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.