The Need For a Tribe

The Global Sisterhood Summit Part 1

“It’s just so damned basic, THAT’S why it’s hard to iterate.”

I was musing to my husband as I attempted to compose an e-mail to my yoga teacher training colleagues.  I was on my way to Vancouver for the first known formal gathering of women who wanted children but couldn’t have them and desired to share why I was not going to be in yoga teacher training attendance that weekend.   But, like all other communications these days it was proving to be a challenge.  First and foremost, when I’m moved to write something, I trust my instincts.  Implicitly.  I trust what comes up and out into the keyboard which is not a shabby foundation by any measure.  But given the layers, delicacies and angles involved, I also needed to sit back and examine my writing.  Because that someone who had endured perpetual trauma and loss would need to be around those who get it is like so DUH in my world.  However I am slowly coming to accept the shady abyss that lies between what is obvious to me and what is obvious to everyone else.  Some people may be able to perceive the need, others may not.  Fewer will know how crucial it is to be in the presence of fellow survivors when you’re dealing with a loss that is societally unacknowledged.  I don’t want to preach or talk down.  If I say too much, I’ll lose them, if I say too little, I’ll fail to express the truth.  I want to share, and I want to share in a way that’s accessible, which, when it comes to silenced experiences that bear stigma, is about as feasible as ordering the weather.  Plus accessibility is not even my forte to begin with.  I managed to somehow come up with something that felt right, and the response ended up being lovely and supportive.

But it got me thinking, if I had the leeway, how would I describe this thing, this thing we child free not by choicers are missing when we go out in the world?  Do people give any thought as to how it would feel and be like to be constantly educating, justifying and explaining what has become your normal due to circumstances you didn’t ask for?  To have your only other choice be to traverse down the road of silence and inauthenticity?  To have to constantly assert yourself in conversation where your reality doesn’t exist in a society that has failed to make room for people like you?  To have your normal go unrecognized and unaccepted?  In spite of having become accepting, inviting even, of life’s tough emotions and less than ideal circumstances, I often wonder these days what this all does to a person.  So how would I humbly attempt to describe this experience if I were to really let it fly?  It would go something like this.

Consider this:  You endure four years of perpetual trauma that entails one surgery, ten failed fertility treatments, countless draining and misleading holistic measures and endless failed natural cycles.  All of this occurs at an out of pocket cost of $77,000 and affects EVERY SINGLE THING in your life – every relationship you have, your career, your wants, needs, likes and dislikes and even more weighty is the 180 degree shift in how you experience life and perceive the world around you.  You are met with the end of having lost your children, realize that adoption is not possible, and, stripped of all control, you surrender to your higher knowledge that grief is to be experienced, not manipulated, so you make yourself available to the trip of grieving the loss of your children, parenthood and grandparenthood in one fell swoop.  All while knowing that somewhere in this wretched and senseless equation you’re going to have to reinvent your life, AND that can only be done after single – handedly initiating your own resurrection.

So, you turn to your fellow humans for their presence, their condolences, their empathy.  It only seems natural, but you don’t learn for a few more years that yes, support and acknowledgement from your fellow humans are actually ESSENTIAL components to the healing process.  While you are immersed in a grieving process eerily similar to that of someone who lost a physical child, you are met with blank stares, minimizations and lectures on attitude and the ease of adoption from those who have never ever had to consider it.  Although you live under the constant threat of unpredictable panic attacks that ravage your body, the world acts as though all you ever did was go to the beach and pick your nose.  Your pain is continually bastardized by being individualized – no one, it seems, is able to draw the all too obvious conclusion that, if they had to go through the same thing, they would be feeling as you’re feeling and behaving as you’re behaving.

You’re stalked by the ever present harsh truth that your pain, your loss, your trauma from which you bravely have to try and heal does not, in the outside world, exist.  You, your person still exists, but it has no choice but to be influenced by agony and acclimation for a good long while, and by that which is most human in all of us – love.

“……….the essence of grief:

love weeping.”

Tim Lawrence

Your life comes to be organically shaped, hijacked even, by this painful love for your children who didn’t get to live.  Invisable children, internal love and unacknowledged grief culminate into a daily experience of being unseen and unheard.  You are baffled by the world’s lack of empathy, sensitivity, imagination and intuition which results in you wanting to simultaneously live in an underground bunker and shout yourself to everyone who passes by perhaps in the form of days of the week t-shirts that would read something like this:

Monday:

Got Empathy?

