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.