(Photo courtesy of Unsplash: Simon Schmitt)
So this one’s a biggie. Grab a cup of coffee and settle in. It’s a bit of a ride.
Did you know that infertility grief, or the place I call “the hell of not being able to conceive naturally like 83% of the population” actually has a name? Yes, there is a real medical term for the hole that sucked me into it, spun me around, dumped like a wave and spat me out, again and again and again.
Dis-en-fran-chised grief. If only someone had told me that. Because, well, crying about a baby that doesn’t exist is confusing, exhausting and really hard to talk about.
Disenfranchised grief is the medical term used to describe grief that isn’t acknowledged by society. Kind of like when your dog dies? But grieving for a child that you already love with all of your heart is not like that at all. A child that hasn’t taken a breath, hasn’t been created and isn’t even a twinkle in your eye, one who won’t go to primary school, won’t fall off her bike, won’t be a horrible teenager who tells you she hates you, well it’s not like your dog dying at all. Because at least you can tell someone, ‘oh my dog died’ and they can say ‘that sucks, I remember when my dog died’. Telling someone ‘oh, my heart is crushed to pieces because I may never be a mother’ just doesn’t feel good coming out of your mouth and it certainly renders the receiver mute (trust me, I’ve tried).
So a bit of back story if I may. I was 33 when the claws of grief got me, and they got me good. We had been trying to have a baby for 3 years. One year naturally, two years of IVF. 6 full rounds = 6 failed rounds. 1 fertilised egg. In 6 rounds #epicfail and the cold heartless realisation hit home. I. may. never. be. a. mother.
As I look back at the journey of the last seven years, I learned so many lessons that had I been able to be conscious of them at the time, they may have eased the pain. Just a little. As I see friends start the journey of IVF, experience failed IVF rounds, I feel the pain and I see the grief. I see the isolation and I see the loneliness. No one understands. Not even your husband. It’s lonely, it’s heartbreaking and no one recognises it as grief.
Here are the things I wish I had known.
Lesson # 1
Be conscious of how you speak to yourself. It matters.
“Pull yourself together moron. So you can’t have a baby? Suck it up, people are dying of cancer for fucks sake.”
“What are you crying for? It isn’t even a real baby. Get over it.”
“Who is going to hang out with me if I don’t have a baby?”
“He should go and have a baby with someone who can.”
“I’m failing at the one thing I was built to do. Even the crack-whores are having babies.”
And the self talk got darker and heavier and nastier. I spoke to myself in a way I would never speak to anyone else. It was brutal and damaging and it didn’t need to be that way. I’ve since then learnt a beautiful way of using my internal voice…. Talk to yourself like you talk to someone you love. Thank you Brene Brown. It’s worth repeating. Talk to yourself like you talk to someone you love.
If I had known that, I could have stuck it on my mirror and seen that message every morning. When grief’s claws had me in his hold, I could have taken a deep breath and said “Rebecca. This isn’t your fault. You didn’t do this. This is hard and it sucks but you are a beautiful person with so much to offer this world, whether you do or don’t become a mother”. Oh how I wish I had had those words.
Lesson # 2
The grief sneaks up on you. So check your back. Regularly.
The grief crept up on me gradually. After the first 6 months of trying naturally, each month was a punch in the face. But I got over it pretty quick, to start with. After all, there was next month to try. Then after the start of IVF, each failed IVF round was a stab in the heart. I used to have this vision after I got the phone call “I’m sorry, it’s negative” that I was walking up to myself, standing a metre away with a brick in my hand and I would wind my hand back, brick at the ready and say “take this” as I threw the brick at my own face. Hard. It hurt. The brick. The grief. The dream. The loss.
I felt like all of my energy was expended on holding my shit together so the world wouldn’t see my pain. I wanted the world to see a woman with everything she ever wanted. An amazing husband, a great job, a loving family.
I was walking home from work one day and the grief brought me to my knees. That’s when I knew I wasn’t okay. The tears came and I wiped them away with the sleeve of my top (I seem to never have a tissue when I need one) then they came faster. And I wiped them again. And then the sobs came. Hard, gut wrenching sobs. Cars passed unaware. I didn’t care that the passing walkers were staring. I sobbed like I’d never sobbed before. If I could have curled up on the footpath into a ball and rocked like a baby, I would have. High Street in Melbourne, Australia was not the place for this. So I waited until I was home. And there I gave myself permission to fall apart. Significantly.
Know this. It is grief, so don’t underestimate it. Treat it accordingly. Talk to someone. Anyone. Just don’t do it alone.
Lesson # 3
His grief will show up differently. Don’t shut him out, he’s hurting too.
It was easy to fall into a trap of thinking that it was all happening to me. But this was happening to both of us. His journey was different. But he was grieving too. Check in with him. Open the conversation. He doesn’t know what to say to make it better. And he wants to make it better. I remember Adam likening it to being a losing boxer’s trainer. On the ropes, seeing their boxer get beaten to a pulp and being unable to step in and take the pain away. Your man may not know how to fix it, but don’t shut him out because of it. He’s in pain too. Share it and maybe you can try and halve it or at least work a way out to make it hurt a little less.
Lesson # 4
Do not let your infertility be who you are. You are more than that. Much more.
When I emerged from the dark haze of grief. I needed help. I found it in my yoga teacher. He was amazing. We spent a weekend together working on what my future might look like, when the reality didn’t match the vision of being a mother. After hours of work and searching and tears and love he said “Maybe you’re not meant to be a mother to one. Maybe you’re meant to be a mother to many”. Those words alone gave me hope. Gave me love. And started me on a journey that I am forever grateful for.
So do not let your infertility define you. Yes it is part of you. But not all of you. Be brave, be bold and be better than that.
Much love x