I Did It

Speaking out on Infertility Survivorhood

The question came up suddenly with no warning.

“How are you a teacher in your daily life?”

I was in my first full day of yoga teacher training, the significance of which was not exactly minor. Although I’ve taken many unofficial and organic steps in my journey forward, specifically with writing and embracing the grieving process, this 200 hour training is the first tangible “goal” I’ve committed to since losing our children. And it’s something I would not be doing, at least not now, had I gotten to have children, and I can assure you this truth was lurking as the training drew near. It is, partially for me now, a blatant symbol of this new life I didn’t chose.

Yoga may appear full of ukulele love and light, but in many ways the yoga world is not exactly a safe and comfortable place for an infertility survivor to be. And a teacher training is not the easiest of situations. There is much open hearted and truthful sharing amongst people who may or may not be aware of the consideration that needs to be shown to people like me.  Never mind the acknowledgement, abidance and empathy that is necessary to sanely interact with a traumatized griever. It is infused with spiritual views I could not embrace if my life depended on it. It entails philosophies that are entirely inadequate and even irrelevant when applied to infertility survivorhood and untimely life altering traumatic losses. Staying focused on the abundant good fortune also involved – a teacher who can teach the teaching of yoga superbly and is open to me sharing my experiences, useful pearls of wisdom, some cool people and the thrill of immersing myself in something new – unquestionably took some effort.

The first student’s daily life teaching was work related.

The next two students’ teaching focused on motherhood and grand-motherhood. Ouch, but fair enough. I’ve always said the primary job of a parent is to teach anyway.

And then there was me.

In the face of healing and rebuilding one’s life, it’s hard to know what to say as your most important work is all too often in areas people would perceive as ambiguous at best. So I went with the truth.

“I teach myself how to grieve.” I stated as I inhaled and lifted my slouchy rib cage up off of my organs.

A few people laughed, and although it confused me a bit I didn’t mind. I think sometimes my unexpected words and unintended factious tone is just….funny, even though I don’t mean for it to be.

I hoped the oxygen and space around me were enough to keep me from dropping, probably whispered a desperate prayer to a higher power I don’t quite believe in, and continued, scriptless.

“My husband and I lost our children on January 31st of 2014 when our tenth fertility treatment failed.”

Now the room was quiet. Heads turned to the booming voice in the back center that I myself could hardly recognize. I think a few jaws may have even dropped.

I went on to talk about how I had immersed myself in the grieving process and how that is necessary for a healthy future and that it is especially important in the face of losses that are not societally acknowledged. I introduced them to disenfranchised grief and expressed some of its ramifications.

There’s always that question, at least for big mouths like me, when embarking on new social situations, of how and when I’m going to initiate people into my reality. “I did it”, I thought, as students continued to share how they teach in their lives and I momentarily floated in the buoyancy of getting to exist and speak just like everybody else. “You should be so proud of yourself, S” I said as I gave myself a psychic pat on the back. Mine is a harsh reality to iterate, no doubt. And in the absence of social protocol and verbal construct for such a reality, sharing is downright harrowing.

There have been many great acts of speaking out recently in our community, or writing out, as I should say. Pamela Mahoney Tsigdinos had a kick ass piece if there ever was one featured in Medium shedding some intelligence on why people don’t speak about infertility. Lisa Materfield wonderfully encapsulated the plight of the infertility survivor in her interview on Pamela’s blog upon the release of her book Surviving and Thriving When Motherhood Doesn’t Happen.  And I experienced some lucky timing when I read Jody Day’s inspirational testimony delivered on Mother’s day in the UK, in a church of all places, during my lunch break before the aforementioned yoga discussion popped up. I’d like to think I was riding on the fumes of these trailblazing spirits when I opened my mouth and spoke my truth to a group of people I don’t know that I’m going to be closely involved with over the next ten months. If that’s not balls to the wall, then I don’t know what is.

The sharing eventually dissolved and we found partners and assisted each other in talking through poses for almost the first time. Entertaining such a space was interesting, but no small feat.

Our community risks a lot in speaking out, especially in intimate situations. Generally, one has to be simultaneously open to receiving encouragement, compassion, judgment and unqualified advice. There are those who don’t want to be in the presence of our truth and will avoid us like the plague, and we will know who they are once we’ve spoken. We expose ourselves to the risk of further isolation via all kinds of minimization and to people trying to “help” us by fixing. And then there are the stories people share that ended with parenthood. For me, these are the hardest. I’m humbled and honored that they share, and I’m intent on showing them the empathy and compassion for their losses they deserve. But yet, I’m also engaged in gently letting them know I’m grieving the loss of parenthood and grandparenthood altogether. I’m committed to protecting myself emotionally as I need to with those who fail to perceive my wounds and that plights like mine are different.  I’m committed to contributing to an open conversation space while responding clearly and honestly to any unhealthy grief messages I might receive.

