Dear Abby (aka Jeanne Phillips),
Pamela Jeanne here. Nice to meet you. So let me get right to the point. That 2nd letter you posted today, the one about the woman feeling a void in her life following an infertility diagnosis? Yeah, I’m afraid you struck out. You see the question posed by BROKEN RECORD is a highly nuanced once.
Allow me and my crack team of experts to help you with this one. We in this feisty corner of the blogosphere have had a lot of experience with all things infertility — not to mention society’s well-meaning but usually ignorant (or in the case many online commenters sometimes compassion-less) responses. You made a good attempt to be helpful but we’ll take it from here…
Dear BROKEN RECORD,
That sense of emptiness you describe — it is perfectly normal. It’s really important for you to know that you are not alone in your feelings. I mean that literally. There are thousands of women (likely millions), but I’ve only had the opportunity to know thousands so I’ll keep it there for now. It may take a little more effort to find us, but we’re here (check out my blogroll). We are usually out-shouted and elbowed out by the ‘just adopt’ brigade in the noisy comments section of mainstream media.
First, we ‘get’ you. We see and hear you. We who have met and blogged and shared extensively on infertility and the childless not by choice (CNBC) topic know how important it is to be validated … to have an empathetic ear when the rest of the world gets tired of hearing what you describe as a broken record. Our story is not an easy one to tell or to understand. In a word, it’s complicated.
You likely feel alternatively numb, sad, confused and overwhelmed in trying to let go of your once cherished dream to “have children and a home in which we can build memories and traditions.” It is only in verbalizing and ‘owning’ our experience that we can begin to grieve, to heal and to reinvent ourselves in an authentic and meaningful way. When we are silenced, marginalized, judged or condemned it only prolongs the suffering and pain or emptiness that we carry inside our hearts and our heads.
The only way to get through grief is to experience it, immerse yourself in it. You’re going to have to hurt before you can heal. And fair warning, the healing is non-linear. There will be good and bad days. Infertility and involuntarily childlessness is not something you get over. You come to terms with it. Reminders of what might have been will remain, but the pain will, in time, subside.
Right now you likely feel trapped in a cul-de-sac and need a road map to break free and begin moving forward. Let me point you to a few blog posts and interviews with women whom I’ve met and spoken to who have also wrestled with the questions where do I turn? and what do I do now?to fill the void you describe:
- This podcast (and transcription) covers a lot ground … it’s a frank and open discussion between Cristy, Mo and fellow CNBC blogger Loribeth
- Dr. Marni Rosner shared her ground-breaking research on women coping with fertility failures and participated in this Q&A titled: Not Having Children An Assault to Our Identity
- Andrea Rose shared her truth in this post: No More Silencing
- Dr. Wendy Rogers offers some steps for working out a new narrative in this blog post: We Have to Believe It to See It
- Jessica Hepburn (who is swimming the English Channel this week to raise money for charity) blogs about her involuntarily childless experience on The Pursuit of Motherhood
- Lesley Pyne, also in the UK, shares many inspirational stories of women who have had to come to terms with a life different than the once they envisioned
- Sarah Chamberlin, in an authentic voice, brings great honesty in describing much of what you describe in her aptly named blog Infertility Honesty
- Tracey Cleantis channeled her wisdom and lessons learned about letting go of her dream of parenthood into a book called The Next Happy
- Mali of New Zealand writes eloquently on this very same topic. Among my favorites of her blogs posts are: The Next Big Thing and The Early Days
- Finally, check out Jody Day, author and creator of Gateway Women, a private community for women who are not mothers. You’ll see in Jody’s bio she was married for 16 years, has been single for several years and is childless not by choice.
As these and many other women (who blog in countries ranging from Slovenia and Finland to France, Germany, Canada, South Africa, Australia and beyond) will acknowledge, the work is not easy but peace and joy will return to your life. You will come away with a new level of insight and compassion that will serve you for the rest of your life. You will find you’re stronger than you ever thought possible. Your transformation will provide a means for a rebirth.
You can join us in seizing the opportunity to reinvent. Together we can multiply the value of what we’ve learned by sharing it with others.
I hope you find this post, BROKEN RECORD. Meanwhile, wishing all who have walked in your shoes much peace and strength…
p.s. And for those in the ‘just adopt’ brigade who might happen by, please let me point you to Lori’s blog for a more in-depth look at the complex adoption experience.
p.p.s. Welcome additional words of encouragement and advice from my fellow bloggers and readers.
23 thoughts on “Dear Abby Strikes Out On Infertility, Childless Not By Choice Question”
Pamela, you’ve given a great list of resources here, and a typically understanding response, so full of empathy. I really do hope that Broken Record finds her way here.
