Well folks, here we are. In a worldwide crisis with no known ending. A crisis that entails a major loss of control, an utter disruption of our normals and a smashed view of the future. We are dealing with a disease that was initially not taken too seriously, a condition whose effect on individuals is intensely swerving and has the capacity to leave major wreckage in its wake. And all in a situation where social isolation remains one of the few ways to lessen bad outcomes, where much time and energy is expended re-learning daily life basics.
We’re fumbling our way through a global pandemic. And for me and many like me, it all feels so familiar.
Amid the first weeks of the Covid shutdown, I of course found myself stressed like everyone else. Trying not to get sick, reconfiguring shopping, tracking down supplies without unreasonable exposure, procuring income, plotting how not to run out of money in the coming year, experiencing friction that comes with suddenly having one’s family members home all of the time (or in the cases of others suddenly being home alone) and grappling daily with how and even if we’ll move forward with my husband’s closed restaurants.
But I also found myself oddly underwhelmed. The limbo, loss of control and future up in the air paths are all well worn in my world. I’ve got honorary PHD’s in life’s randomness, social isolation, adaption, the endless and the unfathomable. It seems that four years of trying to conceive a child in every way possible, and the years of grief, trauma recovery and transition back into the world as a childless woman that followed – along with other life challenges that were tacked on in the process – has left me with some major coping skills.
And it turns out I’m not alone. The people in the childless not by choice demographic I’ve spoken with immediately recognize the underwhelm of which I speak.
A close friend from the widow community also responded with the same knowing nod – head tipped to the side on an in breath, lips tight and pursed upwards in acknowledgement on the out breath. The overall reaction from the widow community to the pandemic? That on some level, they’ve already done this.
A commenter in a NY Times article about Covid had this to say, and I paraphrase: “As someone who has experienced the loss of a child – the deepest grief – I don’t welcome this pandemic. But I am ready.”
And I second that, unfortunately though as someone who societally is allowed to lay claim to NO grief as opposed to “the deepest”. Whether it’s societally acknowledged or unacknowledged, it seems life altering traumatic loss has left many of us better able to cope with the world’s current circumstances.
This all doesn’t mean I’m not majorly affected by Covid inflicted things, that I don’t feel the brunt of them, that I don’t freak out a little and that I don’t need support. Or that whatever re-learning that needs to take place isn’t noticeably tiring on a daily basis, or that I don’t worry significantly about the future.
It more-so means that I can recognize these things, am aware of what I’m feeling, take appropriate action where necessary and when possible, and work on letting go of that which I don’t control. And I also engage with these experiences with less shock, surprise and resistance. I’ve already been to this rodeo after all. Infertility and involuntary childlessness are in and of themselves microcosmic pandemics.
Before I go any further, I feel it important to point out that as of now, I’m writing this piece from a perspective of unearned privilege. I haven’t yet gotten sick. No one in my family has gotten sick. For me so far there have been no hospitals, no ventilators, and no reasons to panic. Some financial help is coming through. Sure, my husband’s businesses have been closed and will be seriously compromised. If I were to get sick my body would not handle it as well due to my reconciling nervous system disorder. We live about 30 miles from the world’s Covid epicenter in a county that also has been heavily impacted. That said, so far I’m one of the lucky ones and if I or any of my loved ones were to fall ill or worse, this would be a different piece.
It has, however, been many things watching the greater collective be thrust into stages of development through which I had to mostly fly solo a number of years ago. Forced evolutions that generated coping mechanisms now organic. It has been bizarre, informative, and yes – downright irritating.
It all started with the grief speak that, after flying under the radar forever immediately started to flood the airwaves. An openness about grief that ironically is the world being more like I’ve wished it to be for the past number of years. “So why then sunshine”, I’d ask myself, “is this pissing you off so?”
References to the pandemic experience as “the great adaption” and as “grieving a life you once knew” quickly surfaced, references that happen to be bull’s eye descriptions of loosing your children and parenthood to infertility.
