how they had finally decided to try again and after two months she got the call the she had been waiting for.  (italics mine)  But the same day she got the call confirming her pregnancy, she started bleeding.  Oh, and she’s not looking for sympathy here, just letting us know.  Now, I’ve paraphrased her email in a much snarkier tone than I’m sure she intended, but that’s how I heard the words as I read them. 

I literally fought back tears the rest of the day.

My dilemma is what to do now.  The good infertile in me says I should call and offer my condolences and let her vent to someone who (at least kind of) understands.  But the self-preserving, hedgehog-spiky, and just a little resentful infertile in me says fuck her.  This is the girl I told that we were trying years ago, who knows we don’t have kids, who used to be my very best friend.  And I don’t trust myself to be the friend that she needs right now, because my own pain and anger are overshadowing the pain I should feel for her. 

Everyone understands the Pain Olympics, right?  The response of trying to determine whose pain ranks where, who deserves the most sympathy and support, who can throw out the trump card of “my life is the worst.”  To me, the Pain Monopoly is the next step up.  It’s the point at which everyone else’s pain ceases to exist under the weight of your own heartbreak.  I want to point out that I don’t often see this in the infertility community; it’s usually someone outside who likes to point out that infertility “isn’t all that bad” or that “[you] should be happy if infertility is the worst thing that happened to you.” The Pain Monopoly is a really sucky game to be the perceived loser in — any negative feelings you have are dismissed because the winner thinks that his/her situation is the worst thing to happen to anyone ever and that everyone should bend to their whims because it’s just so bad/unfair/painful. 

The defining characteristic of the Pain Monopoly is that the winner appears to feel that there is a finite amount of pain in the world, and a finite amount of sympathy and support available to help.  And since they have all the pain, obviously what you are feeling can’t be all that bad.  QED, any time you ask or reach out for understanding and compassion, you are trying to take something that rightfully belongs to them and you don’t deserve it.

I haven’t called my friend because I recognize that I’m tiptoeing the line of crossing into the Pain Monopoly.  I do not have the emotional reserves right now to support her, or even to put the effort into calling and explaining that I do care.  I do not know if I could keep it together long enough to help her without falling into the darkness and allowing myself to make her into a target for far too much pent up emotion.  She is in no way responsible for what I am feeling, and I shouldn’t blame her for her ability to get pregnant. 

That’s what I keep telling myself, anyway.

And until I can internalize that, really believe it and not just know it intellectually, I am just going to be that shitty friend who doesn’t recognize her loss.  Damned if I do, damned if I don’t.


16 thoughts on “Pain Monopoly

  1. excellent post, sharah. I can see your dilemma. but don’t think of yourself as a shitty friend if you are unable to support her. (maybe she’s the ass?) I agree you can’t win.

    if you decide somewhere down the line you want to acknowledge her loss in some way, I’d just send a cursory email. that requires little energy or response. some might think it’s an empty gesture, but I don’t, especially when the news was delivered that way to begin with.

    that said, I am all for putting some distance between myself and people who have not been supportive during our years struggling, especially when it comes to those who have built their families in that time with little effort. sorry you have to deal with this person at all.

  2. When you cannot generate sincere compassion, that’s where Hallmark comes in. Send an email or paper card that contains words on the inside and then sign your name. Whether or not she appreciates it, you will have taken a step forward for yourself.

  3. Sometimes we can’t be there for others. You know what? That’s ok. Sometimes we need to pull into ourselves and not let the world and its needs come first.

    Happy belated b-day. I’m sorry I didn’t send well wishes earlier.

  4. This was a great post. I think it’s ok to pull into yourself as well. We can’t always be there for everyone through everything.

    Man, I hate that I missed this month’s WAITT meeting!

  5. It’s tough to admit that you’re not in emotional space where you’re able to support your friend, but that’s just where you are right now. Regardless of whether she had been super-supportive and understanding of your situation or not, it just stings that she was able to to conceive so easily, even with this miscarriage. If you can’t do it, you can’t do it.

    That said, I do that if you want to send a note or a card of sympathy, that would probably be appreciated by her and not place you in a difficult situation. I don’t see those things as empty gestures – when I’ve gotten sympathy notes, they’ve always meant a lot to me, even when I haven’t gone on to discuss the situation or loss in any detail with the person sending them.

  6. Sometimes we’re just not up for these things. I too would opt for a card/note/e-mail. You can feel like you did something to acknowledge her loss without the painful effort of a phone call or face-to-face meeting. And especially since she said she’s not looking for sympathy, I think that would be more than enough. There have been more than a few cases where I’ve rushed in to offer support to people who have had miscarriages, only to be told more or less that they really didn’t need or want it. Oooookay.

  7. Maybe you need good friend as much as the woman you’re writing about. Sounds like you’re both hurting in different ways. You can be there for someone without picking up the phone. I’m with Deathstar. Send a card. You’ll have demonstrated kindness without making your own pain any greater. Maybe one day she’ll learn how to be a good friend in the way you need one. (And don’t be too hard on yourself. What you’re living with and through is not easy or predictable …)

  8. I am another for the card/e-mail approach. Hopefully if she is a good friend she will be understanding that you are unable to offer more. She could also be one of those oblivious hyper-fertliles who just assume that it will only be another month or so before all goes right for her and she is not really in need of any support.

  9. A simple card will go miles in showing you care and also do wonders for your self-preservation. The metaphors in your post are utterly perfect and I have been there myself and often still am at times. Thanks for being able to clearly articulate what I have not been able to.

  10. Awesome post. I’ve written a lot about the pain olympics, and have come to the conclusion (although at times it’s tough to swallow) that pain is relative. That is, what is unfathomable to me may not to someone else. And what seems a superficial flesh wound to me, is someone else’s march to suicide. I think it has a lot to do with support systems and mental health at the time of crisis. I also think playing a bit of pain olympics is actually healthy; that is, comparing your personal situation to a range of others helps you define where exactly you are. In fact, I think these sort of comparisons are inevitable. Sometimes the differences seem great (“well, she already has a kid,”) sometimes subtle and in your favor (“thank god my marriage is strong, I couldn’t imagine going through IF with a twit like that”). THAT SAID, your friend sounds in perfectly fine mental health, so I can’t imagine why she’s tossing this at you of all people for a pity cookie in return. If you’re polite back, you’re a good friend indeed.

  11. Sharah, every time I come here I think to myself: “This woman is SO MUCH SMARTER than I will EVER be. Seriously. The way you write, your logical analysis of things…I really covet that.

    I think you’re right on your asessment of the Pain Monopoly. And I think you’re doing the right thing by not calling your friend. It’s hard to bear with others when they step in a puddle and cry about it and all the while you’ve been drowning in an ocean. You just simply don’t have the resources to help.

  12. Dagum, girl, excellent post. Well sign me up for the hedgehog-says-f-her club because several years ago I pulled away from a friend who couldn’t/wouldn’t be supportive of me in my darkest days of grieving over the infertility diagnosis (“why can’t you be happy for me and my beautiful children? why won’t you come visit me?”).

  13. You know how funny that I should come across this post today because I was just thinking of how my very best friend from college — how our friendship fell apart over her pregnancy and my trying to conceive… — not on purpose really but just from this vast gulf that began to widen between us. She had no idea what to say, and I couldn’t manage the reserves to tell her how amazing her daughter was…

    So…all this to say: Thank you for the post, it is again so powerful to know that I am not alone.


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