Grief & What Can Not Be Seen
January 7, 2019
Fertility, Grief & Dreams
Next week will be an emotionally heavy week for me. Why? I will be visiting my obstetrician (OB) next week. I am not sick, just going in for the proverbial oil change, but I tear up just thinking about the waiting room. You see, the OB office has not been kind to me, nor has it been kind to many women I suspect.
The flood of absolute panic started back in 2010 when trying to conceive. I was fortunate enough that just a small boost of artificial hormones triggered my system and I was able to have my sweet boy. But there were 18 months of trying, including six months of hormone boosts, before I got there. It was during this time that I discovered how personal, private and heartbreaking the trip to the OB office can be for any woman. My body was denying me the one basic right I thought I possessed as a woman: having babies. Little did I know this wouldn’t be the only barrier to my dreams of being a mom.
When enquiring of a woman when (or if) she will have children, have you ever thought about what you’re really asking? When I was a newlywed, even before the cake was cut, people started asking when I was going to have children. I was in my late twenties, so considered “old enough”. Many people see this as the natural succession of life; not a dream, but just what happens next. I nodded and smiled, heavy-hearted because I already knew the process wouldn’t be as easy for me as it seems to be for others.
A Year of Questions
Later, as our efforts continued without result, my heavy heart turned to anger. I was outraged that people would think it appropriate to ask such a personal question. I was able to stifle this anger for the most part as I knew that, a short time before, I had been one of “those people”. For close to a year, I supplied practiced answers: “we want to enjoy being newlyweds” or “we just aren’t ready yet”.
Unfortunately, this always led to more follow up questions and advice:
“Well, what are you waiting for?”
“You’ll never be ready.”
“Don’t wait too long.”
These made me want to scream. It took all I could muster not to blurt out the truth. “I fuck my husband each month during a 72-hour window after taking my temperature every morning before I move my body so I can find a small increase in basal temperature.”
Or, “I am truly blessed to have a 35-day cycle instead of 28 days, so I get a few less opportunities per year than others.”
Not only did I not get pregnant each month, but I also got my menstrual cycle as nature’s ultimate rebuke. It felt like a merciless joke being played on me.
As my 30th birthday came and went, I began to count down the roughly 60 more opportunities I had to conceive before the dreaded 40th birthday. Sixty tries don’t sound like many after you’ve already tried twenty times with no results.
Baring My Soul
So, one day I got brave (or tired), and decide I’m going to tell people what is really going on. And, when they asked, I finally said, “I have fertility issues and we are trying.” I thought this very personal baring of my deficiency as a woman would stop the conversation. I was wrong!
Instead of letting it go, they would say, “Have you considered adoption?” At that time, I had no interest in adoption, nor could we afford it. Just like money, babies don’t grow on trees.
I don’t know the actual numbers from experience, but I’ve read that adoption costs are conservatively estimated at around $40,000. This would have been a huge financial burden for our new family. Fertility treatment was not covered by insurance, so we were already accumulating debt from those efforts. But, the bigger question all these comments left me with was,“Why would anyone think it appropriate to dilute my grief with such outrageous comments?”
At that point, I made a promise to myself: I would be more sensitive of the difference between a basic right and an earthly gift. And, I would be more conscientious of any comments I might make to others. So many things in life that we take for granted are only dreams for others; dreams that might not ever be reached.
An Annual Visit
Back to the tears over next week’s OB visit. The tears come for two reasons:
The first reason is that I desperately want more children. I always envisioned myself as the typical basketball mom (because soccer sucks). I would shuttle my children from one activity to the next—play dates, sports, school functions, and all other such parental trials—and do it with a smile on my face. But, for me, that will never be.
Life gave me another hard lesson when my son was diagnosed with a disability strongly linked to genetics. On the day of his diagnosis, I made a commitment (and a sacrifice) to not have any more children of my own. My love is so deep and this world so fucking cruel that it did not seem fair, to my son or any unborn babies out there, for me to risk having more children. I would (and do) need all the resources I have available to provide my son the very best life possible, and for me to be able to manage his extra needs while staying relatively sane.
It has been five years since that decision. Although I know it was the right decision, that little bitch Grief, can creep up on you at the most unexpected times. And, sometimes it shows up right when expected – like while waiting for or during an OB appointment, or a looming 39th or 40th birthday.
Sitting Beside My Grief
I love this statement by Megan Devine:
“Grief is visceral, not reasonable: the howling at the center of grief is raw and real. It is love in its most wild form.”
Some days the grief of children I will never have is a raw and real howling at the center of my soul. I prepare myself for this grief now, my appointment impending, as I know it will wash over me in the waiting room. To cope, I try to step out of my body and sit next to myself, holding my own hand. This is the second reason the tears will come next week: because I need them to. It is easier most of the time, less exhausting and emotionally draining, to pretend that everything is fine. Easier than defending and explaining my grief to those who cannot understand it, and might diminish it with well-intended comments.
A New Year’s Wish
It saddens me that I don’t have the strength or verbal ability to discuss this topic with most people. You see, there are many of us carrying unseen grief. We associate grief with death, and sometimes with loss, and those things are understandable to most. But, when someone’s loss is invisible or intangible, it can be difficult to relate to that person’s grief and needs. And I’m tired of trying to make people understand.
This leads me to my one wish for the New Year: more kindness. When someone is vulnerable enough to share their grief or struggles, may we all take a moment to be thoughtful before we answer. Though we may want to offer helpful advice, and our intentions may be good, let us first take a moment to listen. Let’s take a moment to recognize that we all face different struggles. Let us validate each other’s feelings, validate their grief, instead of creating a situation where it is easier to pretend it doesn’t exist.