A recent conversation with Lisa Manterfield, a fellow blogger, validated the delicate balancing act required when writing about a topic that is deeply personal — one that has wide-ranging impact and carries the power to reshape our sense of identity and the way in which we grow and move forward in our lives. Lisa described watching a frog swim valiantly and hard across a pond before resting and regrouping, and how it gave it her pause to reflect on her own journey.
Further complicating matters, we don’t uniformly move in the same direction at the same time. Each of us on any given day, when we reflect on it, find ourselves at different stages when coming to terms with infertility or childlessness. The recovery is non-linear.
We’re often so caught up in trying to make sense of a complex experience that we can lose sight of the progress we’ve made. Not long ago I came to realize that I had in every sense survived the trauma of infertility. Over time I had climbed out of the emotional quicksand. I now view infertility as something that happened to me. My interest today lies in exploring the legacy — what it’s taught me.
In a recent New York Times Magazine article on trauma, a reporter talks to two psychologists at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, about their research on trauma survivors. They started their research by interviewing survivors of severe injuries. They went on to survey older people who had lost their spouses. “Person after person told them the same thing: they wished deeply that they had not lost a spouse or been paralyzed, but nonetheless, the experience changed them for the better.”
Patterns emerged. Among the trauma survivors:
– they found a renewed appreciation for life;
– they found new possibilities for themselves;
– they felt more personal strength;
– their relationships had improved;
– they felt spiritually more satisfied.
They developed an inventory to track and measure positive changes associated with the phenomenon and coined the term “post-traumatic growth.”
The reporter, in talking to others, went on to write, “The way we cope with trauma is far more complex than once thought, and the way it molds us is similarly complex. We bend, we break, we repair and rebuild, and often we grow, changing for the better in ways we never would have if we had not suffered.”
He concluded that “for most people, change does not occur in a transcendent moment but over years of prosaic searching.”
Welcome your thoughts …
Hat tip to Carmel, a previous contributor, who shared a link to an interview with Australian journalist and author Gillian Guthrie. Ms. Guthrie’s new book is called, Childless: Reflections on Life’s Longing for Itself. The podcast includes a discussion about the devastation associated with coming to terms with an inability to conceive, and the harsh judgment from society towards women without children. Warning: there is some discussion about challenges that can appear later in life. Ms. Guthrie discusses a recent heartache she experienced — that of missing out on the experience of having young adult children — a topic less explored as most conversations about childlessness focus on the baby and toddler stages. When asked why women remain silent about childlessness, she responded, “It’s a very private thing. There can be a feeling of fault…aspects of grief.” The interview covers quite a bit of territory from the trauma that accompanies losing children in silence and the alienation that women without children can feel in a child-centric society, best summed up by one of Ms. Guthrie’s subjects as “feeling like a fringe dweller.”
16 thoughts on “Post-Traumatic Growth”
I agree with this very much. I did a lot of soul-searching, a lot of thinking, and it was only several years after learning that I would never have children that I realised I could look back, see how I had changed, and appreciate that.
Thanks too for the link to the interview. I found it interesting, although it did rather skim over some very important points. It was quite nice to hear a sympathetic interviewer too, even though the inevitable issue of “why don’t they adopt?” still came up.
Thanks for the link; I will listen to the podcast later. Since going through infertility & stillbirth, I have felt a greater sense of kinship with others who have gone through some kind of traumatic loss, even when it’s very different from mine. Grief & bereavement form a powerful bond.
I loved this sentence and couldn’t agree more:
“We bend, we break, we repair and rebuild, and often we grow, changing for the better in ways we never would have if we had not suffered.”
I greatly appreciated you providing both the link to the interview and the book. I don’t have Kindle at this time, but I read the two chapters available on amazon in full. I often find that outside of America, this complicated topic is treated in a more nuanced way.
I wish such a book could find a foothold in the American market, as the issue is over-simplified in the typically internet polarized way: you’re either heartbroken childless or kicking up your heels child-free.
Most women wind up childless for complicated relationship and career reasons that have nothing to do with infertility per se.
I love the idea of having a “Childfree” lunch. That’s one movement I would like to see go viral!
I was just talking to a friend this past weekend about some of the things in my life I have GAINED because of infertility. Something about acknowledging the good that came out of something that hurt me so deeply felt uncomfortable and wrong at first, and I was having a hard time acknowledging that good (if only because I know I would trade it all for a baby tomorrow), but… there are definitely blessings that have come out of this and ways in which I really have grown so much as a person. That really is kind of amazing when you think about it.
Thank you for this post. I agree that we gain a lot through our losses. Not having children and then losing my husband almost a year ago was a double whammy, but I believe I am stronger, wiser, more sympathetic, and more able to understand what’s important and what’s not worth worrying about. I do see new possibilities opening up as I figure out my future path. Do I still feel waves of sorrow. All the time. But I’ve learned that I can survive them.
Well said. You are so right, Christina — the nuance gets completely overlooked here in the U.S.
I’ll be hosting a virtual lunch here with Gillian, who has graciously agreed to provide a guest post…stay tuned!
Appreciate your thoughts, Sue. You are indeed a strong women. Thanks for showing us grace personified.
Great thoughts on post-traumatic growth, and loved your guest post.
reposted on thebitterbabe.wordpress.com
Being childless, not by choice is hard enough. Being childless and husbandless (relationshipless) feels unbearable. I feel like a modern day leper, especially during the holidays!