I've been thinking a bit lately about healing, remembrance, and expectations of life. I know I've talked a lot here about turning away from the
"what-ifs," about retraining my brain* not to think about the
negatives of my life, about not tormenting myself with the things I have lost.
But it's worth mentioning again, as I've been reading a lot about this
recently. Chelsea Handler’s skit on The Daily Show about being happily
childfree led to a lot of writing and commentary on being childfree vs childless vs parenting, about envy and pity. Writing elsewhere has reminded me of people who have always struggled to let go of their
grief, the what-ifs, the things they’ve missed out on doing with their children. A woman twenty years ago who told me that, in her 60s, she still dissolved into tears at the doctor's office when she saw mothers and children. Others who admit to
torturing themselves with the thoughts of what they have missed. And sadly, many more. And Mel asked if we would choose to forget the most painful times of our life. All this has led to this long-winded post. Apologies in advance.
Previously, when I've talked about people (in general) who might be stuck in their grief, those who almost seem to find comfort in the familiarity of that grief, some readers have become angry with me. They have challenged me, raging that I didn't understand, that I clearly had things easier, that I was insensitive to their grief, that it would never go. None of that was true. I am well aware of what they have lost, I have lost, what we have all lost, although of course each of our losses are very personal. But mostly those who were raging were still in the early, rawer phases of grief, when it seems like a betrayal to accept that life might get better, that they can be happy. Still, they needed to read this. And when I write, I also write for those who want and need to feel hope, and to see that happiness is definitely possible, and the grief doesn't consume us forever. Or it needn't. Because there are, of course, some who struggle to let it go, year after year, even decade after decade. And I feel for them so much. Because it seems that they haven't learned or accepted that they can still remember, and honour their struggle, even benefit from it, without feeling the pain and the loss all the time.
I can say that I am happy without kids. At the moment, not having children doesn't really affect me (though I know it will when I am older, and I am trying to plan for that). I am not confronted by it every day, although I do think about it every day through blogging, reading blogs, life, if that makes sense. It is a lens I see life through, and my life is changed and affected by it, of course. But I certainly don't grieve it every day.
That's the thing. If I continue to grieve it, to cling to that grief, I am simply torturing myself. And who would that hurt? Me. No-one else. It achieves absolutely nothing, except making me feel bad, alone, rejected, lost, maybe a failure, maybe resentful, or angry at myself. Moving on from that took time – I went through a process I call "retraining my brain." (I've blogged about it a lot - see the links below*) I just didn't let myself think about the what-ifs, and would consciously turn away, turn towards thinking about other things. It was hard. It hurt, and hurt a lot, because each time I changed the way I was thinking, I had to acknowledge why I had to do it. I had to remember that because I would NEVER have children, I needed to think about other things, think about the future. Those acknowledgements were painful, but I learned that by switching my thinking, the pain didn’t linger as long, and that I could open myself to feel excitement, enthusiasm, and joy.
It wasn't that I was hiding from my pain, or refusing to
deal with it or acknowledge it. I had been through a lot already, and continued
to do so. Talking to others, counselling# them and being counselled, examining why
I was thinking and feeling the way I was, and whether it was valid. It was all
hard work, but important healing work. And I realised I was getting nothing
from my pain. I wasn't getting confirmation that I would have been a good parent
(I would have been as good as anyone else!), and my pain was not an expression of
how much I wanted or deserved it, because I came to realise that none of this deserving-vs-guilt
thinking was true.
In going through this process, I was learning to challenge the negative voices and silence the inner critic, to recognise my own truths, to grow in confidence and compassion and awareness. And I have seen others go through this same process. Some quietly, some angry then letting go of their anger, some quickly, and some slowly but surely. And some of the people I have seen grow like this are on my No Kidding blogroll. It is so wonderful to watch. To remind people coming after us that it is possible. To see their worlds open and brighten. To find the joys and wisdom and understanding that is behind that dreaded door in the Infertility Waiting Room.
None of this means there aren't painful things that still arise, either. Reminders
of the pride and joy of being a parent can both instil pride and joy in me, or
pain, often both at the same time, depending on the day, the people involved, my mood, maybe even the
weather! But last night I was mulling this over, wondering how I feel about not
being a parent at this point in time. To be honest, I don’t really know. I don’t
know how parenthood would have turned out, so it’s pointless to imagine the
perfect life there. I have a different life now, and that’s all I know. I like
my life. I’m happy. That’s the only thing I can be sure of. The lack of
children, right now, do not make me feel so bad. The growth that eventuated from the loss - well, I'm glad I have it. When I think about it, it is really
only other people who can do that; society, politicians focusing on families
and only families, the Pope calling childless people selfish, those who pity us
condescendingly, the parents who try to pretend that they are morally superior
simply because they have children, former friends who ignore us, family members
who never try to understand. Interesting, isn’t it? And why do I give them the power
to make me feel bad? Increasingly, I do not. They are ignorant, that's all.
So I very much choose to make the most of the life I have, and to enjoy it. To celebrate the positives (the gifts) of my life, some of which are there precisely BECAUSE I don't have children. It's not a betrayal of the part of me that wanted to have children. It's a way of supporting that part of me, of nurturing the hurt Mali, of loving her, of acknowledging her growth. It’s not a betrayal or rejection of the pain I went through, it’s a remembrance of that and the knowledge that I emerged from it changed, wiser, but still me. It's not a betrayal of the pregnancies I lost – rather, it honours those tiny sparks of life. Because if I don't embrace this life, I will have lost two lives – the life I wanted, and the life I actually have.
And wouldn’t that be immeasurably sad?
* A selection** of previous relevant posts:
- November Seven Years Ago
- Our deep-fried brains
- The Logic of it all
- Training our brains
- Personal Growth: it will change your world
- Getting Over It
** This is far from exhaustive. Exhausted, maybe, as I got distracted, and now I'm tired and it is time for dinner. Apologies! I may add more later. ;-)
# On the other hand, I make no apologies for NZ spelling, even if blogger doesn't like it. "Counselling" has TWO Ls and "instil" has one!