Silent Sorority

Infertility Survivors Finally Heard

March 28, 2010

Guest Post: Never Being Called Mommy

The latest contributor to A Fresh Start is Stephanie. I first came across her writing on A few emails later she invited me to join her on a radio segment where we both discussed our respective experiences coming to terms with infertility. In this piece, Stephanie shares her story and sheds some light on “disenfranchised grief” and where she found new strength.  You can read still more stories from strong women in this blog’s Tapestry of Voices category.
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“You’re both identical twins?! Wow! How many children do you guys have?” Expecting a staggering number, my husband’s and my response sadly, over nineteen years remains the same.


We anticipated our foray into parenthood would be a breeze but our pursuit can only be described as more tornado like.  We didn’t see infertility coming and the emotional carnage it left in its wake felt catastrophic.  With reckless regard for our feelings, it left my identity, in particular, desperate to conceive, birth and raise our own biological children, strewn, scattered and beyond recognition, with the only real feasible option to rebuild from the ground up.

I’m Italian and Irish and yes, that makes me Catholic-the devout kind.  The kind with a very clear understanding that missing Mass on Sundays borders on a cardinal sin, grew up faithfully attending Forty Hours Devotion and regularly lugged hefty loads of guilt and shame into the Confessional.

Add up my Italian/Irish and Catholic pedigree, prolific family background (my mother had two sets of twins and three more children), sweeten the deal by marrying an identical twin AND the youngest of ten children, I ask you, who isn’t laying odds we have parenthood in the bag?

After five years of infertility treatments, and trust me, a rather lengthy and poorly attended pity party for myself, I had to reconcile that no one would ever call me, “Mommy.”  As I began to heal, little by little I pieced together an identity independent of motherhood but the process was painful and in truth, evolutionary.

But if you’re anything like me, you get the sense your loss of never parenting often goes unacknowledged.

See also  When Barren is Fruitful

This is not to say the people in our lives haven’t done their best to be supportive. The challenge as I see it, comes in when others have not experienced the loss personally. How can those who parent really understand the emptiness we struggle with over our lifespan? In all fairness to them, they probably can’t.

There is a term for an unacknowledged loss. It is disenfranchised grief.  One of the most poignant explanations of this feeling is in an article in Counseling Today.

Howard Winokuer, president of The Association of Death Education and Counseling and Director of the Winokeur Center for Counseling and Healing in Charlotte, NC says,

while the death of a family member or friend is commonly recognized as a substantial loss, counselors agree it’s far from the only event that produces feelings of grief. When we think about grief, generally speaking, we think about death. But I think that’s a very limited and tunnel vision view of grief. Grief is the end result of any loss, and loss is so broad.

Karen M. Humphrey, a retired counseling professor and author of Counseling Strategies for Loss and Grief echoes Howard Winokeur’s sentiments. She says that all losses are legitimate. Humphrey gives the example of a woman who has always dreamed of having children discovering she is infertile as an example of disenfranchised grief. She goes on to say “That could actually be more challenging and more disruptive than dealing with the death of someone.”

She is my new hero.

I am moved that she publicly validates and legitimizes the emotional turmoil and sting associated with infertility. My sense is though, with no “body to bury” the intangible nature of our loss is hard for people to grasp.  When cancer or other life-threatening illnesses lurk in the corners of our neighborhoods, families or workplaces, casseroles proliferate. When infertility strikes, people are left, in a sense to feed themselves.

A loss, is a loss, is a loss. No one else has to understand it, get it or need to, in order for feelings of loss and grief to be justifiable. Russell Friedman, executive director of the Grief Recovery Institute agrees and defines grief as “conflicting feeling caused by a change or an end in a familiar pattern or behavior.”

Grieving infertility is not linear. It is dynamic. Over our lifetimes, we will revisit it, much like we would any other loss. Milestones hold the very real potential to draw the sorrow to the surface. Many of us come to a point of resolution but it is a myth that the emptiness dissolves entirely.

We learn to grapple within.  We tuck into a spot in our emotional closets, where on occasion it falls out and hit us, unsuspectingly, right on the head. Leaving us to rediscover where best to place it, so we can safeguard against the threat of it falling out again and again.