I suspect that what she is missing is that feeling of connection, the assurance that she will be okay, and the outlet to talk freely about how she feels. Being heard, as you said, goes a long way to helping us feel normal. And we all have stories and hints to share, that might help her make that move forward.
After Dear Abby’s response (she really doesn’t get infertility, does she?!), and reading the ignorant, and heartless comments on the post, I am so proud to be here with such wise and compassionate women.
dear Broken Record, I really hope that heartless Abby’s answer and some heartless comments under Abby’s letter did not hurt you. And I hope you will find the way to read this beautiful Pamela’s letter. So very true. I hope you will become part of our amazing supporting community.
kind regards from Europe,
Dear Broken Record,
First of all, let me say I’m sorry your all too brave and human action of reaching out was met with archaic ignorance regarding the plight of being child free not by choice, courtesy of Dear Abby. I know all too well how it feels to summon the courage to try and solicit intelligent support…..only to be met with and again minimized by yet another hollow adoption sermon.
I do hope you find us, Broken Record. We are here in the blogosphere, wading through the grief and upheaval that initially comes from being involuntarily childless, supporting each other in rebuilding and renewal, and facilitating the creation of depth required to hold and cultivate such a loss.
You may feel crazy, isolated or even like a misfit, but you are normal. And you are not alone.
Oh, and Abby – Ms. Jeanne Phillips – we in the child free not by choice community are here and happy to educate you whenever you are ready. In the meantime, I would greatly appreciate you refraining from commenting on a subject and an experience about which you clearly do not know.
great text. great job.
thanks a lot !
I cringed when I read the dismissive message and cruel comments. Thank you for actually listening and empathizing, Pamela, and for providing both resources and guides.
Agreed agreed agreed. And thank everyone here for articulating what this normally quite articulate survivor can’t put into words for B. R. You are absolutely not alone.
Agreed agreed agreed Lori, Lisa and all. And thanks to everyone posting here from me for articulating what this normally quite articulate survivor can’t put into words for B. R. Perhaps a picture might help express it. B R, you are not alone.
Home run! (Attempting to continue your baseball theme.)
Thanks for putting in to words what we know Broken Record needs to hear. What Dear Abby offers is the typical Band-Aid solution that doesn’t address any of the loss and grief Broken Record is experiencing. It also shows a complete lack of understanding of what it takes to provide a safe and loving home to a child who is also dealing with loss and grief. Abby didn’t just strike out; she showed up with a tennis racket.
Thanks for including me in your resources section. Broken Record will be most welcome. And we won;t refer to her as “Broken Record” anymore!
Wow! Dear Abby’s reply really struck out and the comments from readers made me lose a little bit more faith in humanity. Both add evidence to Sarah’s musings on the acceptable standard of human compassion for those impacted by infertility.
To Broken Record, I think you are incredibly brave for reaching out in such a public forum. I don’t have words of wisdom beyond what others have already said but hope you stumble across this blogging community. We are your people and we will welcome you with open arms.
Great blog Pamela,
I feel sad and angry when I read the stock answer of ‘why not find another way of being a mother?’ As we all know & have worked hard to achieve, it is extremely possible to have a fulfilling life without children. Adoption etc may be the answer for some, but not all and we’ve all had the courage and conviction to say no.
I agree with the great comments & I too hope both Abby and Broken Record find their way here and to the resources you’ve listed then they’ll see that there is another way.
And thank you for including me on the list. I’m proud to be included and so grateful for this community & how we support each other.
What did Dear Abby not hear in “I’ve tried volunteer work?”
The first volunteer effort of most people with a child-shaped hole in their lives is likely to be exploring adoption, fostering, CASA. These are not for everyone. I explored these options also. None are easy, or simple. I have a friend who served as CASA, then as foster parent. She has grown children, a willing spouse, and ample support resources, financial, real estate, etc. I checked out fostering, but having had a complicated upbringing myself, did not feel my husband and I were up to the challenge of dealing with the criminal aspects this often involves – fighting the courts to win children away from meth-addicted parents, etc. I saw other prospective foster parents there who clearly were up to this challenge, and I bless them.
I have a friend who fosters, and suffers the heart break of having the same sets of sibling sisters taken away from her and placed in peril with their biological parents, over and over again. For someone on her own, and already emotionally traumatized, this kind of family arrangement might not be a great idea.
I don’t think it was wrong for Dear Abby to put that suggestion out there, because there may be some childless women like me, for whom attending a few meetings might put the question to rest. I hope Dear Abby gets the message: Go Online! And there are no simple fixes to this, or any other kind of grief.
And don’t talk to people who don’t get it. There are plenty of us out there who hear you.
