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Magical Thinking

Once, after a negative beta when I was buying hats to cheer myself up, there was a basket of silver hearts and Josh bought two.  From that point on, whenever we’d have an appointment or a procedure, we’d place the hearts in our palms and hold hands so the two hearts were touching.  It became a new superstition — if I went alone to a blood draw, I held the heart, and if we were together for a procedure, we held the hearts, and I started to believe that if we didn’t have the hearts on us at all times that all hell would break loose.

The hearts were in addition to a rock that I always carried in my pocket for good luck and the red string bracelet from Rachel’s tomb that a friend brought back for me from Israel.  After we became pregnant with the twins, I became even more superstitious.  We had known what their names would be for years, having chosen two boy’s names and a girl’s names, but we never used their names.  Even with each other.  I wouldn’t have a baby shower.  And then the twins were born, and I brought more red string from home and tied it around their incubators.

Despite all my rationality, I have always been a superstitious person.  It speaks to my internal “what ifs.”  I pinned Druze blue glass into my wedding dress hem to ensure a good marriage.  We sleep under a blue hamsa.  I never remain in the room for Yizkor during Yom Kippur.  I rationally know that blue glass or a hand symbol or leaving a sanctuary can’t stave off terrible things from happening.  And yet I still do it.  Because what if.

It makes me feel better in a tumultuous world that is entirely out of our control even though I know that carrying certain items or not saying certain things can’t control the world.

Josh sent me an article from Tablet magazine about common Jewish practices in pregnancy and how they have no basis in actual Jewish law even though many Jewish women commonly do them.  There were two quotes in the article that stood out to me:

“Whenever you have a situation where there’s a lot at stake, and you’ve done everything you possibly can to make sure there’s a happy outcome but there’s still a lot of uncertainty, it’s a perfect circumstance for superstitions to emerge,” Stuart Vyse, a professor at Connecticut College who specializes in the psychology of irrational beliefs, told me. “Establishing some kind of ritual or lucky thing you do makes you feel better, because it gives you the illusion of control.”

“A lot at stake” is practically in the definition of every cycle when you’re infertile.  There is always a lot at stake.  Every choice you make leads to 1000 what ifs because so much more is invested in the cycle than what the average person goes through to create a child.  It is more time-consuming, more painful, more emotionally-fraught, more expensive — all of which raise the stakes and in turn make me a superstitious mess.

Then I remembered something Vyse had told me. “Superstitions are intuitive and based on the psychology of feeling good,” he said. “There are psychological incentives for people, even though they know intellectually that it doesn’t matter.”

The only person who is affected by my superstitions (beyond perhaps annoyance) is me.  I like to think of my superstitions as insurance.  Having insurance doesn’t protect you from death or fire or accidents — it literally can’t prevent anything.  And yet we feel safer having that insurance.  It goes beyond the monetary protection and enters into something more akin to magic — that if we plan for the future, that future won’t happen.

So I’ll continue to sew blue glass into the hem of people’s wedding dresses and carry my silver heart to all family-building appointments and sleep under a hamsa and not say the names aloud that we’ve picked out if we have another child.  Because it makes me feel good.  They’re my psychological incentives and I’ll take anything I can get.

Are you superstitious?  What are things you do or don’t do based on your superstitions?


1 clare { 02.12.12 at 8:32 am }

When ever I hear a siren or a passing ambulance I kiss my thumbnail, and say a little prayer that all will be well for that family and that the person has family to worry and care and love him or her (broadest def of the work family). I’ve been doing this since I was 12. When I hear breaks slam.. or cars crash.. or people fall wrong.. whenever there is that pause where people are reacting to something that could have gone very very wrong, but we don’t know yet, I have this ritual.

2 Queenie { 02.12.12 at 9:19 am }

When I got pregnant with my first, I decided that if we made it safely through the CVS, I would start a Trollbeads bracelet, and add to it at every milestone along the way in my pregnancy. I wore it every day while I was pregnant. I’ve done the same thing during this pregnancy. Each charm I’ve added has a special meaning, for a special milestone. At the end, I had/have something that got me through, and the girls will each have a bracelet that I made for them while I was pregnant with them.

3 Her Royal Fabulousness { 02.12.12 at 9:31 am }

I always wish on loose eyelashes (am I the only one?) and never POAS anymore because I feel like POAS brings AF. 😛 Silly, but true.

4 April { 02.12.12 at 10:36 am }

I wish on eyelashes too. And when my hand itches I take the itch and put it in my pocket, because that’s a way to bring money. I dropped a lot of little superstitions like that after our ‘marital problem’ because they were more painful reminders than comfortable familiarities. I’m afraid to start new ones because they might bring the same thing. Just more superstition, I hope.

5 Mina { 02.12.12 at 11:27 am }

I have my lucky perfume I wear everytime I go to the doctor. My good-news perfume. I’ve had it with George and all went well then, so I am doing it again this time. It’s a new bottle, but it is the same dosage. I also have the same brand shower gel, and I only use it when I go to the doctor, to get (duh) good news. Silly, but it is what I can do to control the good news getting.
I have other similar stuff, but none so constant. I think it will remain my good news perfume for a long time. I do not intend to use it for any trivial thing, only for the important stuff. Do not want to wear out the magic…

6 Daryl { 02.12.12 at 1:15 pm }

I’m not superstitious in terms of rituals so much as looking for signs. Numbers, names, things that my husband and I have just talked about popping up in a TV show or commercial. Holding my breath at 11:11. That kind of thing. So far, I don’t think anything has come of it. But that doesn’t mean I’ll stop.