Tuesday:

Blank Stares Suck

Wednesday:

Traumatized Griever

Handle With Care

Thursday:

Proud Embryo Mama

(4 cells and not counting)

Friday:

It’s not Cognitive…..

It’s Visceral

Saturday:

God’s Plan

Needs Major Revamping

Sunday:

I lost my children to infertility

and all I got

was this stinkin T-Shirt

 

So, yeah.  Not only have you lost your children, societal indifference has rendered your fellow humans yet another source of pain.  You are now without children AND a tribe.  You know that the sharing of your wounds will get them trampled on much of the time and you find yourself in a constant onslaught of judgement calls as to what you can and can’t handle on any given day, immersed in the futile tap dance of “to speak or not to speak, either way I’m kind of screwed.”  As the slim margin of release you get from speaking is no tradeoff for the energy it took to find words and take risk in your rightfully traumatized state, you are 100% reliant on “maybe what I say will make things better for the person who comes after me” for fuel.

Through this sharing process, you come across some rare birds, some very special people who listen and care and actually try to meet you where you are at.  You’re amazed, but there is still something missing.  Those who love you hang in there like troopers, glacially adjusting to your pain and healing and the person you are becoming and the different life you start leading.  They try their best, you love them for it, knowing you would be unequivocally worse off if they didn’t try.  Often limited by a lack of context with which to perceive your plight through no fault of their own, something is still missing.  Conversations about anything normal are unbearable for a while, like as in a couple of years while, but as the pain starts to dull, something is still missing.

In conversation with you, people are prone to grasping perceived threads of connection or comfort – subjects that take up 5% of your life will somehow end up taking up 90% of the conversation.  Conversations often hold the feeling of clutching a buoy while your vast ocean of grief, healing, writing, emotional exploration, change, realization and re-envisioning goes untouched.  Finding a tributary in is always awkward and inorganic – “Uh, yeah, so…..about this vast ocean churning around me…..funny you haven’t mentioned it.  Or responded when I did.  Or contributed anything that might run the chance of meeting it……”

I found myself particularly nervous a few days before my trip.  Truth was, my nerves had been preceded by something I hadn’t felt in years: Pure, unbridled excitement.  I’m on the heels of literally years of unrequited excitement, excitement that has only resulted in torment and anguish and a shattered life.  Things that are supposed to be good and make sense manifesting into rubble has become a hallmark of my reality.  While I was tempted to trust the way in which my soul was a-flutter, I allowed myself to be rational.  And to doubt.  “We’re all just people regardless, so I’m trying to have normal expectations.”  “What if this ISN’T what I’ve been missing, then there’s really nowhere else for me to go” I shared with my husband.  The idea of anticipated connections not panning out incited feelings of vulnerability.  And what if I couldn’t shut off my necessary coping mechanisms in the face of people with whom I didn’t need them?  What if I had forgotten how to be a normal human??

To be continued…….

33 thoughts on “The Need For a Tribe

  1. 100% how I feel. You’re an amazing writer! Thank you!

    The one thing I kept thinking was–any woman who lives this life must be amazingly strong. And then I realized–I’m one of the strong. <> to my tribe sisters. We aren’t alone after all. (Can’t wait for the continuation!)

    • Yes, you are!!! Here’s to your strength! Spending a few days with our tribe in person, my and everyone else’s strength came into sharp focus. An easy thing to forget when navigating daily life, that’s for sure.

  2. So much intensity and ‘aliveness’ here, Sarah (why am I not surprised?) You’ve captured my own angst really well. I didn’t fully appreciate my apprehension ahead of our ‘summit’ … but in hindsight I see that my nervousness began simmering right after we set the date and booked our flights. As you said, I’d grown so accustomed to dashed dreams and awkward social encounters I truly didn’t quite know what would happen when we met face to face … how we would tunnel into so many layers of unspoken emotions and complex reconfigurings of our identities, life expectations and, well, everything you laid out here. It felt so triumphant to experience the harmony — to feel the acceptance and love so freely dispensed. Not to be overly dramatic but there were moments when I heard the equivalent of trumpets sound and music soar … so much to take in and so much more still to say. Looking forward to your next post.

    p.s. I also really appreciated this characterization: “Those who love you hang in there like troopers, glacially adjusting to your pain and healing and the person you are becoming and the different life you start leading.”

