|From WCW 2018
I was going another direction for my Monday post this week, until I read Mel's post here, debating the merits of pessimism and hope. This week Mel, and another blogging friend, both lost dear pets, important and much-loved members of their family. I send them my love, as I know how painful it can be. But it is probably accentuated in current times, when those we have at home play such a big role in our well-being. Mel wonders whether being pessimistic before the end or being optimistic would have been better for her. And she compares that situation to the global pandemic.
It's a topic those of us who have been through infertility or have become childless not by choice through other circumstances know well. All those people who say, "don't give up hope" simply because they don't know how to deal with loss or sadness or situations that might be outside the norm.
Even though I don't particularly like the "don't give up hope" brigade, as I call them, I am still a great believer in hope. It's a simple issue for me. Being pessimistic often feels awful. We begin to grieve before something has happened, something that might never happen. Pessimism feels bad. It creates panic. It obscures joy. It destroys peace of mind. Pessimism about a future that may or may not occur steals our present, regardless of the outcome.
On the other hand, optimism is a good feeling. It makes our lives easier. We don't feel pain when we hope, we anticipate joy. It's not blind hope – or at least, it isn't for me, because I am always acutely aware of everything that can go wrong. I'm an optimist who is perhaps a pessimist at heart. It makes life easier.
Most importantly, hoping for something doesn't make it harder when it doesn't turn out well – not if you're well-informed and aware of all the risks. I was hopeful during IVF cycles, when having investigations for my ectopic pregnancies, and when going through a final fertility test (that ultimately ended my quest for a family). I knew that they might not turn out well, but feeling hopeful made the waiting easier. I do not believe I would have been less devastated if I had been pessimistic all along. Preparing myself for the worst case scenario would not have helped when the worst case scenario arrived in person at my doorstep. The end result would have been the same.
That’s not to say that I don’t think about worst case scenarios – I do. As I said above, I like to know all the possible outcomes. I like to be prepared. And I try to feel that I can accept whatever happens. We have an election on Saturday, and I’m thinking of all possible outcomes, though I’m hopeful I will get the result I want. Yesterday afternoon, NZ played Australia in rugby, the first international game for a year, thanks to COVID. I said to my husband I had a bad feeling about the result, and I could have been accused of being a pessimist. (Do what I say, not what I do!) But I still watched, hopeful, and cheered our team when they did good things. (I also looked out the window at the rain, and celebrated our decision not to buy expensive tickets to go to the game only a few kilometres away). The end result was a draw, showing that both relentless pessimism or relentless optimism was a bit pointless. It’s the same with COVID-19. I’m trying not to be ridiculously hopeful, and I have zero expectations that we will be able to travel safely next year. But I’m hoping we will be able to return to travel sometime in the next few years. And in the meantime, I am hopeful for something new and different – that I’ll improve my bread-making, that we’ll have a decent and active summer, and that I can explore my country instead.
It’s the same when we embark on our lives knowing we will never have children. It’s new. It’s not what we wanted. But we can still be hopeful. There’s no point in being pessimistic. We’ve lost the life we wanted. But there’s no point in letting pessimism steal the wonder and joy of the life that is waiting for us
I was thinking a bit about grief lately, for several different reasons, prompted by the arrival of Infant and Pregnancy Loss Awareness month, the discussions around Chrissy Teigen’s pregnancy loss (Loribeth has written a good post about it here, with some links and other resources), blogposts and a question asked by another in our community, and last but not least, the fact that COVID-19 has meant that many people have to grieve losses without the families and support systems that you might get if people could travel easily and congregate.
Disenfranchised grief – grief that is not acknowledged or talked about – is a common feature of not being able to have children. I’ve written quite a lot about it, so what I’m about to say won’t be new. But maybe you haven’t seen what I’ve said in the past. Maybe you want to be reminded of it. And maybe – I know this is the case for some – you will vehemently disagree with it. But I want to put this out there, because it may apply to some of you too.
A lot of people say you never get over the grief, that it stays with you but that you learn to live with it. In some ways, this is true. And I am not denying anyone’s experience who believes that this applies to them. But for me, mostly, I disagree with this, and – as I’ve said before – I don’t like the impression that it gives new arrivals to life without children that they will always feel as bad as they do at the outset. It sounds so ominous, as if there is always that black cloud hovering, as if the depth of the grief you feel at the beginning is always there, waiting for you to let it out. This is not my experience. I don’t have a black cloud hovering. I don’t feel that there is an enormous wave of grief waiting to be unplugged. I let 95% of my grief go, and it has, indeed, gone.
So even though I know life is different for me, even as I might worry about my old age or loneliness if/when I lose my husband, I don't feel that I’m living with my grief. The reality of our losses and the results of that have most certainly stayed with me. I have learned to live with that. And so of course I still occasionally get pangs or feel real sadness about that. But I don't feel that the grief is there any more. It's just something about my life that I feel sad about from time to time. Does that make sense? Unfortunately, it can pop up when you least expect it. I had a moment a few days ago, reminding me unexpectedly painfully of what we have never had. But I wouldn’t call it grief. Loss? Yes, perhaps. A pang of a reminder of what we might have had? Yes. But not grief. It is too fleeting for that. I know that this fades so quickly now, and I can soon get back to a much happier normal.
I’ve learned to live with my situation, and I’ve learned to embrace it. It’s not hard to do that. There is indeed much to embrace about our lives. I guess I choose not to focus on what I don't have, and focus on what I have. It takes work to be able to do that, and I won’t deny that it was very hard at first. But it really helped me to be able to move on, and I've found that it works in a range of situations. It's all about our perspective on life, I guess. And what works best for each of us. This works for me.