26 August, 2013

Gift? What Gift?

When I was first coming to terms with the fact that I would never have children, I couldn't really see the gifts that my life and my journey might bring.  I was full of pain - everything was painful, everything reminded me of what I had wanted, what I had lost, and what I would never have.  Ads on TV, comments in the news, people on the street - everything was telling me I wouldn't have kids, and worse, was stressing that I always would feel like an outsider, that I may as well have "CHILDLESS" or "INFERTILE" (a word that has taken me a long time to feel comfortable using) or "LOSER" tattooed on my forehead.

So I knew when I wrote my last post that there would be people reading who would struggle to see the gifts of infertility, of never having children, and who might just shake their head at my post, wondering if they'll ever get past it, or if I'm just kidding myself.  So I thought it might be helpful if I wrote a bit about how I got through that stage myself.  Because, in various forms, some of that pain followed me around for a long time.  But gradually, I began to realise a few things:

  1. First, that nobody was defining me as a "loser" except me.  That was my definition, one that I feared others made, but they never did.  As soon as I realised that, realised that this was my interpretation of the "worst case scenario," I was able to begin to drop it.  Old habits die hard though, so it took some time, but ultimately it has gone now, and has been gone for many years.
  2. There was still joy in my life.  I write about this a lot, perhaps because I think it was the single most important thing that helped me first get through my ectopic losses, then the infertility verdict, and finally, to heal.  Joy in the small moments, being "mindful" as the Buddhists would call it, and laughter.  Allowing myself to laugh, to feel good, to feel this joy - it all helped me realise that life wasn't an endless grind of nothingness, of gloom or doom.  That if I could laugh in the face of this, then maybe there was hope that joy and peace would come.  And so I snatched at those tiny moments of joy, of happiness, of laughter.  Even the fleeting moments were worth noticing and holding tight, because they were a promise of things (of joy) to come.
  3. Pain is, and was, healing.  Feeling pain, recognising it and listening to it, wasn't easy.  But it helped me heal, helped me understand what I felt, and grieve what I'd lost.  But in recognising the pain, feeling that legitimate pain, I became able to avoid wallowing in it forever (although believe me, I am sure I did my fair share of wallowing).  This led me to the understanding that my brain could be reprogrammed, and that as a result, I could avoid feeling this pain all the time.  I have written about this a lot, but I keep coming back to it.  When I was trying to conceive, I'd find myself imagining what I'd be like as a mother, how it would feel to hold my baby/my child/my teenager/my adult child in my arms, what my child would be like, what I would teach them, what sort of father my husband would be, etc.  And in the first days, weeks, and months, all those imaginings still haunted me.  Because they had become a habit, and they were hard to let go.  Each time I would catch myself and think "but that's not going to happen" there would, at first, be new pain.  But gradually, I was able to train myself not to think this way.  At first, I would catch myself half-way through a thought, feel the pain as I remembered what my reality was, and cut it off, trying to divert the pain, thinking of something else.  Then gradually, I just wouldn't go there.  Whereas before, when I thought of holding a baby or child in my arms, I would let myself feel that baby, I could see and hear and feel the child.  Now, I can't.  I simply don't let the thought go beyond the theoretical.  And this happened for me quite quickly - within a couple of months, I found myself able to cut off some of these thoughts.  Because to do otherwise was to invite a recurrent pain, a pain that was pointless, that got me nowhere, and that did nothing to help me heal.
  4. This wasn't my fault.  I had done nothing wrong.  I was just as good as I had ever been.  And I gradually realised that peoples' comments and judgements said much more about them than they did about me.  Again, this is an ongoing journey, one I've written about in relation to shame.
  5. My journey and the pain I had been through had taught me things.  I had more empathy, I understood grief and the grieving more, and I understood much more that we can never make assumptions about what someone is thinking or feeling.  I was able to help people, and I liked that.  I got validation from others, and realised I was okay.  I found that I quite liked myself!  And a lot more than I did before I went through this too.  And that helped me realise that in fact, maybe out of all this I would come out a better person, a more peaceful person, someone who is more content with herself.
  6. And that made me realise that maybe there are in fact gifts as a result of infertility, not just loss.  This was probably first an intellectual exercise, a theoretical understanding that I would be okay, and that there were advantages and gifts of this life and the journey I had been through. Not being able to feel this at the outset is not unusual.  But eventually I developed an emotional understanding, and an acceptance and gratitude for the good things I got from this journey, and that has also helped me heal.


  1. What an important, insightful post. I suppose that there are gifts in everything. There are certain areas of my life where I have a harder time seeing them, but this post reminded me that they're there...hiding someplace.

  2. LOVE LOVE LOVE reading about this process. :-) What popped out the most for me at the moment was these words: "I understood grief and the grieving more, and I understood much more that we can never make assumptions about what someone is thinking or feeling."

    And of course I LOVE these, too: emotional understanding, acceptance, and gratitude. :-)

  3. Hi Mali! What a great post! My name is Heather and I was hoping you would be willing to answer a quick question I have about your blog :-) My email is Lifesabanquet1(at)gmail.com

  4. Thank you so much... I really needed this today :)

  5. Thank you for expanding upon your thoughts on the gifts as a result of IF. It is helpful and gives hope to understand more about the thought process in how you have come to the place you are with IF. It reminds me how to practice reframing my life experiences and to be grateful for the good in my life.

  6. I so appreciate your words in #6. This is what I am trying so hard to do as we shift our paradigm from childless to childfree.

  7. beautiful post. Thanks for sharing.

  8. "Feeling pain, recognising it and listening to it, wasn't easy. But it helped me heal, helped me understand what I felt, and grieve what I'd lost."

    THIS. That is a powerful statement, and very true.

    Thank you very much for voicing what many of us work on.

  9. I have your blog on my blog roll and I happened to stop by today. I am so very grateful for this post. I'm not sure if we will be childfree or if we will continue to work at a family in another form, but what you wrote today is exactly what I needed to hear. I'm not there yet with the reflection of my feelings, but having someone voice what I hope to one day be able to understand is so profoundly meaningful. Thank you.

  10. Glad to have read this post today. I have been shying away from blogs lately because I've been feeling okay about where we are in our own situation. But from this, I know it's okay to share this part of it too. There are stages we all go through, and some that we revisit. Point 3 is particularly relevant, and a technique I have also found very useful. There is no longer any point visualising that life, when I can better spend my energy visualising this new one. And focus is what makes the difference - there is alternatives to everything, and nothing wrong with being different.