I’m so sorry, Broken Record that you are going through this. This is a bitter, lonely experience, but all of us here in the Silent Sorority fully support you.
And for those in the “just adopt brigade,” my partner and I been trying to adopt for several years. Adoption isn’t nearly as easy or straight forward as most people wish. Nor will successfully adopting a child erase or fill the emptiness Broken Record feels. She is grieving for the child(ren) she longed for and it will take time to heal. Adoption isn’t a band-aid, so please don’t minimize her grief or experience in the meantime.
Ann, your point is well and importantly made. The experience of very close friends going through adoption in the UK mirrors yours. Humans are not at their best, or most empathetic online – how brave B R is. I hope BR knows that just because those crude responses imply there is no empathy out there, that does not mean there is little understanding or care for her amongst many of us who, frankly, know better.
Thank you Ann for saying how it is when it comes to adoption. It’s extremely difficult and nothing like what people think it is. Yes, there are success stories out there but you don’t hear about how challenging the process is. My husband and I have been through 2 failed adoption attempts( family member who changed her mind at the last minute and acquaintance who approached us to adopt her baby but ended up being adoption fraud.) We have recently went through training for the state we live in to possibly adopt through them and the rules and regulations you have to go through are enormous. Depending on agency and if you are adopting internationally, adopting 1 child can cost as much as $65,000!!! Yes, you are reading that right. We have explored all the options and it’s not easy no matter which route you take. By the way, there are no guarantees you will get a child in the end of going through everything either. We are proof of it!!!!
Even if a couple or individual is lucky enough to get through the adoption process, and adopt a child, it will NEVER erase what they have lost!!!!It doesn’t magically make everything better. You still grieve the loss of what didn’t happen.
If adoption is right for you, that’s awesome! But, it’s not successful for everyone and it’s not the right choice for everyone. Some people try and are just very unlucky. Everyone’s story is unique and there should never be a button that you push that’s labeled”Just adopt”. Clearly, well meaning people have no idea!!!
I feel for those out there who are in this situation. You are not only trying to deal with the infertility but also the failed attempts to adopt. Instead of finding solutions, you have more grief and disappointment.
For all those in this situation, there are so many of us! You are not alone as it so often feels like you are the only one.
Adding my applause & kudos to the ones above :) (and the comments rocked as much as your post did!). I totally agree that Abby’s advice was sadly lacking, and I hope Broken Record eventually finds her way to some of the fabulous resources you’ve listed here. It makes me proud to read that list — so many of these sites were not around when you & I first started blogging, and while we obviously still have much work to do (judging by Abby’s response), we have certainly come a long way in a relatively short time.
I just want to say how lucky I feel to have found this community. I was assaulted by an adoption comment just yesterday from a close family member. Those on the outside don’t understand the years of trying and hoping and how that wears on your soul. Then there are the years of grieving for what will never be. While adoption may be an answer for some it is not a viable path for others. Thank you Pamela for your post. I hope that Broken Record can heal from the posts in this group as I have.
LOVE LOVE LOVE your response and the links you’ve shared here. I also hope Broken Record gets to read this post of yours!
I also cringed when I read Abby’s response and the ignorant comments. I don’t know if you saw it in the comments, but the woman who wrote the letter commented anonymously to explain all she had tried, all alternatives she had explored, and how she was still feeling empty and was looking for help, not judgment. She got a few apologies from the haters. I so much wanted to post the links to this blog and Life Without Baby in a comment to Dear Abby so that I could help her. But I didn’t because I was afraid internet trolls would start posting their hate on the blogs or join our support communities to post judgmental comments. That makes me sad.
Thank you for this! Finding out that I was infertile was like an earthquake. While the original tremor was over, the aftershocks remain. I had actually offered my new husband (at the time) a divorce and that I would fly back home (we were overseas) after having given up everything including a home and a job to follow him. I have found that this is one of the few physical ‘issues’ that other people can feel confident to give pat and thoughtless input on and use for social and conversational discrimination.
One time I thought (foolish me) that at a grouping of friends when asked if I had children (after years of hearing all of their tales of family bliss, which I really didn’t mind and some of the tales are really funny and sweet), I could tell them I was CNBC. One friend shared that her son and daughter-in-law had an nervous time for a couple of years until, Lo and behold, they started having kids. Then the group mommy-jacking went into full cry. What possible relevance do I have at that point?
Now that I have had to undergo a full hysterectomy due to a litany of reproductive tract horrors, it feels even worse. Being middle-aged, female, and barren is not exactly the best feeling in the world. The scarlet letter isn’t an ‘A’, it’s a ‘B’ or ‘I’.