Our Secret Codes of Perfectionism

Jack was conceived three years ago today.  Or at least this is the day I count as his conception date.  Before you signal the OVERSHARE alarm, let me explain.  Three years ago today, we did our embryo transfer. As I shared in an earlier post, we struggled to get pregnant for some time.  We went through the emotional roller coaster of infertility, doctors’ appointments, unanswered questions, and passing months.  Having both gone through the gamut of testing and months of fertility treatment options, our doctor told us he felt our next reasonable and realistic option was to do IVF.  This is exactly where we did not want to end up.  This was the route we were both hoping to avoid.  We struggled to know if this was the right course of action or if we should continue to wait.  Were we turning something into science that should have been natural?   Were we taking things into our own hands by doing IVF? Maybe we just weren't supposed to have children.  I wrestled with this decision like I have never wrestled before.

From the first shot you give yourself until the day you take a pregnancy test, an IVF cycle takes 40 days.  Forty days.   The spiritual significance of that length of time was not lost on me.  For 40 days, I prayed thy will, not mine and that our sense of peace, joy, and worth would not be based on the outcome.  For 40 days, I tried to surrender all the anxiety, angst, and planning that accompanies infertility.  Although there were certainly moments of nervousness and anticipation, I have to say that during that period I felt more at peace than I had felt in years.  I had finally let go of the nagging thought that not getting pregnant was somehow a failure or a sign that I was missing some mark, and I had accepted that getting pregnant was out of my control.  I didn’t necessarily feel confident we would be decorating a nursery any time soon, but I felt at peace.

The embryo transfer was scheduled for Sunday, July 25th.  Although I was praying daily and repeating all sorts of surrender mantras, I read the instructions for what I was supposed to do that day over and over.  I had two responsibilities: show up on time and drink 40 ounces of water before the appointment. That was my part that day. The morning of the transfer I carefully measured my 40 ounces.  I started drinking.

When we arrived at the doctor’s office, the nurse did an ultrasound to check my bladder and she casually said, “Oh you don’t have quite enough water in you.  You need to drink more water.”

I instantly felt my throat tighten and my eyes start to burn with tears, and as clearly as if someone was speaking into my ear, I heard…

You didn’t do it right.

I was stunned.  I was shocked.  I was so shocked that I wanted to ask my husband if he had heard it as well.  It was water…it was water!!  It wasn’t going to make any difference on whether or not I got pregnant.  All I had to do was drink another Solo cup of water.  Where was this thought coming from?  I thought I had given up all the self-blame and high expectations.  But there lurking in the shadows was that old thought that if only I could do it right then everything would be okay.

I just want to do it right.  This thought had been setting the tone of my inner dialogue for as long as I could remember.  It applied to most everything I did and every decision I made.  For you see, I just want to do it right was my secret code.  It was my secret code of perfectionism.  I knew it wasn’t possible to be perfect, but I wasn’t trying to be perfect… I was just trying to do it everything right.  Because if I did everything right, then everything would work out.  Right?  Right?!?


Isn’t that what our secret codes of perfectionism convince us to believe?

Everyone has a secret code.  Everyone has a secret code that masks his or her attempted perfectionism.  We readily say that perfection isn’t possible; rather, we just want to do our best or we just like things done a certain way or we really prefer to work hard.  But there is a difference between perfection and preference.  Perfection is rigid and unforgiving while preference is flexible.  When we get honest about our secret codes, then we can get honest about the root lie behind our attempted perfectionism.

Perfection is protection.

Or so we think.

Perfectionism is all about protection.  If I can be perfect, if I can do it right, if I can keep everyone happy, then I will be protected against failure, criticism, hurt, and rejection.  If I can always make the right decision, then maybe I will avoid pain and disappointment.  If I cross every T and dot every i, then what I am afraid of most won’t happen.  Everything will work out because I did it right.  This is the lie that perfectionism tries to convince us is true.  This is the lie that keeps us up at night wondering what more we could do or where we missed the mark.  This is the lie that pummels our spirit and fills us with blame when things don’t work out.  This is the lie that robs us of peace.

The problem with this lie is that it lures you down a never-ending dark alley of overthinking, overworking, overscheduling.  You start to think, whether consciously or subconsciously, that how you look, how charming you were on the date, how you completed a certain daily task can change your life.  You start to think that you can control your destiny with just enough hard work.  The reality is you can do everything right and still not get the guy, the family, the job, the promotion, the love.  You can try and forecast every worst-case scenario and there are still going to be things beyond your control.


After I finished drinking my water, our doctor and the embryologist came in to discuss the transfer and next steps.  I sat there trying to take everything in.  Trying to take in everything the doctors were saying, trying to understand the significance of hearing that old thought for the first time in a while.  Sitting there, I realized this wasn’t about being perfect and this wasn’t about science.  This was about something Greater.  I started to fight back tears again but this time for a different reason.

That day I came face to face with the damaging power of my secret code.  I also came face to face with the abundant peace that comes with surrender.   Surrender is the antidote to perfectionism.  Surrender is recognizing what you can control, what you can’t, and having the wisdom to know the difference.  It is recognizing where you end and where God begins.  Surrender means embracing the mystery of faith.  It is not defeat or giving up; instead, it is peace and freedom.

We break free from our secret codes of perfectionism by getting honest about what they are and getting honest about what we think they will protect us from.  We break free by daily, sometimes hourly, laying down our expectations and attempts to control the unknown.  We break free by learning to embrace the ambiguity and uncertainty of life rather than fearing it.   Fear not, friends, there is abundant peace ahead.

What are your secret codes of perfectionism?  How do you use attempted perfectionism as a form of protection?  What are you trying to protect yourself from?