This guest post comes from Andrea Rose, teacher and budding artist. Andrea’s first husband became infertile due to cancer in their first year of marriage while they were in their early twenties. She and her current husband struggled with male factor and age-related infertility for over ten years. She has had to make difficult decisions and change her viewpoint about herself, family and friends. After unexpectedly landing on the margins of society, she regained her footing, brushed herself off, surveyed the unfamiliar landscape, and discovered deeper strength and a new vision.
I recently let another friendship go. This one was particularly tough because this friend was someone who had been in my life for 20 years and in my husband’s life for 25. She is loving, patient, and intelligent. We have welcomed her, her husband and three children into our world at times vacationing together and maintaining regular correspondence while living far apart. They are all wonderful people.
My husband and I began trying to conceive very soon after we got together but we did not mention our difficulties with infertility to many people including the friend in question. For over 10 years we hoped we would get our hard fought for child. In the meantime, we would try not to bother people with our problems and keep the faith. As we aged out of adoption, and I entered menopause, and we decided that surrogacy was not viable for us, we became very open with friends and family about our situation and the deep grief we were experiencing.
My friend read the infertility blogs and information I sent her and really tried to understand. She knows that once someone has “called the time of death” on their hopes of having a child, that it usually takes 3-5 years to come out of grief and mourning and that this is necessary, difficult and complex work. After all, it is not the loss of just one thing we mourn. Several months ago, while visiting her family, she took me aside and asked me to “change my story”. She wanted me to put a more “positive energy” into it.
I experience things emotionally first and then intellectually. Her request made me feel sad, contracted, misunderstood and silenced. We still had several days together and I didn’t mention our infertility to her again. I spoke only “positively” and put on a happy face until it was time for our visit to be over. CNBCers [childless not by choice] have lots of experience with this strategy. Unless there were a huge shift in her perspective, I knew that my story, my truth, was something I would never entrust her with again.
Valuing the friendship and understanding the shaky ground upon which it now rested, my husband wrote her a thoughtful email asking that she try to understand that while our story might not be a completely happy one, infertility is part of our story and always will be. The tone of her response was impatient and annoyed and in essence these were her main points:
- Perhaps our childlessness was a “gift”.
- Childlessness was defining our lives and our relationships.
- We could overcome our situation and write a blog.
- We could turn away from grief toward healing.
- She said my husband and I were depressed and feeding each other’s depressions.
- All the CBCNer’s she knew had “come to terms” with their situation and pursued different dreams together in support of their relationship and a full life.
- She suggested we change our thoughts and stop hurting ourselves by “clinging” to our stories and have a happy outlook.
- She suggested we focus on the good things we have in our lives.
- She told us that our grief was taking too long.
- She gave examples of how she had met the challenges in her life with positivity. Could we not do the same?
- She said we were wallowing and asked us when we were going to “let go of our story”.
- She suggested that when that was done we would be free to enjoy life with our friends the way we used to be.
How could someone who had read so much infertility material and heard so much about the subject produce such a letter? Almost everything in it countered the research and suggestions for grief work for effectively processing the experience. Every one of the above points contained an aspect of either silencing, judging, blaming, shaming, or invalidating our position as the experts and arbiters of our own journey and truth.
What do we do when this happens? How do we remain true to ourselves and our beautiful, hard won, deeply life-changing stories? When we didn’t share our stories, why were we seen as well-rounded, intelligent, multi-faceted, people with interesting lives and when we did speak, why were seen as defining our lives by being childless not by choice? We were still the same people who worked, enjoyed hobbies, travelled, volunteered in our community, continued to develop varied relationships, etc.
Society needs to understand that our stories of infertility are meaningful, valid and important and that they co-exist with our other life stories. They are not mutually exclusive. They are entwined. Society must stop asking us to excise our infertility stories from our other life stories as a means of silencing, shaming, or making its mainstream population more comfortable. It doesn’t need to “fix” us, set a timetable for us, or tell us to “get over it” and get back to who we were. We will never get back to who we were and we are proud of it. It’s been an enriching albeit difficult journey to new ways of knowing, understanding and being. Why would we want to “go back” even if we could?
Sometimes we must kindly and lovingly turn our backs on some relationships in exchange for our authentic selves and the rest of the world. And that’s what I call a pretty good trade.
Andrea asks: Wouldn’t it be a great idea to have a Mourners Code specifically for our demographic?
A Helpful Resource from Andrea: Healing a Parent’s Grieving Heart: 100 Practical Ideas After Your Child Dies by grief counsellor and educator Dr. Alan Wolfelt, Ph.D. Although the book was not written for our demographic, much of it can be applied to our lives. It addresses the topics of grief and healing and in addition offers compassionate advice and simple activities. It’s concise, practical and offers strategies which can provide grounding in the shaky-pudding world of life during/after infertility. She especially liked the “Mourners Code, Ten Self-Compassionate Principles at the end of his book. This section helped her regain a sense of power and a newfound sense of sanity by realizing, as a CNBCer, she had “rights”. It also helped immensely in understanding which relationships/responses were helpful and which were hurtful and to feel ok with not accepting the hurtful ones.
