I’ve always been a pretty forthright, outspoken gal. I was class rep in secondary school, again in university and somehow, again in my studies as a nutritional therapist. I seem to be the kind of person people approach to be their spokesperson.
I’ve always been willing to share my story, and when faced with a challenge have been happy to share what I was learning, if I thought it might help someone else.
Needing investigations into my fertility and then facing the reality of needing treatment to enable me to become a parent was a challenge that I was not expecting. Nonetheless, I wanted to feel comfortable talking about it with anyone who asked. I wanted to shake off the stigma that seems to follow fertility treatment around like a bad smell. Know what I’m talking about?
I shared (probably over-shared) at the beginning and soon realized that I couldn’t share my story with everyone I met. Why not? I learned that hearing other people’s sad stories of failure and high risk pregnancies were of no service to me. I fumed quietly at that old chestnut ‘Ah, she left it too late’ and resisted shouting ‘You have no idea what is going on in her life! You don’t know how long she has been trying to conceive. How do you know the issue is with her and not her husband!? Stop jumping to conclusions and assuming you know why she needs treatment!’
Then it hit me. The reason I wanted to share my story was to feel that I still belonged. I wanted my ‘tribe’ to accept me, to hear my story and say ‘We understand, we love you, you remain part of our family.’
Our ability to procreate is tied up with our value to society, our identity, our sense of self worth. Not being able to conceive naturally throws a big ol’ grenade into that value system. So, where do we find a healthy balance between sharing and feeling supported versus keeping our mouth shut, wearing a mask of ‘everything’s fine’ and becoming more and more isolated?
Our incredible counsellor shared some wisdom with us, in one of our pre-treatment sessions. He quoted from the bible (not a book I’m overly familiar with)
“Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.”
Sounds pretty extreme, doesn’t it? I thought so, the first time I heard it. There are a few ways to interpret it, mine is this: Some of our truths, our personal stories are precious to us, to us they are holy, they are our pearls. Not everyone in our life appreciates their delicacy or their value to us. Not everyone will understand how vulnerable we can feel when we share those pearls. If we share with the wrong person they may not notice that we have in fact, just unveiled a precious pearl. They may carelessly trample our pearl under their feet and in their lack of understanding or empathy, turn and tear us in pieces too. They may not have intended to hurt us, nonetheless our attempt to be understood and loved just as we are, has backfired. Our precious, fragile pearl has been smashed and we are now injured and upset.
The lesson? Choose wisely.
Before sharing your story with someone, ask yourself three things.
- What is it you need from them in this moment? Are you looking for someone to simply listen and say nothing? Are you hoping for some help in finding a solution to a specific problem? Get clear on that and tell them what you need.
- Do they have your best interests at heart? As the wonderful researcher and storyteller Brené Brown suggests, write down the names of the people in your life whose opinions really matter. To be on the list they must love you, not in spite of but because of your imperfections and vulnerabilities. These people can listen, without comment if that’s what you need (and it’s ok to tell them what you need). These are the people you approach for advice and support.
- Does this person have the sensitivity to value the truths that are your pearls? Can they stay present and meet you at the level you are at? If not, take a breath and find someone else.