After years of nothing or no one validating my universal experiences with anywhere near such accuracy, except for maybe a small handful of fellow childless folks here and there, how on earth is this happening so easily for something else??
It was acknowledged on a major network that “loosing the rhythms that make life what it is is a huge loss” (Oh, is it REALLY now??”) and then came the kicker: the verbal acknowledgement along with a banner at the bottom of the screen – a banner mind you – affirming that “It’s ok to not be ok.”
Well THAT’S funny.
Because when I wasn’t ok, people and society were notably not amenable to that. Back when I was weathered by the trauma of multiple failed fertility treatments and getting constantly tripped by the new, raw realities of childlessness and parenthood lost, it somehow WASN’T ok according to the outside world.
I’ve been informed that attitude is everything and that I needed to “change my story”. I was ordered to “appreciate the life I do have”. I was slapped with more than my share of “why is she so bothered?” facial expressions (over that silly ole’ loss of her children, parenthood and grandparenthood thing, really now!!) It was suggested on more than one occasion that my response to my tragedy was from and only from something that happened in my childhood, implying that what I went through couldn’t POSSIBLY be enough in and of itself to warrant such a reaction. I was told I could have a great life before I even had the chance to start grieving the one I had just lost, and told as though I was just so dumb I couldn’t figure that out on my own. And there are the many who chalk up the intensity of my experiences to a faulty perspective. You know, if I could just “reframe” things.
And so I’m glad. I’m ultimately glad people in the Covid situation are not being met in the same way I and my demographic have been. Because really, why don’t we tell all parents struggling with home schooling right now to just reframe their experience, as it’s really their PERCEPTION of their experience that’s causing the problem, right??
I’m glad we’re not telling people who lost jobs and have no way of accessing financial assistance to “change their story”. I’m glad we’re not meeting people who are sick with Covid and/or are taking care of someone with Covid as though they are not going through anything, and I’m glad we’re not announcing to people that “they can have a good life” without the mother/sister/father/brother/aunt/uncle/friend/loved one of any kind that they lost to Covid 19. And I’m especially glad we’re not meeting the sickest of Covid patients as we meet people coming out of fertility treatments without a child and childless people from all situations – as though they are complicit in their condition because they somehow just didn’t try hard enough.
But that it’s somehow, after all of these years of disenfranchisement and grief illiteracy, ok to not be ok? And that soon not being ok will probably even become fashionable? Forgive me if I’m a bit grouchy.
And then there’s the social isolation thing. Goodness gracious, where even to begin.
The images and memories of my first Mother’s Day are indelible. There I was, just three plus months out of a four year long trying to conceive hellacious oddessey, on my first Mother’s Day in 42 years where I knew I’d likely never get to be a mother.
I sat there in the dark, blinds drawn, windows closed, no computer or TV on, not even a dalliance out into my back yard to look at my gardens. This fresh truth of never getting to be a mother was so splitting, presented itself as so much more expansive than myself that I knew the slightest trigger – the sounds of mothers and their children, the image of a mom pushing a stroller or flowery mom commentary just to name a few – would make it unbearable to exist.
In the early half of the day, I discovered that it was my job to make it through the day, plain and simple, and that the only way to do that was one breath at a time. If I kept breathing – which I often found myself forgetting to do in those early days of grief – then that meant I was still alive. So I went on only as I was able to. One breath in, one breath out.
I recently received a mass e-mail from someone in the yoga world who was back in the day dismissive of my plight, when perhaps not coincidentally an email of mine was followed by a mass e-mail chock full of law and order in the universey type proclamations. This most recent pandemic themed e-mail heralded the power of the breath and it’s use as a vehicle to get us through tough moments and times. Hmmm. You don’t say (six years too late).
And so, social isolation is not only not new to me, it is the lesser of a few evils that literally saved my ass for a period of years. The result of being someone who developed PTSD from multiple failed fertility treatments who then had to learn how to exist without my children in this parent/families with kids centric culture? Being around humans was a perpetually terrorizing experience. The flood of universal concern for the mental health ramifications of that which was in my experience really the BETTER option…….well I’m sure you can imagine it has been a bit strange.