    I suppose one could argue that we in this sisterhood also face glacial adjusting — within and among a society that doesn’t know what to make of us … the reintegration experience is akin to icebergs slowly melting — it’s much easier when there’s a warm a sea of understanding, isn’t it? xo

    • The love and acceptance present was truly beautiful. And I’ll give you the trumpets and music soaring:-) – the weekend exceeded my expectations on so many levels. Common life experiences are perhaps more potent than I originally thought.

      Good to know I wasn’t the only angst ridden member of our crew pre – trip. I held the possibility of ease, acceptance and connection in my heart, but what if that got dashed too? So cool it didn’t.

  3. Another post that is just spot on for me right now. The T shirt thoughts…love it. Those alone hit the high points of what this journey is like. Also love love love ” All while knowing that somewhere in this wretched and senseless equation you’re going to have to reinvent your life, AND that can only be done after single – handedly initiating your own resurrection.” So true yet such a mystery to those on the outside. I can’t wait for the next post.

    • Hi Steph – Yes, it is such a mystery to those on the outside. There are so many different aspects to our healing and reconciliation process, I’m still discovering them, each one with its own complexities and nuances. The day of the week t-shirts likely wouldn’t clarify anything…..but I do fantasize about wearing them – of course.

  4. Something you said at the beginning has made me think, and may prompt a separate post from me.

    Your post here is so intense, and articulates so well what it feels like in those first years. I found myself nodding throughout.
    ” … this thing we child free not by choicers are missing when we go out in the world.” Yes.

    And as it came to the end I smiled. Because I suspect I know how it turned out. And I got a shiver knowing (hoping) what is coming.

    • We miss so much, that, like I was musing, is so basic it’s hard to describe. The social ramifications have been one of the largest parts of my loss and also the part people close to me are the least likely to see and empathize with. And yet we adapt valiantly. Loved your post!!

  5. I would of loved to of gone to a conference in Vancouver , but had not heard about it. I have gone looking on line to see if I can’ find any mention of it, and can find nothing ….would love any info, as in the future I would love to go, thanks

    • Hi Lisa – It’s still in a very early stage of development, I’m hoping something more expanded will come of it at some point. I agree our tribe needs much more face to face time in general, whether via support groups or plain socializing, it’s a human necessity that so many other groups seem to come by easily.

  6. Everything you say resonates with me Sarah. I am a member of Gateway Women, without which I would be totally lost. Thank you for this blog – I feel so many of the same things you do.

  7. You have captured so much in this little post! I’m so glad you got to go and be in your element with people who get you, even if just for a couple of days. I can’t wait to hear more about it. I wish I could have been there, so far the only negative I can come up with about choosing to buy a house when we did is that moving conflicted with the trip. 🙂

    • Congrats on the home purchase, which tends to rule everything for a while. In the meantime, never fear, I’ll be on my way to PA and we’ll be sharing our sarcasm before you know it!

  8. Amazing!! Please keep writing… Each time I read one of your posts I feel like you are right there inside my head pulling out everything I want to say and want the world to hear!!!
    xoxo
    Kristine

  9. Every post of yours I write feels like you’ve reached into my brain and written my thoughts, but in a much more eloquently way than I ever could. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on all of this. I wish I knew about Vancouver…maybe one day!

    • This is cool, I kind of like being accidentally in people’s heads.

      Yes, maybe one day for a larger gathering, I’m hoping. In the meantime, good luck with your group and good for you for starting it.

  10. I’m sorry for your loss.
    And I’m sorry for incident when one of my friends shared with me she just miscarried and I said nothing. Not because of I would think it’s nothing special and she can adopt. Because I felt it’s awful and how bad she must feel and didn’t know what to say. All I can say for my excuse is I was very young and didn’t handle these kind of situations well.

    You are right, the world needs to be more aware not everyone gets children. And more compassion. Thanks for your blog.

