And the confounding abyss in between
Walking into my first social outing since a virus attacked my autonomic nervous system 5.5 months ago, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Though much less than a few months ago, my nervous system still tends to over assimilate sound and does not adjust smoothly to darkness. Not to mention I’m still dealing with a slowly waning level of dizziness and lightheadedness. And then there’s the fertile world whose presence is, of course, immeasurable.
The first people we recognized were a hetero married couple who happened to be speaking with my husband’s business partner. Right on the heels of saying hello, the man in the couple jubilantly informed us that they were talking about their kids.
This couple generally knows that my husband and I tried to have children and couldn’t, my husband’s business partner is enlightened of all the grimy details.
Brimming with exuberance, he continued, “We were talking about how I’m a softie for our daughters, he (my husband’s partner) melts over his daughter, and my wife is gaga over our son.”
I wondered if this is what it feels like to have people eat in front of you when you’re hungry. It was as if I had just had a double mastectomy and someone flashed me their boobs.
Oh and let’s not forget my nervous system disorder….
I paused just long enough to make people uncomfortable in the absence of the expected mindless drooling and cooing. And because really, what in the HELL was I supposed to say to that??
“And we’re infertility survivors!” I rebutted, donning a superficial cheer underlined with steadfastness.
Following awkward laughter I added, “We’re child free not by choice, so, that’s my contribution to this conversation!”
And the guy continued (yes, CONTINUED, you read correctly) with “Well, we were talking about sibling rivalry and when they get in each other’s hair and stuff like that.”
“That’s a GREAT problem to have!” I responded.
Seriously, what does one have to do to get these people to acknowledge your plight and move towards a more inclusive subject matter? Threaten them with a primitive weapon? Maybe next time I’ll try sky writing.
So yes dear readers, my initiation back into the world started with a bang.
There was no acknowledgement of our loss, no empathy or interest expressed, yet we did stay on and converse for awhile. Child free not by choice tone deafness aside, these people are about as nice, warm and funny as you’ll get. Plus, I seem to come equipped with the most annoying belief in my fellow humans’ capacity to learn and expand. Maybe one day I’ll stop tripping over it, but in the meantime…….
They had plenty to talk about besides their children (eventually!) and were lively, interesting people. We shared an intrigue over different cultures and a love for food. Me and the woman both have a goofball like nature and riffed off of each other’s sarcasm. Cutting to the chase, they were people who, if we had been able to have kids ourselves, would have been kindred spirits, aces in the hole as far as bonding goes.
But instead. I found myself piloting my way through a conversation that, while engaging and not void of redeeming qualities, was also rife with landmines, triggers (though duller than they used to be), and the endless nagging question of how to share myself. Authenticity, creating openings for my reality and views (as opposed to bombarding with them) and assessing the emotional safety of the situation is quite the trio to juggle.
There was a mention of their daughter’s sweet sixteen and of trips they want to take with their kids. They informed us they try to get out once a week without the kids. In reference to a friend’s achilles injury it was added emphatically, “yeah, and he has THREE KIDS!”, as if that somehow increased the importance and urgency of his recovery. And there was the rift at the end when she tried, kindly, to empathize with my nervous system debacle.
“This REALLY must have changed your perspective,” she attempted to connect.
“Not that much” I shared. “Coming on the heals of the past seven years and all we went through with infertility, there’s not much that’s going to alter me more than that experience.”
She was taken aback, and tried to explain to ME the difference between the trouble with fertility and trouble with health. And spoiler alert, she deemed physical health to have much more weight than children and parenthood. Easy to do when you haven’t lost it, I suppose.
I let her know that I’ve always been grateful for my health, and that while yes, having it threatened makes you see things a bit differently, infertility threatens the existence of your children, so, they both matter. She looked baffled. I went on to say that in the greater scheme of things, our infertility has been life altering while this nervous system disorder likely won’t be (grief and trauma virgins typically don’t understand this key difference in life’s problems). I offered the main thing I struggled with was grasping that this nervous system disorder was hard too, a different kind of hard. She perked up momentarily.
“An EASIER kind of hard” I stressed. It was there I lost her. Another one bites the dust.
My yoga practice has taught me to feel myself energetically from the inside out. Due to the social annihilation of being child free not by choice, I tend to do this even more off the mat than I do on. And I noticed, my energetic innards were restless, shifting, in a state of dis-ease during this conversation. The people I was having it with were, after all, from the “I’m not going to silence and dismiss the child free not by choice aspect of you (better than nothing) but I’m not going to acknowledge, connect and relate to it either (still not that great) camp.
Our next conversation stop was quite fortunate. I ended up chatting with the significant other of a colleague of ours who has recently been diagnosed with some chronic health issues. She was very sweet about my dysautonomia, but also open and accepting when I inserted infertility and involuntary childlessness into the conversation. She spoke of her daughter not randomly and mindlessly, but in relation to one of the subjects we were talking about. She asked questions. She was interested in how infertility had changed me and acknowledged that I must be “so so strong” when I shared with her how I had to pull so far into myself to survive, especially given the current lack of societal support and acknowledgement. And I noticed something: My inner body’s acrobatics had quieted. My energetic insides were flowing and at ease. This conversation, though engaging on the outside like the other one, also had all of the foundational basics covered – openness, acknowledgement, empathy, acceptance.
Identifying change, or more so the depth of it, that results from a societally unrecognized loss is no joke. It takes on a different kind of difficulty a few years in, when the pain becomes less gyrating and the affects of the loss can take on a more subtle blanketing.
With your path and world view no where to be found ‘out there’ – in the media, the human conversation, and often times even in your own infertile community – one is left to rely solely on their inner compass, left with the job of not only having to sense it, but of having to decipher it.