See also  Speaking a Common Language

The good news is like any other loss, the intensity of the pain subsides. For me, I have found tremendous solace in being Aunt Steph to over thirty-eight nieces and nephews, writing a memoir about my experience (Doris, Sophia and Me: Lessons From My Mother Who Didn’t Live Long Enough and My Daughter Who Was Never Born), and in my work as a grief and loss therapist.

Remember, though, while it might be helpful, you don’t need to gather permission slips from friends, colleagues or neighbors to legitimize your loss.  As fellow travelers down this same bumpy and foggy road, we know it hurts and you are not alone.

Stephanie Baffone, LPCMH, NCC is a licensed, board certified mental health therapist and writer whose guiding principle is if you have wisdom from which others might benefit you are obligated to pass it on.  She is in private practice and specializes in grief and loss, couples counseling and issues related to infertility. She writes a bi-monthly column at Savvy Auntie and blogs about love, loss and life at Stephanie’s Stories. If you’d got a story you’d like to share, email me at ptsigdinos (@) yahoo dot com.

Guest Post, Tapestry of Voices 9 Replies to “Guest Post: Never Being Called Mommy”
Pamela Tsigdinos
Pamela Tsigdinos
Writer, blogger and, oh, yeah, infertility survivor. My memoir, Silent Sorority, tells the whole story. There's a movie in there somewhere. Given the quirkiness needed to relate it all I'm thinking Jennifer Lawrence would be a good fit.


9 thoughts on “Guest Post: Never Being Called Mommy

    Author’s gravatar

    Hi Pamela-
    Thank you for the opportunity to guest post on your blog. It was a pleasure. My hope is those who read it will feel a sense of sisterhood.
    Thank you again!

    Author’s gravatar

    Great post. Thank you so much!

    Author’s gravatar

    Thank you for sharing your story Stephanie. It must be so difficult to deal with infertility when you both come from families that are highly fertile. I know some Catholics have huge struggles with their faith’s doctrines and IF treatment. I am glad to see you found your strength and used it help others. I like your guiding principle and try to find ways to do likewise. If all people in the world had the same attitude like yours the world would be a better place.

    Author’s gravatar

    Thank you for talking about disenfranchised grief. You hit it on the head that someone out there validates how so many of us feel. It really hits home for me now because my father in law is dying of cancer and my husband has tons of people offering him help and giving him tons of support during this time. However, we just finished literally two weeks before this news, a bad IVF cycle and I’ve been devastated by grief and suffering silently. My husband is here but naturally now is quite busy. Not that I want to announce this to the world but in a sense it would be nice. A loss is a loss is a loss. Thanks for this guest post.

    Author’s gravatar

    Hi Laurie, Jen B and Jennifer-
    I really appreciate you taking the time to write such lovely comments. It is so helpful to me to hear from other women that they understand how I feel but more importantly, I feel like my own experience offers help to others like us.
    All my best to you guys…

    Author’s gravatar

    I really loved this post – the way it described loss and grief as a continuum. It made so much sense to me. It can apply to so many other situations as well.

    I can’t really talk to people about infertility grief (even as I am parenting now) because people think I’m dwelling in the past even though I am just trying to tell them what I went through.

    Author’s gravatar

    Wow. Literally 5 minutes before I came upon your article, I found out that one of my college pals is pregnant, soon after TTC. Balancing the I-am-genuinely-happy-for-you versus the I-am-sad-for-me emotions is hard, sometimes. Your words touched me and helped to re-ground me. I definitely identified with your Catholic background. And the emotional closet analogy really hit the mark. Thank you.

    Author’s gravatar

    Hi Deathstar and Lisa-
    I am so, so glad that this post was helpful. Somedays the only redeeming value of my own struggle with infertility is that I can help others traveling down this horrible bumpy road. Please feel free to follow me on Twitter @SBaffone or on Facebook at Stephanie DiCerbo Baffone too. It is a pleasure that our paths have crossed, I only wish it was under different circumstances. Bless you!

    Author’s gravatar

    That was a great story. So painfully true. Would love to read more blogs.

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