Even in more healed states than the aforementioned, we in the involuntarily childless demographic are no strangers to social isolation. And for good reason. We’re blamed for our losses if they are even acknowledged in the first place. Our experiences or even space for our experiences are nowhere to be found in the human conversation. We live in a world that has the nerve to think you really don’t go through much of anything significant until you parent. Many of our experiences include the realization that there are few people in the world with whom we can be accurately seen and heard, never mind understood. Worse, we’re a demographic where no one in the outside world seems to be aware that we are socially isolated (people without children have all the fun, right??), never mind that it’s going to take the entire village to address this problem.
And so those of us who wish to maintain any semblance of mental health and authenticity have our hard won means of coping with social isolation. A whole slew of them, actually. Coping mechanisms that were never talked about or validated on TV when we needed them, by the way. Suffice it to say, my demographic – which makes up around 20% of the worldwide population – my demographic has got this social isolation shit DOWN.
So it shouldn’t be too hard to imagine our eye rolling “really, where’s the news?” response when social isolation suddenly leaps out of the shadows and becomes this legitimate thing we’re all dealing with. Something shouldn’t be valid and mainstream only once people who get to be parents start experiencing it.
The childless not by choice already know that you can “be connected without being physically together” due to our typical blogosphere/Skype/have only met you once in person friendships. We also know this due to our common experience with the antithesis – of feeling so deeply alone in groups of people (back when there used to be groups of people). And, many of us know this through our connections to our unborn. Most of us already “appreciate people more” because of all that we lost in terms of both children and easy, mindless connection with the world. And on top of that, everyone’s now going all Christopher Columbus on us, patting themselves on the back for these “newly discovered” perspectives.
So it is my hope that people are able to take their new found awarenesses and bring them into other realities besides the pandemic. If someone is coming out of treatments without a child, can’t bear the risk of another miscarriage, or is grieving their dream of motherhood for any reason, it is ALSO ok to not be ok. And for a good long while at that.
In casual situations, consider not asking someone point blank if they have kids, or at least be ready to compassionately and appropriately field the answer no. When you don’t, you are actively contributing to social isolation. In closer relationships, listen to the childless people in your lives. Believe them. Notice that their life experiences are entirely different from yours and take an active interest. When you don’t, you are contributing to social isolation.
I have learned a thing or two from all of the psychological speak out there, and that’s a good thing. Even though social isolation has often been the lesser of evils for me to one degree or another, it still is a serious thing that I’m ultimately glad society is illuminating. It’s also a potentially serious thing for the single and living alone population, though their pandemic experiences aren’t being highlighted in the way that they should be. And, I’ve always wondered what really are its ramifications, being that it’s a life long thorn to contend with for the involuntarily childless. Life long or at least until the human culture becomes more developed empathically and inclusive of adult experiences beyond parenthood.
And so here it is – available on pretty much every outlet these days – some of the potential ramifications of social isolation are: Increased rates of depression, anxiety, insomnia, loneliness and increased alcohol and drug consumption. In my last couple of years of trying to conceive and my first at least three years coming out of treatments, I could have checked most of those boxes. But somehow, I made my way through and figured it out. And that, my dear readers, is who I’d like to salute today.
To those of you who made it through or continue to survive social isolation, the dark night of the soul, or any form of despair without societal acknowledgement, the knowledge and information you needed at the time or emotional support hotlines erected in your honor, I salute you.
To those of you for whom most if not all holidays are modified, compromised, and contain some form of social isolation and to those who go through this WITHOUT being exalted for it by anyone or anything, I salute you.
And to those of you who found the spark and strength somewhere deep inside to mother yourselves in the face of total demolition and depletion, to those of you who brought yourselves from broken to whole, almost dead back to alive, dysfunctional to functional on your own accord not riding the all too convenient wave of a greater collective, and to those of you who are on your way through that rugged, most precarious journey, I salute you on this day and always.