Last year I began to notice that being around certain people and certain situations evoked an extraordinary, yet unexplainable, sadness.
Interactions with many people felt like high level fencing matches. For however palatable they may have appeared on the surface, I would walk away breathing sighs of relief. I would find myself inexplicably drawn to people that should have, but just didn’t fit me.
Oh, it can start with the clash of the experiences of parenthood and parenthood denied. With parenthood being acknowledged in multiple conversations but my loss of parenthood not. With the amount of parenting talk being excessive and presented in a way that lacks consideration towards those of us who lost it, and with the other person’s unwillingness to take an interest, to integrate, to be uncomfortable for the sake of my truth.
But it hardly ends there. There are often striking differences in world view, the lack of common ground as to what constitutes “hard” or a “problem” and the differing opinions on that which is generally relevant in life. Drastically different needs and the constant expectation, especially from women, to bond over that which no longer resonates with me.
Many people are utterly tone deaf to the fact that someone who went through multiple failed treatments and other measures to conceive only to have lost all of their children, parenthood and grandparenthood is likely NOT going to respond to life in the same fashion as the privileged majority. But I digress.
I would navigate these situations as though there was something I could DO about them. I fought to hang on to the good I saw in the other person in spite of the disrupted frequencies I was experiencing. I fumbled with my subconscious yet all too glaring awareness that if it weren’t for infertility, these interactions would be totally kosher.
In a similar way to which we can be attracted to the unhealthy, abusive patterns of our parents in our adult relationships because they are familiar, I felt the magnetic pull of my old, pre-infertility pre-involuntarily childless life and self. Trying to tango with that which was familiar but no longer working morphed into quite a dirge. But the person we grow into post life altering loss takes a while, years actually to form and emerge, so it’s no wonder there’s some confounding time spent straddling lives and selves.
In my old life a lack of connection was acceptable. Fellow humans failing to meet me where I was at went unnoticed. People not seeing and appreciating my essence was overlooked and I was not incredibly conscious when the majority of the conversation was eaten up with mindless, peripheral blather. I didn’t listen to others all that well, and I didn’t expect others to really hear me.
When you’re dealt the hand of infertility, and especially the loss of parenthood and grandparenthood as the result, you know right away when an interaction lacks depth and connection. Like many who suffer other life altering traumatic losses, you are absent of both the energy for and tolerance of being with people just to pass time and take up space.
Since the greater human collective does not recognize your plight, you can’t afford to not be heard in your more intimate interactions and to not be accepted in your close personal relationships. The person that is emerging as the result of your personal tragedy not only needs to be seen, she needs to be nurtured. She needs to be embraced. She needs to be loved and accepted during her precarious trek to the next side of her life.
And the yearning for depth and to see and hear the personal tragedies of others who share themselves, that capacity that resulted from the loss of your children? That muscle NEEDS to be exercised. Because if your lost children taught you anything, it’s that nothing matters more than connection, meeting the present moment and hearing and seeing each other the imperfect best we can as we are able, especially in times of pain and crisis.
And I see the good in all that. But this is not the time to drool over the supposed wonders of transformation. Transformation is grueling, unincited transformation can be downright raping. I find a piece of my soul to still be perpetually screaming “I didn’t ask for ANY of this” at the top of its lungs.
Within the past few months, I’ve had a realization. I was drawn to people who no longer fit me but would have in my old life because this too is a loss. When I’m in the presence of not only parenthood, but of a world view, perspective, belief system or way of being I can no longer have due to my experiences, I feel awash with sorrow, a momentary wave of distance between me and the rest of existence.
I’ve processed a lot of the changed relationships infertility dumps upon us. With family, with friends lost, with current friendships and acquaintances. And the people you meet post infertility, into your involuntary childlessness trek? Also potential losses. I was subconsciously, or really, UNconsciously, trying to paddle upstream, peddle backwards uphill, to hang onto this last shred of what should have been.
Funny thing is, it’s not like I’d rather be this old life person. I LIKE the new me, who is ironically, more myself than ever before. It’s just that there are about a million better ways to unite with your true self than losing your children, parenthood and grandparenthood.
I realized I’m going to be shaking hands with what would have been probably for the rest of my life, with people whom my soul full well senses the old Sarah would have gelled with just fine, therefore I’d better get busy and start nurturing and honoring that pain. The eerie strand of what would have been is part of me now, a most normal component in life after loss.
And so I was able to have a useful perspective on the aforementioned conversations due to my realization. My self talk went something like this:
“You see, the first people are very “old life”. I know love, it’s ok to be sad. Be as sad as you need to for as long as you need to. It would’ve been fun, the four of you. But you don’t need that in your life now. And it’s not your job to make others see and value you. The second person is full of “new life” potential. She seems willing to meet you and see you where you are now. Make sure you notice that. And I know you know where to put your energy.”
Yes, the losses are so much to grapple with it’s often hard, or sometimes impossible to see where we might be going. I am sure that honoring what we lost is every bit as important as what we build moving forward. In fact, at least in my experience, the two are inextricably linked.
In my humble attempt to re-wire, I remind myself it’s not my job to make these interactions and relationships work, rather, it’s my job to let things lie as they are, to dissolve or perhaps not come to any kind of fruition. I’ve got nothing to compensate or apologize for and it is self disrespecting to act otherwise. I will try to use future “old life” situations as an opportunity for the release of what would have been. Which eventually may help me focus more clearly on what is and where I might be going.
“This above all: to thine own self be true.”
William Shakespeare, Hamlet
I’d like to amend:
“This above all: to thine own post life altering traumatic loss self be true”.
Eatcher heart out, William.