It’s been a few years since I first began to pick up the pieces broken and splintered off in the tempest of infertility and failed IVF.
Because there were no instructions for reassembly, no “how to cope with infertility” imparted by elders or learned through societal observation, I’ve had my fair share of trial and error.
There were times when I tried to force a piece into place in a well-intended but bungled attempt to hurry the rebuilding process. For instance, feigning happiness at pregnancy and birth announcements before I’d fully come to terms with the impact of my own alpha pregnancy losses. My dis-ingenuousness only served to make me feel uncomfortable in a different sort of way.
Back I’d go to the proverbial drawing board for more reflection on my messy emotions, more working out the complexity of fitting into a world that didn’t always want to (or know how to) make room for women like me: the unexplained infertility case, the involuntarily childless. The woman who bonded with embryos and created dreams for children she never got to embrace.
The truth is this: I didn’t realize I was in the early stages of confronting my grief and neither did those around me.
It was only in experiencing firsthand “twinship,” a concept that Dr. Marni Rosner explained as “relationships that provide the feeling that there are others like me in the world, someone who understands me” that I was able to release and explore what had once been bottled up inside.
A few recent articles help further illuminate the importance of participating fully in the grieving process.
In a New York Times op-ed titled, “Diagnosis: Human,” Ted Gup writes about the death of his son due to a fatal mix of alcohol and drugs. He questions why society is so quick to reach for a pill to cure all of our ills. He cautions that the D.S.M. 5 (the latest American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) may be overlooking the basic need of humans to learn to cope, to become resilient and to grieve.
He points out that, “Challenge and hardship have become pathologized and monetized. Instead of enhancing our coping skills, we undermine them and seek shortcuts where there are none, eroding the resilience upon which each of us, at some point in our lives, must rely.”
Rather than try to contain grief or treat it artificially, he writes:
The D.S.M. would do well to recognize that a broken heart is not a medical condition, and that medication is ill-suited to repair some tears. Time does not heal all wounds, closure is a fiction, and so too is the notion that God never asks of us more than we can bear. Enduring the unbearable is sometimes exactly what life asks of us.
Across the continent and the Atlantic Ocean, Jody Day, a writer and advocate for women in transition, adds still more insight to the importance of grieving in the company of others. In her post called, “You’re Not Crazy, You’re Grieving,” she writes:
No one can grieve alone, inside their head, because that’s not how grief works. Grief is a form of love, and it requires company – it needs to see its reality reflected back to itself from the heart and soul of another human being. Just as love does.
I wholeheartedly agree.
Whether it’s Ted or Jody or you or me, we all benefit when we have a healthy and productive way to integrate loss and hardship into our lives. In helping each other to develop coping skills and resilience we, in turn, can heal and grow and find peace.
Today I understand more than ever the concept “that which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” I appreciate more fully that we function better by integrating loss and sorrow in a supportive environment.
For now, I leave you with another story, “Older People Just As Happy Without Children,” and a link to the study behind the article titled: Childlessness and Psychological Well-Being in Midlife and Old Age. It contains this nugget:
Although infertile persons may go through a phase of finding life empty and unfulfilling (Callan & Noller, 1987), there is little to suggest that involuntary childlessness may cause a continuing sense of loss, as some have suggested (Beets, 1996; Matthews & Matthews, 1986). Childless adults appear to adapt well to their situation, finding companionship, support, and a sense of meaning and significance in other ways (e.g., Rempel, 1985).
Grief, like love, is a powerful emotion and can take us to new places of growth and understanding.
For more on what I’ve learned, you’ll find this interview on the RESOLVE New England website, A Conversation On Life Beyond Children.
As always, welcome your thoughts.
24 thoughts on “Grief Is a Form of Love”
Beautifully written, as always.
I loved the article “Older people just as happy without children”.
A great summing up. I love the statement that “a broken heart is not a medical condition.” Reading this I remembered a post from Loribeth last year, commenting on a suggestion that grief could be diagnosed as depression/abnormal after only two weeks (and then presumably be medicated).
