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.
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.