Related posts and articles from Silent Sorority contributors
– Christina Gombar: The Mother Divide – Friends With Children and Friends Without
– Joseph Campbell Meets Anne of Green Gables
– Bridging the Infertility Gap
Academic Research on ‘Silencing’: Exploring Epistemic Injustice – Karen Bell argues epistemic injustice occurs when the value of a marginalized group or individual’s knowledge is diminished by a more powerful group.
14 thoughts on “No More Silencing: Speaking Our Truth”
Very well said, Andrea. No one needs someone telling them how to “be.”
And congratulations Pam, on being one of the top ten health blogs. They’re finally listening!
I still grieve at 69 years old.
I’ll never get over it
I’ll never be happy
Now, my husband and I are aging alone.
I’m scared everyday
Thanks for your blog
Well said Andrea. These aren’t real friends. And congratualtions Pam, on hitting the Top Ten! They’re finally getting it!
Holy smokes, Andrea…the things your friend wrote were so painful. Reading the list made me cringe. Thanks for sharing your story by the way. I really love this part: \”When we didn’t share our stories, why were we seen as well-rounded, intelligent, multi-faceted, people with interesting lives and when we did speak, why were seen as defining our lives by being childless not by choice?\” as well as the lines that Mali copied.
I am so angry on Andrea’s behalf! I want to write back to that friend, partly because I don’t think we do any favours – to ourselves, or other people with no kids – by keeping quiet, or meekly accepting pleas to “be more positive.” I understand that Andrea will feel wounded by this, which is why I want to do it for her. Because I do hate that her friend seems to think that her level of (dis)comfort with infertility (or maybe any sadness in her friends) is so much more important than Andrea and her husband’s actual experience.
I love that Andrea finished by saying this – “We will never get back to who we were and we are proud of it. It’s been an enriching albeit difficult journey to new ways of knowing, understanding and being. Why would we want to “go back” even if we could?”
What more positive outcome could she have? Pity her friend doesn’t see this. Pity she’s not proud of Andrea and her husband for getting to this place.
“Society needs to understand that our stories of infertility are meaningful, valid and important and that they co-exist with our other life stories. They are not mutually exclusive.”
Yes! It’s so hard, isn’t it? — when the people we think will be the most supportive & understanding disappoint us so badly. :( And to stay silent, just so that others can maintain their illusion that everything is peachy keen with us and with the world generally. What they don’t understand is that giving voice to our grief and our story will help us to heal and progress much faster than we would by staying silent, even if it makes them uncomfortable to hear us speak our truth.
I am sorry, Andrea.
Congrats on being in the top 10, Pamela! As always, thanks for putting and keeping us out there!
I’m really sorry Andrea had to go through that. Although it makes me cringe, this is such an important post because so many of us go through similar situations when we voice our grief. It was helpful for me to read about someone else’s reality from the trenches. Though this friend’s response maybe had much more to do with her own detachment from her emotions than it did with infertility, it sounds like a suffocating experience just the same. Bravo to Andrea for staying true, it’s not easy. I’m also looking forward to reading the book she suggested.
Andrea’s story made me so sad and angry. I can’t even believe that another person, a friend, would write those horrible things. It really does illustrate the Catch 22 that we all face. If we speak up we risk that sort of response which will inevitably cause so much more hurt. So sometimes, at least to me, it feels easier to just stay silent.
First off, Congratulations to Pamela! That’s wonderful news about being in the top 10! Well deserved.
Like everyone above, Andrea’s post made me sad and angry. That someone she and her husband trusted would ask her to edit her story just leaves me speechless. Would she dare do this to someone who is living with PTSD after being in a war zone? Or someone living with a terminal disease? I gather not as society would immediately shun her. And the same mindset needs to be applied with infertility.
The fact that Andrea and her husband made the decision to not edit their story and instead grieve without shame is something they should be proud of. You are doing what is required to heal from this experience all while embracing the road ahead. And you both deserve nothing but support for this.
May your journey after surviving infertility be one filled with healing and peace. And thank you for these valuable resources.
Thanks for your reply. I wanted to clarify that I didn’t actually accept the pleas to “be more positive”. During the discussion with this friend, I told her that I disagreed with her on many points but knew after she asked me to change my story that I she was not hearing me and that she was probably never was going to hear me. So there it was… another friendship at a crossroads…it wasn’t the first and it probably won’t be the last. I have learned that I need to give myself plenty of time and space to name, absorb and process these realizations/losses. Sadly and happily, this is getting easier to do. I appreciate your bringing the omission to my attention. It’ll help me be a better writer on the subject in the future.
WOW – what a beautifully written piece. I can so totally understand where you are coming from.