What helped me heal:
- (As I told Mali in the comments section of her post:) I certainly believe that being a feminist helped me, in that I strongly believed, long before I had to deal with stillbirth & infertility, that I was more than my uterus, and that I did not NEED to be a mother to have a fulfilling life. I certainly wanted and expected to be a mother & I was devastated when that didn't work out -- but it was not the only thing that I based my identity or self-worth on, or the only thing I knew I wanted to do with my life.
- Like Mali & Phoenix, I am pragmatic/practical. I'm also a bit of a skeptic/contrarian. Mali & I grew up in a similar timeframe ;) (the 1960s/70s), when many of society's messages and structures were being questioned -- especially for women. While I'm very traditional in some ways, and I did want (& expect) marriage & a family for myself, I chafed at the expectation/assumption that I would conform to a traditional woman's life path. The more certain adults questioned why my father would "waste money" sending me to university (because I was just going to get married & have babies, right?), dropped huge hints about pregnancy before the ink on my marriage license was barely dry, etc. -- the more I dug in my heels & resisted conforming to their expectations...!
- Like Mali, I was older when I began ttc and went through pregnancy, stillbirth and infertility. When you reach your late 30s/early 40s, you begin to learn about (& begin to learn to accept) life's limitations (if you haven't already). At that age, I knew (at least on one level) that, statistics being what they are, getting pregnant might not be an easy thing. (Realizing that I WAS a statistic, though, was a lot harder to accept...!)
- We were pretty realistic about the obstacles we faced when we began infertility treatments -- our ages (the statistics were definitely not on our side), our track record to date (not good), our finite financial resources -- and we set a limit before we began infertility treatments (although we gave ourselves permission to re-evaluate). In the end, we decided we'd had enough. We didn't do IVF -- but we did enough, and learned enough about the further obstacles we faced (low sperm counts, wonky ovulation, a bicornuate uterus) to feel that, all things considered, we gave it a good shot, but the odds just weren't on our side. We cut our losses before the financial, physical, mental and emotional costs became even higher than they already were.
- Like Mali & Phoenix, I found/find it difficult to believe that "everything happens for a reason" -- although I know that's something that others find comforting. I have a well-developed sense of cynicism and black humour (although I suppose some people might not think that was a good thing...!).
- I moved around a lot growing up, which meant that (a) I was often the outsider & (b) I learned to navigate through and adapt to unfamiliar places and situations. I came to believe I was capable of handling whatever life threw at me (even if I didn't always like it...!). I always wound up surviving in the end (and sometimes even thriving). I also developed a strong internal life that sustained me.
- While I found/find it difficult to let family members & friends know the truth about what we were going through, I was able to seek & find support outside those circles, both from professionals and from others who were going through similar situations, both "in real life" and online.
- When I'm facing a new situation or problem or interest, I tend to research the hell out of it -- obsessively. I read books, magazine articles, websites & online forums, and ask questions. I did this during my pregnancy and in its sad aftermath, before & during infertility treatment, and in making the transition to involuntary childlessness. I think it helped me feel more in control and (on the flipside) better able to cope when things didn't go well. (I expected others to be similarly well informed on these subjects -- and I was sometimes shocked by how little some of the couples we met in the clinic waiting rooms & at our pregnancy loss support group meetings seemed to know.)
- My dh & I have a close relationship and I think that ultimately carried us through. Loss & infertility can certainly drive some couples apart, but I think it only brought us closer together. As I have often said before, we knew we could have a good life together, just the two of us -- because we already did! I like to believe that, even if we'd had kids, we would have made time for each other & put our marriage at the centre of our family. I have seen several marriages around me crumble because the kids always dominated everything, and the marriage itself was neglected.
- When we finally accepted that parenthood was not in the cards for us, we were able to embrace some of the positives of a childless/free life and envision what that future could look like: early retirement (although it happened a little earlier than we had planned...!); closer relationships with our nephews, including financial support for their educations; indulging our love of books, eating out on weekends, etc.; buying that bigger and fancier car, even though we didn't really need one; and travel (although we haven't done as much of it yet as we'd like).
What didn't help:
- Like Mali, I don’t like failing. I was not/am not used to failure. With very few exceptions, I succeeded with the other life goals that I set for myself. Academic success at school came relatively easy for me, I did well at my job, I found a good man to share my life with. I knew that if I applied myself & did the "right" things, I would be rewarded -- and for the most part, I was. Pregnancy loss & infertility were a huge blow in that respect.
- Like Mali & Phoenix, I don't like the feeling that I'm missing out -- particularly when it's an experience that comes to so many others so easily (and that's often taken for granted).
- I have a strong sense of guilt. The feeling that I've let others down by failing to reproduce -- particularly my parents, who would have been fabulous grandparents (and since my sister is childfree by choice, I was their one shot at it)-- is (still) hard to cope with.
- I am an introvert, and I tend to be very private -- I find it difficult to tell most people what I am really thinking and feeling (obviously not on this blog!! lol). I was tight-lipped about our plans for ttc right from the start of our marriage, and few people outside of our immediate family (and my bosses at work) knew when things started to go wrong with our pregnancy. We did not tell anyone when we began infertility treatment. (It was difficult enough hanging on the results of every cycle and dealing withe disappointment, let alone dealing with the curiosity and disappointment of others.) Not telling people about what we were going through had its advantages (e.g., spared us a lot of dumb questions & assvice from people who really had no clue about what we were going through) -- but it was a heavy burden to carry alone, and without support. It also sheltered those around us from the pain of what we were going through, Blissfully unaware, they sometimes said & did things that wounded us both (although -- as many of you know...! -- it's certainly possible that knowing the truth might not have made a difference there anyway...!).
- I tend to soldier on through difficult, stressful and painful situations, to downplay my own feelings of sadness and discomfort, far more and far longer than I probably need to. Far too often, I have said yes when I probably should have said (and definitely wanted to say) no. (I went to a baby shower on the weekend of my milestone 40th birthday while going through infertility treatment, for crying out loud...!)
- I like to THINK that I don't care what other people think -- but I do. :(
- Moving around a lot when I was growing up may have had its advantages (see above), but it also had its drawbacks. I learned from a fairly early age that being a perpetual outsider sucks. I tend to be introverted, and the older I got, the harder it got to make friends & break into established social circles -- and develop support networks. Most of us women grow up expecting, ASSUMING that we will join the mommy club, I am human; I want to be liked, and accepted, and to blend in, to be like everyone else. I want to be "normal." I crave approval and affirmation from others. (I think of the time in elementary school when, chafing against my image among my classmates as a goody-two-shoes and teacher's pet, I deliberately didn't turn in an assignment. My teacher was shocked, but grimly gave me detention, along with several other laggards. I was secretly gleeful at first -- but detention was boring, I was no more popular than before, and my strong sense of guilt kicked in. I quickly realized it had been a dumb idea and abandoned that strategy -- thank goodness, lol.)