[Excerpt from It’s Conceivable!—Hypnosis for Fertility, 2nd Edition by Lynsi Eastburn]
The Farmer in the Dell is an old German nursery rhyme that dates back to the early 19th century. It is an often-played children’s game where a group of children form a circle and sing an ongoing song. The song, verse by verse, details the acquisition of a person by the preceding person, with an implied sequence of the subsequent characters’ declining standing. The farmer begins the game from the center of the circle. The farmer takes a wife. Next, the wife takes a child. The child then takes a nurse, and so on, until eventually there is only one child left unchosen. This child is designated the cheese, and the cheese stands alone.
The farmer in the dell, the farmer in the dell, hi ho the derry-o the farmer in the dell…
The farmer takes a wife, the farmer takes a wife, hi ho the derry-o the farmer takes a wife…
I always thought The Farmer in the Dell to be a cruel game for children, as it is really nothing more than a popularity contest that leaves the quiet child, the different child, the unchosen child feeling even more ostracized than usual. That same sentiment is experienced by infertile women as others all around them become pregnant without apparent difficulty, while they themselves cannot. An already delicate situation—the inability to conceive—is exacerbated, their already glaring lack is underscored by those who are seemingly chosen by Nature. This cruelty is cast, perhaps most perceptibly, upon the last woman remaining in any so-called support group.
The infertility issue does not lend itself well to the whole support group concept, despite the desperate need most women have to be part of one, to receive some kind of compassion and understanding from others experiencing similar difficulties. The children’s game continues until everyone has been picked but one person. Even the rat—considered a loathsome creature by the general populace—has been taken. The last person—the cheese—is excluded from the group, is not chosen (not pregnant), is (must be) lower than even a rat.
The cheese stands alone, the cheese stands alone, hi ho the derry-o the cheese stands alone.
Within fertility “support” groups, the same thing happens. As each woman conceives (is chosen), she leaves. Just as relief floods each child as she is plucked from the ever-diminishing circle—her place secured—the now pregnant woman no longer wants any part of the infertility nightmare; she wants to move on to the next stage of her life. Just as children may feel sorry for the classmate who remains alone, ultimately, they are grateful not to be that person. And so it is with each newly pregnant woman. The support group is a reminder of the nightmare that she no longer has to endure, she has been chosen.
One by one the group members get pregnant, and one by one—just as fewer children remain in the circle—the other members are left; feeling abandoned, feeling like they don’t matter. Each pregnancy metes more suffering than the previous as the group dwindles. Until there is one woman left. That very last woman stands alone. She now “knows” that she is the outcast, that she is the one hated by God, that she is worthless, that she is nothing.
Abandonment chips the cheese’s soul in increments; with each chorus, someone else is chosen. (Why won’t anyone pick me?) The Farmer in the Dell is an excellent metaphor for what women trying to conceive must endure as one after another, after another, of their friends, relatives, colleagues—and even strangers—get pregnant before they do. And within the confines of the “support” group, where all members are there for the same reason, each confirmed pregnancy is that much harder to bear. In the “real” world, such incidents might be infrequent, or easier to avoid. But there is no escaping the inevitable exclamations of yet another happily-ever- after from within the group. And with every one, confidence is diminished. Eventually, there is nothing left but the endless sense of brokenness.
Not everyone understands the infertility issue, and not everyone cares about it. I have had women in my office who confess that at one time they dismissed other women’s pain as a virtual non-issue, that they couldn’t fathom what these women were “whining” about. Now as these women sit with me, tears streaming, sobs retching, they are faced with the guilt of being unsupportive to a friend in a time of need, and—because they are now in the same situation—feeling punished because (in their minds) of the “karma” being dealt to them for their previous lack of sensitivity. And “no one cares.” And now they get it.
The infertility struggle triggers countless self-punishment programs in a woman’s life. She is at fault because she cannot conceive, she is at fault because she waited too long, she is at fault because her eggs are too old, she is at fault because she wanted a career, she is at fault because of a previous abortion; the list is endless. For all of these infractions—and more—she must be punished. Old wounds are gouged open, deep wounds that have been suppressed—not addressed, not healed—will no longer remain contained. Unbridled angst bursts through the surface of the psyche; an excruciating journey begins.
The symbolism found in this children’s rhyme may be interpreted in many ways. The patriarchal hierarchy is immediately apparent as the farmer, who is clearly the key player (one might say the big cheese) in the game, becomes the owner or possessor of all that come after him. He is the director, everyone else must follow his course. The infertility issue has a similar layout. There is a very masculine energy dominating the reproductive medicine arena—a more aggressive, directive, top-down progression than an inclusive, holistic, feminine approach.
I am not talking male/female, but rather the associated, archetypal energies of the so-called masculine and feminine forces. For example: hard/soft, expansive/contractive, yang/yin, light/dark, and sympathetic/parasympathetic, respectively.
Women often end up feeling left out, discounted, and even abandoned. The body is separated from the self, the soul. The mind, body, spirit unity is disconnected in favor of unilateral impregnation—whatever the cost.
The feminine is not to be excluded, however, as it is a circle that the children form around the farmer. The circle represents the power of the female, as well as completion or wholeness. It is the Earth Mother, it is sacred space. A dell may be defined as a secluded hollow, a ravine, a shallow terra valley nestled amidst the trees.
A ravine may also be described as a chasm, an abyss. These terms may bring to mind a sense of struggle, or of facing a seemingly insurmountable obstacle or subconscious block; a fear of the unknown, of losing control, of loss, even an infinite emptiness. A hollow, or cave, represents the womb, the Earth Mother. Rebirth or transition often takes place in a cave. Terra means earth or ground. The Roman Goddess of the Earth is known as Terra—a fertility deity. The archetypal World Tree, also known as the Tree of Life or the Tree of Knowledge, connects the earth, the heavens, and the underworld. As above, so below. And so it is written.
The cheese stands alone in the dell—virtually abandoned in the abyss. Or so it would seem. But the cheese is not alone. She is encircled by the goddess, protected by the Earth Mother. The cheese is not alone.