For the last few weeks I have been taking part in a weekly Twitter chat for those who are childless not by choice, hosted by @ChildlessHour. I have connected with many lovely people through a hashtag, and all of them have found themselves in the position that we are now in, childless, but not by choice. Last night we shared snippets of how infertility had impacted on our lives and one thing that came through was the overwhelming feeling of grief and loss that we have all had to deal with at some point. It brought my own feelings about what we have been through to the surface, it triggered some feelings of loss for me again.
Grief is most often associated with the loss of a person in our lives, rather than with something we never seemingly had. Definitions of grief vary but I found a few on-line:
“Very great sadness” English Dictionary
“A natural response to loss” Wikipedia
Infertility is a loss of epic proportions and it makes absolute sense that we would need to grieve. It’s part of the story that often gets pushed to the side.
Through our struggles I did not grieve or make the connection that I needed to. In the throws of treatment we moved from one appointment to the next, from one cycle to the next, from one clinic to the next & from one failure to the next without really taking a step back to think about the impact that each step was having on me, on C and on us as a couple. Yes, when treatment failed, we cried, we were sad, we were angry & we struggled but did we grieve each loss, each struggle, each failure. No is the honest answer. We picked ourselves up, brushed ourselves off, put on a brave face and started again.
I think that if you have not lived it then its probably hard to understand what someone struggling with infertility has to grieve. What have we actually suffered the loss of? These are my thoughts, others will have their own list but here are some of mine:
- Loss of the future we imagined as a family with children, a family that we wanted so much & yet seemingly for us no matter what we do it just won’t happen
- Loss of the ability to do what to most people is the most natural thing in the world, we weren’t like everyone else, we were different
- Loss of the ability to control our lives & create our family when we felt we were ready, we are now in the hands of the scientists
- Loss of hope, the more that we experienced failure the more the hope diminished, which leads to anger, frustration and hurt
- Loss of connections as we drift further away from those around us, we got left behind. We somehow don’t fit in anywhere even though those around us try hard to include us in their lives. Most of those around us have families, its hard to watch everyone else move forward whilst we are still on the starting blocks and have been for 10 years.
- Loss of our embryos, they had the potential to become our children, we created them, they were part of both of us & my body failed them. They were our hopes, dreams & future and they are gone, all of them.
Grief through infertility is very real and is often buried. Mine was buried so deep that it nearly destroyed me from the inside. I knew it was there but I ignored it and I didn’t know how to deal with it. Grief made me bitter and angry, at myself, at those around me, at the world. Only in talking about it with a counsellor did I begin to accept that I needed to deal with what had been buried for so long. The fake smile had to go, putting myself in situations that made me feel worthless had to stop and I had to take back some control. Starting to deal with it was overwhelming and there are still times when it smacks me in the face out of nowhere, it will never leave me, of that I’m sure.
If you are supporting someone through infertility then please allow them to grieve, to be sad, to be angry. They have every right to feel the way they do. Even if you don’t truly understand how they feel, give them your time and allow them to talk about their story if that’s what they want to do. Don’t start bringing other peoples stories into it, I find that unhelpful and in some ways hurtful. This is their life, their future. Let it be about them. A few things which may help you to help them:
- Allow them space to feel & breathe, even if that means you give them space
- Ask them how they are doing – try to prepared for whatever the answer may be
- Acknowledge that they have been through a lot & that it must be hard
- If you are struggling to understand what they are going through then its ok to say ‘I don’t know how you feel but I’m here for you’ (and mean it), don’t try to compare it to something that you have been through, unless of course you have walked the same path
- Be a shoulder to cry on if that’s what they want
- Let them know you are thinking about them, whether its a text, a phone call or a card, there is something really nice about someone randomly asking how you are and saying that they are thinking about you
If you are struggling with infertility and have feelings of emptiness, sadness, anger, loneliness and a sense of loss then please do not bury those feelings like I did. Your feelings are valid and real. I buried them because I thought it was a sign of weakness that I couldn’t cope and others around me just didn’t understand or know what to say to me. Of course, this only served to make the feelings of loss and grief worse and become buried even further. I had to acknowledge the feelings & allow myself to know that I had every right to feel the way that I did after everything that we had been through. Only in doing that could I then start to move forward.
With the right support you can get through it. You don’t have to go through this alone, there are many of us to help you through. You will find the strength to move forward but it can take time. Put yourself first and be kind to yourself. Let people in and seek help from professional. Seeing a counsellor is not a sign of failure, its a sign that you have the strength to want to deal with it & try to move forward. Most of all just know that it’s ok not to be ok.