    • KUK,
      You can still tell her you are “sorry for her loss”…. that’s all you need to say!!! It will mean the world to her. It’s ok, even older people don’t know what to say. You read this whole article, you ARE compassionate!

    • Dear Kuk,

      Normally I wait to respond to comments as it takes me a bit to shift out of “writer’s gear”. Plus, ironically, my husband and I just completed the beginning of our “embryo garden”, a garden of white blooming plants that surrounds the location where we buried the pictures of our embryos…..so needless to say I’m in a different zone at the moment. However I really appreciate your courage in chiming in with a perspective from another angle.

      I’m going to assume that you come from the point of view not of personal experience, but from that of trying to understand someone else’s a bit better – if so, that’s a great thing. There’s a lot one can’t figure out due to the limits of cyberspace, so if I’ve miscalculated I’m sorry.

      I too have some moments I reflect on, now knowing what I know from my own experience, where I wish I’d spoken and acted differently in the face of someone else’s tragedy – not necessarily infertility related. It seems like, from your comment, that you are a very compassionate and self reflective person. I well know the feeling of “could I please have a do over?”

      Now, after all I’ve experienced, if I don’t have words for someone else’s atrocity (after all, there is so much in life that defies words), I try to verbalize that in some way – “I really wish I had words to help you, but unfortunately I’m feeling that there may not be any. I’m just so so sorry.” My hope is that this acknowledges the magnitude of their experience, or, if nothing else, does not make it worse. Don’t mean to sound preachy, just throwing this out there. Above all, the art of abidance is imperfect and holds a pervading feeling of helplessness.

      We are all part of a collective that trumpets “rising above” and “moving on” over feeling and grieving, so on a level it’s no wonder people are like deer caught in headlights in these situations. Between all of us, I really think we can create a shift away from this.

      That a complete stranger would express sorrow for my loss means the world to me – thank you so much for that.

      Best Regards,
      Sarah (aka infertility honesty)

      • Sarah and Kristine,
        I don’t deserve all of your kind words, as they are addressed to someone who is lucky and have had children without problems or is childfree by choice. I’m yet to have my first IVF (trying to investigate every possible problem first and man, it takes time!) and I’m afraid and fully aware it doesn’t work for everyone.
        Sarah, your writing about your loss helps me understand myself better. I kind of have lost my child too, that one who should be born in a year after we ditched contraception, he should be in preschool now. And also you show me your place is not nice place to be, but it’s livable and loss of parenthood don’t necessarily turns you in bitter person forever.

      • Thanks for sharing yourself and your story. I see where you are coming from now. Thanks also for letting me know how my blog helps you. I remember my multitude of failed natural cycles and yes, they were all losses to. I’m sorry for your losses, Kuk.

  11. Thank you Sarah for sharing this achingly raw & emotional post. Your words are so familiar to all of us who’ve been in your shoes. Like Mali, I smiled when I got to the end as I have an idea how it turned out. Looking forward to reading the next installment. x.

  12. I am so glad I found this blog and this blog post. I have been feeling so alone and not understood. I am sorry we have this in common, and I am sorry for your pain, which is well known to me at an exactly eerie level. I am sending sisterly thoughts your way, hoping you begin to find your own light again, in your own time, in your own way. And I hope you find support along the way.

    • Thank you. Quite unfortunately, isolation seems to be the most shared experience in all of this.

      My flame is indeed starting to flicker again. It brought me comfort when I read in one of Dr. Alan Wolfelt’s grief books that when someone experiences a life altering traumatic loss, their light dims for a while, as they are injured on a soulful level. It always helps me to find out these things are normal.

  13. Hell yes! I want to shout reading all of this.

    Platitudes? I’ve heard them all. Silence where there should be comforting words. Shunned, when I should be held in my grief. Lack of understanding. Lack of empathy. Dismissive comments. Religious comments. But then I’ve reached out online and found some beautiful souls who have helped me keep things together and when we met, it was like a fire had ignited my spark for that connetion – of being around others who GET IT. No ifs, no buts.

    You are not alone. Remember this… you truly aren’t. We hear you, we see you.

    xxx

    • So glad you were able to find your in person connection experience too! It’s stunning the level of indifference out there to plights like ours. Being around those who get it is healing beyond measure.

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