The same argument applies – that we need to work through our emotions, face the pain, and enable us to come through the other side.
As for “grief is a form of love” I struggled with that a little, but I wholeheartedly agree that it comes from love (otherwise we wouldn’t feel grief) and yes, to heal we need to be able to share it with someone, to feel heard, to feel validated and connected. So maybe it is a form of love. I’m still thinking on that!
Finally (phew!) thanks for the article link about happy old people with no kids. It’s always good to see something that I believe myself!
I’d like to invite the researchers of that study to sit in with almost any group of older women in the USA engaged in chitchat and social conversation. Children ! Grandbabies ! *rinse* repeat often. Consider being *the* (single) childless not by choice person in that group.
You raise a great point, Tacoma. Here in the U.S. we are living in a very pro-natal period. Culturally I believe there are big differences but as I spend less time these days with parents and more time with those who are not, I actually find this study measures up. I also find non-parents more relaxed and adaptable.
Thanks for your reply ! I’m hopefully FINALLY getting it thru my thick skull that going back to those pronatal grandbaby admiration society gatherings (culturally recommended, but I don’t fit in EVER) isn’t a GOOD thing ! (I have to fall off cliffs many times before I learn to Watch My Step, it seems)Thanks Pamela for your blog !
Wow Pamela – thank you so much for this post – It really resonated with where I am right now. I hope you don’t mind, but I am going to blog about this and link back to yours.
I look forward to reading your post, Nichole!
Trial and error can be maddening, but look at the beacon it made you.
Love the title of your post, and the article excerpt it came from.
Pamela, thanks again for taking the time to open up with our organization about this very important topic; you bring such a wonderful voice to this section of the infertility community and we’re honored to feature your story and voice at our website and with our members.
Thank you so much, fully from my heart- that’s what I just needed to hear, especially with me struggling with grief. I had burst into tears reading a reader’s comment affirming that there was nothing wrong with my grief- you’re very right “Because there were no instructions for reassembly, no “how to cope with infertility” imparted by elders or learned through societal observation, I’ve had my fair share of trial and error.”
I’m going through that. I was see-sawing on whether I was supposed to finish my grief after three months, a year or what- and I caught myself, mentally yelling at myself “what’s wrong with you, can’t you get over it?” So reading your post, just affirmed that I am doing it my way, there’s nothing wrong with how I’m approaching my grief.
Perfect timing, thank you, Pamela….
You take all the time you need, Wolfers. The grief will ebb and flow, but you’re not alone. We’re here to hear your story and to help you heal.
Amusingly (?), I found the nice thing about assuming that I would be sad and angry forever was the pleasant surprise I got looking back and seeing that I’d actually made progress. But I don’t have deadlines for myself. I’d love to be 100% better, but that’s not the case now. And sometimes I regress. We’ll see about the future. I actually first started to get more able to deal with other people’s kids (and their being-about-their-kids) at the exact same time I started telling great numbers of people, “I don’t attend baptisms.” “I don’t attend baby showers.” And bringing housewarming presents to first birthday parties. (What? They had just bought a house. And I threw some sort of toy in there.) And deleting invitations to things rather than responding to them. I think people started giving me a wide berth on these matters. It probably gave me more breathing room to deal with the obligations I couldn’t well avoid. So I say, don’t be afraid to tell people to BACK THE F*&% OFF. They need to get the message somehow.
Oh, and make LOTS of friends who don’t have children!
I’ve also heard it said that “grief is the price we pay for love.” Tomato, tomahto. ;) The point is that we ARE grieving, that our grief is real and legitimate and justified, and that it’s going to take us more than two weeks (hello, DSM…!) and pharmaceuticals to put our lives back together and start feeling better, after what we have been through. Thank you for giving voice to some very important points that I wholeheartedly believe myself.
Amazing article, I wholeheartedly believe what I’ve read here. There is too much medication and not enough natural process going on. Well written post I enjoyed the read.