12 September, 2014

Saying “goodbye” to our dreams

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. 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!


  1. Beautifully put. Sometimes we need cheerleaders for or efforts, but realistic ones who know when to cheer us on or when to support the decision to start down a new path.

  2. Mali, this was part of the study that intrigued me too -- the fact that even some infertile women who have a child find it difficult to let go of the dream of having more. It's not just about "having a baby," it's about achieving the family of your dreams. If you always dreamed about having five children (& come from a culture where that's entirely normal), but only have one or two, it may be harder to accept. As well, so many women who lose a pregnancy become laser-focused on having another baby as soon as possible, and sometimes it doesn't stop after the "rainbow baby." I remember in the pg loss/subsequent pg forum I belonged to, women talked about how they had originally wanted just one or two kids -- or they might have even been lukewarm about children, until they lost one -- and then after that, they had this craving to have a big family, bigger than they had originally intended. I remember one woman, with four children & one stillbirth, wrote about bawling her eyes out over her husband's vasectomy -- she knew four children was quite enough, but the knowledge that there would be no more babies was incredibly hard for her to accept. Not something I have ever had to deal with, and maybe a little difficult for me to understand, but I had to respect that this was how she felt.

    Also wanted to note that the ALI community may be guilty of cheerleading, but so too is society generally.

    Great points! (And no apologies necessary, lol. The best quotes from the article were very obvious!)

  3. I'm glad you picked these quotes rather than any of the ones at the beginning of the article :-) I think it's interesting how the media interpreted the study vs. what the study says. The coverage seems to miss the point until it gets towards the end of the article.

  4. I agree with everything you said. In the end I had to chose to end the grieving process, otherwise I could have wallowed forever. But you can't ever say that to people they have to come to that on their own. There is so much freedom in acceptance that some will never know

  5. I suppose we all get there a different way - but finally letting go and saying - "it is not going to happen and I am okay with that" is an important step. Unfortunately once you say that - the rest of the world may not be in the same place. Getting that "it might just happen" comment here or there was always difficult (heck - I'm just about 38 and I still on occasion get that comment).

  6. I know I'm a parenting after infertility person ( AMA donor eggs ) but I have a really hard time understanding why anyone would want more than two kids. I mean, why? Unless it's an accidental case of twins or triplets. I just can't fathom it. But that's just me. I get kind of upset with ppl who do it unless they have previously announced a desire for a posse! I appreciate your perspective on the study and I think it makes a lot if sense.

  7. Being in a place of between, not yet giving up hope for a child, but realizing the window is getting smaller, I am grateful for blogs like yours, Mali, and others who show life on the other side as meaningful and happy. It gives me moments of calm while I am not there yet, to walk away or to get ready to try again. I'm taking life more as unfolding instead of pushing. Maybe motherhood will happen for me. But if it does not, I'll be okay.

  8. Brilliant! Couldn't have said it better. Thank you for capturing the nuance.

  9. BRILLIANT post again. A close friend of mine (a mother) once pointed out how tricky it was for her to know what to say to infertiles. She knew where I was standing, so she supported our decision all the way, but when it comes to someone she doesn't know too well who starts opening up to her about their infertility, she wonders if she should encourage them that letting go may be a better way out, because she once said something like that to someone, but that person responded, "But you know? I still have hopes of having my own children."

    She felt that she had said the wrong thing, even though she meant well. That said, though, I did hold on so dearly to those rare individuals who voiced their total support when we declared that life as two was our decision (who made us feel that we made a wise decision) when the rest of the world just wouldn't give up on their idealized version of our family.