Some time ago, I read a post by a blogger who is parenting two children after infertility. She talked about how badly she wanted another child, but couldn't have, due to a range of different circumstances (infertility, finances, partner, etc). I will admit that I read this with a little roll of my eyes; she already has the “ideal” family, after all. But of course, that’s the point. Her “ideal” family, the one she imagined and hoped for, was larger than two kids and two parents. And so she continues to yearn. I may sound as if I have no compassion, but I do. I know all too well the loss, the lack, that she feels.
The comments on her post almost universally agreed with her, echoing (and amplifying?) her pain Other women parenting after infertility talked about their sadness that they can’t have more children, talking about the sometimes overwhelming urge, the desperation, and the refusal to shut the door on their dreams.
It struck me that these women, who had in the end got (most of) what they wanted, could not move on. Their door hadn't been slammed shut on them, as most of ours were (at whatever stage, for whatever reason, we felt we could not go on). Many of them have, it seems, never learned to move on - they got out of the waiting room by being pregnant or becoming a mother, and carry so much of the emotional trauma of infertility with them still. They haven’t had to deal with ending their dreams. Not totally. (I know there are varying degrees of acceptance of the end of dreams with those who have to pursue IVF, donor eggs/sperm/adopting embryos, and fostering or adoption, and I don't want to belittle the loss involved with these choices.) So they still endlessly torture themselves thinking about what their ideal families, and mourning the loss.
But I see, time and again, evidence that those who go on to parent don't always realise that eventually it is a matter of choosing not to hurt. But then I remember choosing not to think, consciously stopping my “what if” thoughts. It was brutal – I’d remember, or have to remind myself, that it just wasn't going to happen. Each time it hurt, and sometimes the hurt was cumulative, before it started to ebb. It took time, but really, over just a few months, those thoughts - and the acute pain that accompanied them - receded. I'm not saying it was easy. I remember wanting to hang on to my grief, taking familiar comfort in the wanting, feeling guilty about relinquishing the dreams. (Did it mean I didn't want it enough?) But in the end, I knew better than to entertain the "what-ifs" because they only brought pain – painful reminders of loss, and painful reminders that it wasn't going to happen.
It was a necessary maturity I've learned through infertility, learning not to want what I can’t have. The relatively brief (in the context of my life – or as Klara says, the next 15,000 days) pain of the process is followed up by peace and a new enthusiasm for life. I hope these women manage to face the loss of their dreams, and can work through it in the way we have had to. Because coming out on the other side is worth it.
I've had this post brewing for months now. Then this week, Loribeth* posted a link to this article about a study that says:
“Women who already had children but wanted more had worse mental health than women who wanted children, didn't have them, but were able to move on with their lives.”
It was interesting to see that a study had confirmed exactly what I had been thinking. The article comments that the study author also commented on the “I-can-do-anything-if I-try” types. I interpret this, in infertility terms, to refer to the “never give up” brigade, the ones who declare (once they have their happy little families) that they know would never have given up, they’re not quitters (not like us).
But as the study author says,
“There is a moment when letting go of unachievable goals (be it parenthood or other important life goals) is a necessary and adaptive process for well-being.”
We all do this throughout our lives, after all. Years ago, I wrote a post about the dreams I had had to set aside as I grew up, and called it “Never.” Yes, having children is bigger and was always more – I don’t know if realistic is the word – statistically likely than getting into the Silver Ferns. But now, it is just another thing on the list I've left behind.
The study author makes on last point, one that I particularly like, and one that I think is very relevant to the ALI community; a community that provides wonderful support, but rarely accepts that there might be a time when they shouldn’t cheer each other on endlessly, imploring them to “never give up,” and at times (perhaps unwittingly) shaming those who do.
“We need to consider if societies nowadays actually allow people to let go of their goals and provide them with the necessary mechanisms to realistically assess when is the right moment.”
Once again, that is why I blog, why I comment, and why I'm still here in this community.
* Apologies to Loribeth - I read the article then wrote this, then double-checked your post and saw we’d picked out most of the same quotes!