There’s a lot said in our community about the Pain Olympics – that there shouldn’t be a judgement about who has the most pain, who has it worse. I’ve been hearing this for ten years. And I will admit that I’ve never been completely comfortable with it.
I don’t agree that there are no degrees of pain, that all pain is the same. It’s not. My stubbed toe is not as painful as your broken arm. Your broken heart is different from my hurt feelings. Speaking personally, my TGN is worse than my virus, and right now, much scarier than my infertility.
But that doesn’t mean we are not allowed to feel those feelings. Just because someone might be grieving or hurting worse than us, it doesn’t mean that our own pain is not legitimate, and that we’re not allowed to grieve. Anyone grieving, hurting, vulnerable and/or stressed deserves our sympathy.
I am going to speak personally here though. It helps me to put my own pain into perspective. Perhaps it is easier for me to do this now, because I’m no longer infertile (ie I am no longer trying to conceive), because I’m comfortable with my life, because I can look back and see my progress. My pain when I lost my first and second pregnancies, when I thought I was facing cancer, and when I learned I would never have children – this was real pain, and intense. I struggled to pull out of it. I remember being told I might have cancer. I couldn't process it, and focused only on the grief that it would mean I couldn't have children. That was the bigger pain for me at the time. My doctors and nurses couldn't quite understand it - but it was my pain, and it was legitimate. Still, even then, I knew that at least (at the time) I had my health, I was financially secure, I had my brain. I knew that there were others worse off than me. And I think that perspective was important. It allowed me to pull myself out of the doldrums. It allowed me to move on.
As our pain fades, I think it is only appropriate to be able to put it in perspective. As new pains emerge, it is then easier to put them in perspective too. Perspective is important. But I’m talking about our own, personal perspectives. We do all stand and judge other people’s pain, even if we try not to. It is inevitable. Other people might look at me and say “you never had anything, you never lost anything, you don’t deserve to feel pain over your pregnancy losses, over the fact you can’t have children.” We all know that’s not true. I know what my infertility has meant to me in my life. They don’t. Equally, I can’t try to tell anyone that their pain is less or more than mine (even if I think it). I can however tell myself where my pain fits on the scale. And I will. This doesn't mean I don't let myself grieve. I do. (Believe me, I've cried a few times the last few weeks). But I also remind myself when I should be grateful too. If I didn’t do that, if I didn’t develop that perspective, I could drown in my own pain, and yes, my own self-pity. If I didn’t put my pain into perspective, I think I’d struggle to understand that I have a glass half full, not half empty.
Even now, after three of the worst weeks of my life, I know that I am lucky. My TGN pain – touch wood – seems to have receded, and for now at least, I am pain free. And I think of the others who have TGN who are not pain free, and I feel for them. And I look out the window, at this beautiful autumn day, at the blue sky, at the setting sun on the trees on this last day before we put the clocks back for winter, and I can breathe in, and feel good. Because I know, that right this moment, I don’t have it so bad.