Oh and by the way, all in a time frame that also includes haltingly and gingerly talking someone through a yoga pose for the first or second time in my life. Being a Mom is the toughest job on the planet? I venture to say we as a human race need to revisit that. It is a tough job, no doubt.  A tough job rooted, at least under normal circumstances, in abundance and good fortune.  Mine is a tough job too –  a tough job that stems from trauma and loss.

My actions are driven by many things, but ultimately by this one unrelenting truth:

The absence of my children is no less worthy or significant than the presence of someone else’s.

That I could not have babies and that much of my world was shattered because of it does not obligate me to take up less space. It does not diminish my voice or my value as a human. It does not require me to alter my truth. It does not contract me to speak and share less than anyone else. That my healing journey involves grieving children as opposed to raising them does not render my world view wrong, it does not dictate the silencing of my perspective.

So I remind myself, as I so often do when feelings of doubt and guilt start to seep in, I get to be. And I get to be here, participating in life truthfully, just like everybody else. Come what may.

Fight Song/Rachel Platten
Like a small boat on the ocean/Sending big waves into motion/Like how a single word can make a heart open/I might only have one match, but I can make and explosion/All these things I didn’t say like wrecking balls inside my brain/I will scream them loud tonight/Can you hear my voice this time?/This is my fight song/Take back my life song/Prove I’m all right song/My power’s turned on/Starting right now I’ll be strong/I’ll play my fight song/And I don’t really care if nobody else believes/Cause I’ve still got a lotta fight left in me//Losing friends and I’m chasing sleep/Everybody’s worried about me/I’m in too deep, they say I’m in too deep/It’s been two years I miss my home/There’s a fire burning in my bones/I still believe, yeah I still believe/All these things I didn’t say like wrecking balls inside my brain/I will scream them loud tonight/Can you hear my voice this time?//This is my fight song/Take back my life song/Prove I’m all right song/My power’s turned on/Starting right now I’ll be strong/I’ll play my fight song/And I don’t really care if nobody else believes/Cause I’ve still got a lotta fight left in me

23 thoughts on “I Did It

  • Good for you for speaking up and breaking down walls! Our community needs more brave souls like you and Pamela T. to stand up and be a voice for so many whose vocal chords are paralyzed by the trauma.

    • Hi Julie –

      Thanks for the work you’re doing too. Music is such a special offering.

      It’s true, we come out of this shell shocked. I’m stretching my brain to remember a workshop I attended on trauma (when I was traumatized, bad timing!)…..something was covered regarding the back of the brain being significantly more activated in people with PTSD and when one is in fight or flight mode, thus diminishing cognitive functions such as speech which takes place in the front of the brain. Anyway, I know there are many legitimate reasons for our silence, this is one of them.

  • Amazing, resonates with me, but I am not yet brave enough to talk about it but very much learning how to live with grief. I love the idea that what I am going through could be as equally hard as being a parent and I’ve got just as much right to take up space just like anyone else. I usually skim articles but this stopped me….I am not alone and neither are you.

    • Thank you. Learning how to live with grief is an amazing feat of courage in and of itself – good for you. I really appreciate you sharing where you are in not being ready to speak. I’ve walked this edge a lot and wondered, especially back about a year ago when I was even less healed than I am now, if I wasn’t actually hurting myself more by speaking at times. We can only do so much, knowing where we are is key. But not always easy.

  • I think you also under-estimated yourself. You’re not only teaching yourself to grieve, but you’re teaching other people how to do it, and you’re teaching other people about the impact of infertility. You should give yourself a pat on the back and be proud of yourself. We’re proud of you.

    • Yep, I definitely tend to do that!

      I’ll try to remember all this. The gap between what I’ve experienced and what non IFers tend to think and believe often feels insurmountable. Thanks for being a voice of reason.

  • Well done Sarah! I have commented on my difficulties here with having individual conversations. The thought of doing it in a group setting blows my mind. Double score for all of us!! I finally had a conversation last week that was completely productive in getting my point across and cathartic in the same way…in just getting it out. Thanks again for being another voice for all of us.