7 It Is What It Is { 02.12.12 at 2:15 pm }

This is SO apropos as I just returned home from my 10th transfer (this time using donated embryos, we transferred 1 morula). I have been away from ART for 2 1/2 years and I am so rusty that I didn’t even consider what to take with me. In prior cycles, I began to wear a fertility bracelet, made by a friend, at every transfer (and, in fact, just typing that reminds me that I still have it and am going to pull it out, even though I am already home). I eventually ordered a tank top from Etsy that had a 4 leaf clover on it and read “This time’s the charm.” (I no longer have it).
So, while I didn’t think to take a talisman, I did change my shirt. I have a fuschia pink Tommy Hilfiger sweater that has a big white H on the front. My son, whose name starts with H, thinks it is his name my sweater refers to. Since I bought it for that very reason, I decided to wear it as my ‘lucky’ transfer sweater this morning.

Off to get my bracelet. THANK YOU for this timely post.

8 Cristy { 02.12.12 at 3:08 pm }

I purchased a fertility bracelet for my first IVF cycle. I wore it religiously during the entire cycle. It was the first time in 2 years that I got a BFP. Unfortunately I lost the pregnancy. Part of my wonders if that happened because the turtle charm that came with the bracelet fell off. FET planned for sometime in March and I’ve made certain to repair the bracelet.

In addition, Grey and I don’t attend appointments alone. Part of it is practical (two sets of ears to process the information), but the other part is that there’s a trend of me getting bad news when I’m alone. Be it test results or ultrasounds. Initially Grey thought I was being dramatic, but over time he’s noticed the trend too. So, we now do all of this together.

9 Trinity { 02.12.12 at 4:06 pm }

I wore the same pair of earrings to have RE appointment, including my ER and ET. They bear the image of a beloved feminist icon whose name is the same name we’d picked for a daughter. We had a son. 🙂

10 loribeth { 02.12.12 at 4:29 pm }

I like to think I’m a rational human being. And I think I am, for the most part. But I wore the same plaid flannel shirt (even though I eventually wore holes in the elbows) under a grey sweater that had been my mom’s & used the same pen to write every exam through both high school & university. (I still have all three, too, although I no longer use them.) And I reflexively throw a few grains of spilled salt over my shoulder, just in case. ; )

I am actually just in the middle of writing a blog post about my various fertility totems & rituals.

11 a { 02.12.12 at 10:46 pm }

I am not so much worried about lucky items as I am about unlucky items. My friend asked me to stand up for her second wedding, and since I was in her first wedding, I refused because I felt like bad luck (and yes, I told her exactly that). I threw away a pair of shoes I loved because I wore them to a funeral and said something unfortunate.

On the other hand, I do knock on wood quite a bit, and I wish on eyelashes…when I can think of something to wish for.

12 Mrs. Gamgee { 02.13.12 at 12:03 am }

I never thought of myself as a superstitious person, until I was pregnant with Ginny. Just prior to getting our bfp, I had participated in Kym’s Sock it To Me exchange. My sock partner sent me this groovy pair of black and white checkered socks with little skulls and crossbones on them. Somehow they became woven into the fabric of my hopes. I wore them to every appointment, every ultrasound, every visit with the diabetic nurses, and every NST. I wore them to the hospital on the day they that they started my induction, and my OB actually commented on them, saying that he didn’t think I owned any other socks. By that time, they were pretty raggedy.

And sometimes circumstances leave me slightly flummoxed. I participated in the SITM exchange again this past summer/fall and got a new groovy pair of stripey socks just in time for the beginning of this pregnancy. And yes, I have worn them to every major appointment so far.

So now I’m left wondering… is it the socks or the SITM exchange? 🙂

13 Tiara { 02.13.12 at 11:56 am }

I am so irrationally superstitious …I never wear clothes again if I received bad news, like the outfit I was wearing when I learned my dad died or what I was wearing @ the U/S when I learned I had a blighted ovum & would miscarry…I never wore those clothes again, right down to the underwear. I have so many other rituals & superstitions I could sit here all day typing them…including knocking on wood just because the commenter above mentioned it & again now because I typed it…it’s all about the what ifs for me…I don’t want to find out what might happen if I don’t do these things.

14 Chickenpig { 02.13.12 at 5:43 pm }

I would never name a child before it’s born. I may have a name in mind, but I would never call that baby by that name, nor buy decorations with that name or initials or whatever.

I also always use the same locker at my RE clinic…#10. I actually didn’t bother the last time I was there for a transfer, and we know how that turned out. Locker #10 from now on 🙂

15 Battynurse { 02.14.12 at 3:54 am }

I never considered myself as superstitious when I was younger but I think probably the tendencies were there. As a child I was taught that being superstitious or giving in to superstition was bad (the whole religion not trusting God thing) and wasn’t allowed to have items that were associated with luck etc. However I remember being fascinated by many of those things. By the time I started TTC I had completely moved away from the whole religious upbringing that I’d had and since it all felt so up in the air I allowed myself to fall in head first. I had so many good luck charms and rituals I had to do with each cycle, my theory being it couldn’t hurt and might help. I do still notice those habits now. I hate working on a full moon and if someone utters the “q” word (quiet) I might smack them. Funny how we see all that stuff in our lives.

16 Natalie { 02.15.12 at 7:40 pm }

When I was finally pregnant with my daughter, I had a dream in my 7th week that she was a healthy girl named Abigail. We had no idea if she would make it or not at that point, but as the weeks went by and she survived and we found out she was a girl, I was too superstitious to change her name even though it hadn’t been our top choice before. It seemed like I would jinx the perfect dream if I named her anything else. Luckily my husband agreed. Abigail is now 5 months old and truly fits her name.

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