been thinking the last few days about those very early days of learning we will have a life without
children. First, infertility, then childless. I remember those days, even though they were many years ago. I felt as if I had been slammed into a brick wall.
Those first days
and weeks were awful. There's no other way to say it. At first, the truth of my situation hit more and more
deeply. Each time I would think “when I have a baby ...” or “my children will ...”
the truth and the pain hit anew. I would not be having a baby. My
children would never ... never … This hurt more and more, as the realisation set in. It was as if I was repeatedly punching a bruise that was already very painful. I had
struggled under the stresses of trying to conceive, of repeated losses, of
pregnancies that turned lethal, of IVF and IVF failures. But I had always, even
at the worst, had some hope. Now, though, all hope was gone. It was final.
There would be no children, ever.
I could not imagine
ever feeling better about it. I was exhausted at the thought of having to navigate my
way through a new future, a future that seemed to me to be pointless, without meaning, without joy,
filled with nothing but pain and darkness and regret. Along with hope, the light had gone, and I could see nothing but sadness, pain, guilt, and hopelessness. Briefly, I even imagined the
relief of not having any future at all.
I felt a failure as a woman and a wife and a human being, and thought that I would never be whole. I felt isolated, that I didn't belong anywhere. And I avoided people, except for one or two special souls. I stopped going places I might meet someone I didn't want to see. Even trips to the supermarket were torture; hoping to go when it was emptiest, but finding it was filled with old folks and young mums; the cashier cheerfully asking how was my day, and my mumbled reply.
But it did get
better. I quickly realised that punching the bruise was pointless, and so made
efforts to train my brain not to think about the babies I didn't have, would
never have. It worked. I stopped thinking of myself as a potential mother. It took
a little time (weeks/a few months), and I slipped often. It was a struggle and painful in itself, consciously turning away from those thoughts and dreams. But this was
really my first step to healing.
The other feelings –
pain, anger and guilt – lasted longer. The shock ended, but turned into a year or two of, I think, a very low-level depression. Tears were close to the surface. So too was envy, for those who had what I would never have, and for those who still had hope. They were reminders of my failures, of what I couldn't achieve, of what I would never have, reminders of what I couldn't give my husband too, an additional pain. Sure, I had good
days and bad days, two steps forward, one step back, and sometimes it felt as if I was back to square one. But gradually the good days outnumbered the bad. I found joy and fulfilment in
helping others. But still, I was grieving, and grieving takes time. Trying to
imagine a new future, a future different to the one we had imagined and longed
for, takes time. You think infertility is tough? Coming to terms is tough too.
There’s a phase we
go through when we are angry, when we believe we will always feel angry, when
we refuse to accept our situations. How dare someone suggest that I accept,
that I “move on,” that I forget? Didn’t they know how much I wanted this? How
much it hurt? How could they suggest this? They didn’t understand. Their suffering
wasn’t as strong as my suffering! It couldn’t be!
I worried that it would look like I was wallowing
in my grief, that I was self-pitying, or self-indulgent, so I hid it. After
all, most people thought that I hadn’t lost anything, because outwardly,
nothing had changed for us. But the pain I was feeling from that lost future was
real, like the phantom pain of an amputated limb. I remember how much it hurt, how angry I was!
In particular, I resented the idea that I should or would accept my childlessness, and all the negatives I saw in that life. (Yes, though
I don’t like the term now, I very much felt childLESS in those early days.) I
fought against acceptance, because acceptance seemed like betrayal - of ourselves,
our pain, our grief, our dreams, and those two babies we lost. Acceptance
implied that we didn’t want it enough, that it was okay we couldn't have children. Yet my whole being was screaming silently, "it was not okay!" Likewise, after any feelings of
happiness, I felt guilty. Did that mean I hadn’t loved or wanted my lost
babies? Did that mean I didn’t really want it after all?
feeling joy), though, is none of these things – it’s not a betrayal, or a shameful
admission that it was our fault for not trying hard enough. Acceptance is
simply an acknowledgement of the situation we found ourselves in, the situation
where we had no children, and would never have children. And there was no
denying or changing that.
So I healed. It
took time, there are many ups and downs. But if there is one message I want to
convey in this blog is that it gets better. Now (11 years after learning I
would never have children), I am no longer in the trenches; I climbed out and
put my face to the sun a long time ago.
I hope that this gives
hope to any of you who are struggling to imagine a future without children. I
know that some of you will not believe my words. That you cannot
imagine feeling anything other than the way you feel now. I can’t convince you
that you will be happy, that you will heal. You probably feel that my words of
hope and promise of a good life are as empty as those people who tell us to “just
relax” or that “miracles happen.” Maybe,
for a rare few, they will be so immersed in their grief that they never come
out of it, never let themselves imagine a life that they did not choose.
over the years, on blogs and messageboards and in personal life, I have seen so many people come through
this. I think it is human nature to move on, survive, and thrive. Life is a joy,
not a struggle. I'm not kidding.
Note: I've linked in the text to several of my posts which go into these feelings, and perhaps how I feel now about these issues, in more detail.