    • Go you! The more I sit on it, the more I feel we should form a multi person think tank to tease out the details and complexities of these “speaking out” situations. It’s all so…..layered. Good for you for keeping at it Steph, I always love to hear your stories.

  • Well done! Give yourself a well deserved pat on the back! I learn so much from you and someday hope to mimic your confidence when sharing about my own journey when the opportunity presents itself. Also, I love Fight Song. It is somewhat of an anthem for me.

    • I remember you mentioning Fight Song in one of your posts. It’s one of my friend’s inspirations too, so, I love the “collective anthem” feel it has. I’m glad you’re somehow learning from my carnival of insanity, especially since reflecting on the issue of speaking out always leaves me with more questions than answers!!

  • Fabulous article and leading by example in showing the world that we can and should speak out about our pain and grief. Until August 2015 I didn’t talk about my infertility with anyone other than my husband. I certainly didn’t write about it: that would have been simply too painful and would have involved admitting how infertility had devastated my/our lives. Then I decided I had a choice. I could either stay where I was, stuck in the denial phase of grief, or I could do something about it. I could find a way to move on and start surviving, dare I say it even thriving, rather than simply existing as I had for the last 8 years. As a writer I decided to explore the heal power of writing and apply it to my own situation. I haven’t looked back since! I thought that writing about my emotions and experiences would reduce me as person as I shrunk back into the own little isolated world of grief. Instead I found that it has enhanced and empowered me. It has given me a life full of purpose and the wonderful knowledge that my writing is helping people who are going through similar struggles and grief. I cannot promise this sort of epiphany for everyone who starts to speak out: however, I am 100% convinced that when you do start to speak your pain that pain has less power over you. There are ups and downs: however, the ups are longer and the downs aren’t as deep or as frequent.

    • What a helpful story, thank you for sharing! Although I’ve been doing it for 3.5 years now, the healing power of writing still shocks me. And we’re so taught, actually, it’s practically pounded into us that pain is bad, a failure of sorts, and that acknowledging it just makes things worse when in fact nothing could be further from the truth. When I get doubtful I always remind myself there is no reasonably feeling human being who could go through what I went through (or what any of the rest of us went through) and not feel in a similar way. That our pain is individual is somewhat of a myth, in reality much of it is undeniably and basically human.

  • Another very compelling post, Sarah.

    We all know laughter shields discomfort, embarrassment, nervousness. Your statement was beautiful.
    Oh to be a fly on the wall during your talk. A captive audience and a chance to explain it all from our perspective, to others, that have possibly never given it any serious in-depth thought.

    Your last few paragraphs were just as powerful and dynamic. I got quite teary reading it. We often get caught up in the grief, disappointment and guilt, thinking ourselves ‘less than’ those with kids, and occasionally being told the same, but we are just as worthy on our journey and we need to remind ourselves of this. Thanks

    Also loving your taste in music ; )

    • I would have loved to have you as a fly on the wall when I took my turn to speak! Or in person, better yet.

      Though speaking is hard on an individual level, I never understood the social pressure to be silent. What did I ever do wrong? I’ve been so altered, and in many ways expanded by my experiences how could they not count? As the two students before me were speaking on their mother oriented teaching, I was flooded with all the ways infertility and the loss of parenthood have completely impacted every day of my life and I thought “well I’ll be damned if I’m going to shut up!” That’s where my last few paragraphs came from:-) I/we get to be here too.

  • Thank you for sharing your story. It is really powerful. Then I read your Fight Song at the end and I decided to paint the words on my bedroom wall so that I read it each morning and evening. I hope you have put it to music. It is awesome. If you don’t feel yoga is the right new direction, really consider song writing.

  • The Tao is called the Great Mother:
    Empty yet inexhaustible,
    It gives birth to infinite worlds.

    It is always present within you.
    You can use it any way you want.

    Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu verse 6

    I caught Rachel Platten’s Fight Song on YouTube. But you can still be a songwriter.

  • I love what you said here questioning a mom’s job as the toughest. I agree that it is a wholly important one, and sometimes tough no doubt, but we experience a tough reality every day. We don’t get to experience any of the joy that mothers also have amidst their “tough” days. This, among many others, is a concept that is very hard, if not impossible, for people to understand unless they could not have children.

    • Absolutely! People seem to forget parenthood’s dividends (at least under normal average circumstances). And although many parents think they want the perceived time, space and freedom they are missing, they aren’t able to imagine having that as the result of their childrens’ non-existence.

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