I’ve been feeling off lately and scrounging the internet for something- someone I could relate to. I’ve found some relevance in articles and incredibly personal accounts of pregnancy loss, infertility, grief, and/or and anxiety. But it wasn’t until listening to this NPR podcast: The Scarcity Trap, Why We Keep Digging When We’re Stuck in Hole, that I found an unlikely solidarity with the experience of sugar cane farmers in India.
These farmers, in a study by Eldar Shafir and Sendhil Mullainathan, behaved differently right after harvest when they were relatively wealthy. Compared to when faced with scarcity later on, the wealthy farmers had better impulse control, planned longer term, and even fared better on IQ tests. “To be clear, it’s not that poor people focus on immediate needs because that’s all they want to think about. It’s all they can think about,” states Shankar Vedantam in respect to these farmers and others facing scarcity.
I’ve already tried to minimize my own feelings of sadness and frustration over not being pregnant by dismissing it as a “first world problem.” Presumably, I am financially distinct from these farmers in that I can afford to raise a hypothetical kid and pay my bills all year- not just after the harvest. I have wonderful health insurance that covers prenatal care (thank you Affordable Care Act). I have a job- finally- that offers some maternity leave and paid time off.
How on earth, then, can I compare my lack of having child with someone else’s lack of financial resources?
I can relate to their desperateness.
“When you feel that something important is missing in your life, your brain starts to focus on that missing thing. When you’re really desperate for something, you focus on it so obsessively there’s no room for anything else, ” Vedantam continues. The episode also provides non-monetary examples of scarcity such as being lonely or short on time. So the mental challenge experienced by these farmers as their earnings run out can happen to us any time there is something missing in our lives. Our thoughts focus on only one thing.
When we first started trying to conceive, I thought of lots of other things- skiing, rock climbing, wilderness canoe trips, beer- on a regular basis. I had heard of woman caught up solely in their desire to become pregnant and assumed that would never happen to me. Those woman, I reasoned, are more high strung than me. I, on the other hand, was carefree and open to whatever happened, baby or not.
Slowly that shifted. Maybe it was because of the intense joy I felt upon getting pregnant and the subsequent disappointment of miscarriage. Maybe it was because I got caught up in stories of rainbow babies conceived within a month or two of a loss and grieved when that wasn’t me. Maybe I’m a highly sensitive, emotional mess and my original carefreeness was just a denial of my true self.
Or maybe, as Hidden Brain points out, it’s because of the scarcity trap. Anyone in my situation would feel like I do, just like anyone facing poverty does. “What if it’s not that poor people are somehow deficient, but that poverty makes everyone less capable? That it’s….you and I, tomorrow, were we to become poor, would all of a sudden have the same effect, that poverty is in some sense changing our minds,”Mullainathan explains.
With this reasoning, anyone facing obstacles in growing a family would naturally become fixated on having a child. The only thing that had previously set me apart from those woman and their fixation on pregnancy was our situation. It wasn’t that my carefree attitude was better than theirs, I just hadn’t yet faced attitude-adjusting scarcity. I’m in their shoes now, and lately I’ve been grappling with why on earth this is so hard for me; why can’t I go back to being carefree.
I recently wrote a piece, full of hyperbole, or as my husband put it “click-baity,” about my initial thoughts versus my current thoughts on trying to conceive. It is titled “Please Don’t Judge How Desperate I am to be Pregnant,” and to be perfectly honest, the person I feel most judged by is myself (or at least my previous self). Upon publication, an editor assigned it the subtitle “I don’t need to keep hearing about overpopulation either.” I have plenty of guilt over the environmental consequences of procreation, however, contrary to that subtitle, those thoughts are all internally generated (influenced by four years of undergrad in a natural resources school). Despite the subtitle, no one has been callous enough to say such a thing to me, though I suppose it isn’t out of the question.
“Just stop worrying and you’ll get pregnant” is the classic way to piss off someone in my situation, yet many well meaning folks pass on this “wisdom.” A year or so ago, I may have even said it myself. Thanks to Hidden Brain for enlightening me on why that “advice” is so damn hard to act on when you’re in the scarcity trap. I highly recommend giving this podcast a listen or a read so you can better understand your friends who are in a tunnel- whether it’s money, companionship, time, babies, or world peace that they are finding in seriously short supply. Or perhaps it will help you better understand yourself, as it did for me.
This post was originally published at <http://offbeathome.com/obsession-with-become-a-parent/>. The end of the aforementioned podcast does give some suggestions for how to get oneself out of a so called scarcity trap. I found it incredible how for me just listening to this podcast and being able to acknowledge my situation proved to be a light in this tunnel. I had to share this in hopes that others would find it just as helpful!