The five reasons women are more stressed than men has been highlighted by Dr. Alice Domar, from the Mind Body Clinic at Boston IVF, during her presentation at the PepsiCo Summit for Female Executives (May2012).
This talk was about stress in general, but let’s look at these stressors along with the extra stress of infertility.
It appears that men generally worry about three things in their life – their immediate family, their job and finances. Which order that comes in, probably depends upon the man, the time of his life, his level of job demands and also how much he identifies with his job.
Women however generally worry about twelve things. Things like their immediate family, their job, and finances (same as men), but also the extended family, the dog, etc. etc. Add in infertility and that number twelve likely increases to about fifty!
Why is this the case? In her talk, Dr. Domar attributes the worry for women to 5 reasons:
1) Women have more on our plate: we are responsible for more things in daily life. We take on more things, are more connected to others and take on their issues and emotions, we contribute to community and neighbourhoods – we get involved.
When we add fertility issues women take on that role as well. Women tend to worry about fertility much earlier than men do. They worry about what process they need to follow to determine the causes of the infertility, and how they can address infertility long before men even think it may be a problem. We also know, even in the case of male infertility, the woman still becomes the patient, which means they can take on the issue of infertility personally more so than their male partner.
2) Work / life balance: While this can be an issue for men as well, sociological research over many years has shown that women do what is often referred to as ‘the double shift’. They go to work and when they come home they go to work there. Work doesn’t seem to end. Researchers following college professors married to other college professors with the same demands in their work life, found that the women in these marriages were still doing the majority of the home duties. Work just doesn’t seem to stop.
3) Weight and self-esteem: As a society we are coming round to discussing the relationship of depression and the risk of suicide, which occurs in about 1-3% of the population. However women with an eating disorder have between 5-20% risk of dying from that eating disorder.
Why do we have an increase in eating disorders? Dr. Domar is clear in her belief that it is due to media. The influence of the constant bombardment of the thin female shape as being the ideal, she argues is the leading cause of the increase in eating disorders.
In the case of infertility, weight and self-esteem, women need to know about the influence of weight and fertility. Excessive weight can be a factor in infertility, and so women may need to focus on losing weight in order to increase their chances of getting pregnant. They may come to blame themselves for being overweight, which can hamper their goal of losing weight.
If weight isn’t an issue, a woman struggling with infertility will still be given information from all different sources about what she should and shouldn’t eat to help the situation. Food can become a dominant focus.
4) Perfectionism: Everything has to be going well – the house, the job, everything. Nothing can be seen to have a flaw in it. This perfectionism isn’t genetic. Previously ‘good enough’ was ‘good enough’ but again media influences, home making media personalities and consumerism has contributed to the need to strive for the perfect life.
Infertility can challenge this striving for the ‘perfect’ life. Your own voices may include things like ‘life would be perfect if only we could get pregnant’ or ‘a baby would make life perfect’, and even ‘life is so perfect for them, they have children’.
This striving for perfectionism can even invade the process of infertility treatment. We need to have the perfect specialist, the ‘right’ treatment options; we may even need to have sex the ‘right’ way and only at the ‘right’ time!
5) Self-nurturance brings guilt: Previously we had extended families and communities who helped us when we were struggling. We had supports to talk to and normalise how we were feeling. With the individuation of society, the lack of extended families and the ‘closed’ family home behind garage and security doors, we no longer have others to care for us and allow us to care for ourselves.
Infertility is often not spoken about out loud and to others, so we remove any care others may be able to offer us. We struggle with this hidden demon alone. Others don’t understand when we don’t feel as excited as they would like when we hear about someone getting pregnant or having a baby. When we don’t want to attend family functions or barbecues with friends we are seen as being selfish, not supportive or aloof.
The antidote to the level of stress for women, according to Dr Domar, comes down to self-care. So how can you self-care without feeling the guilt of taking time for yourself?
You could try:
- Talking to a friend
- Having a cuppa and a slice of chocolate cake (without the guilt)
- Taking some time to go for a walk along the beach by yourself
- Sit in meditation for 15mins
- Take a yoga class
- Something for your own peace, sanity and serenity, just do it, without guilt
We may not be able to predict when the next event or situation we need to deal with may be, but we can know how we can support ourselves in order to be able to deal with that or any other event.