Some may wonder what it is like to be barren. Or, what it feels like to be at the place where there is no hope of ever having children. Try, after try, after try…and still no baby. I never had to experience the ups and downs of infertility treatments, but I do know the roller coaster of emotions experienced when realizing that there is great potential of being childless for the rest of life.
The only way to best describe what it can feel like is to use the word death. That seems so melodramatic, melancholy, and extreme, but really it is the one word I can come up with that embodies the pain felt. It is not a physical death but it can feel like it. The grief accompanied with the diagnosis of infertility is no different than what one may experience when grieving a loved one; and yet, it is unique. People don’t expect someone to “get over” losing a loved one quickly, but they may expect it when infertility knocks a woman down.
One time while visiting with an acquaintance and her daughter, the woman leaned into me and whispered “my daughter can’t have babies…poor thing”. Her daughter heard every word of it and I’m sure she was desperately trying to escape inside her own skin. I sat there for a moment stunned at what was said. Well, not so much what was said because I’m obviously comfortable with infertility, but more so at the tone and total lack of sensitivity.
Why in the world would a mother disclose this news in a pitiful tone while whispering it to someone her daughter had just met? I had been given information that cut right into the heart of what her daughter had been despairing over. I just wanted to grab her daughter by the hand, run with her out the door, and let her breathe for a moment. I can’t imagine someone leaning over and whispering “her child just died”. Yet, this is how it can feel…empty, heartbroken, sorrowful, aching.
Growing up, I didn’t know how much infertility would eventually start to feel like a death. I found myself crying over things related to babies and pregnancies, but was not really even sure why I was crying. I was just overwhelmingly sad. I didn’t know what to do with the strong emotions of grief. I was confused, and at times, felt like the loneliest person in the world. Then I realized that I would never be able to look at a child and say “she looks just like me”. I would never be able to experience feeling a child kick in my belly. I would never know the look on my husband’s face when I told him “we’re having a baby!” So…in many ways, I became fully aware that infertility was a death sentence to all of those things I wanted to experience during my walkabout on this Earth.
I got to the place where I allowed myself to grieve my loss. There was shock and denial; although mine was just at the awareness of the traumatic event that took place my eleventh year of life. There was anger. I was angry at doctors (although they saved my life). I felt jilted by God, and anger towards people who don’t take care of their kids or at least act as though their kids are disposable and not important. There was bargaining…it was retroactive in some sense…kinda like “God, maybe if the infection would have been caught a day earlier, then perhaps this wouldn’t have happened”.
Then, I was just stuck in the acceptance phase of grief. But, this was far from pleasant. Acceptance is a strange concept anyway. I didn’t want to accept it. I just wanted to know if I would ever have a child to call my own; regardless of biology. Sometimes the not knowing was far more painful than the knowing. I mean I knew that I couldn’t have children but I had no idea how it would all work out for me or if I would ever be a mommy.
I’m not sure, but I suspect those women who are undergoing treatments or even those who have had multiple pregnancies that have ended prematurely probably start and stop the grieving process over and over again. How terribly exhausting…how horribly draining. I’m sure each time a woman gets a negative pregnancy test, or is told that the treatments are not going to work, or learns that there is “no medical reason” why she can’t have a baby, it tears her heart out. The wound gets ripped open time and time again, and yet, she is supposed to just “get over it” and go back into the world while the dream of mommy-hood starts to die slowly.
The best thing someone can do for a friend or family member who is struggling to start a family or has been given news she will never have a baby is to acknowledge her circumstance for what it is – a genuine loss. She may need someone to allow her to cry about it. Or, better yet, she needs someone to withhold judgement of her because she is crying about it. Don’t expect her to want to talk about it all of the time, but be there for her if she wants to. And please…please do not remind her that there is “always adoption”. She knows that, and it actually devalues adoption as if it is second best.
Allow her to grieve without setting a time limit. The notion that time heals is partly true, but with infertility all she has is time; yet, what she really wants is a child. And lastly, allow her to find herself again. Give her the time to figure out what her next step will be. Her dream of being a mommy has turned into a nightmare. She needs to figure out what is best for her and how she is going to handle this loss, not how others thinks she should.
I no longer feel the sting of death-like pain. I am filled with the hope, joy, love, laughter, and busyness of my children. If I were still at that place of silence and emptiness though, I would want someone to understand my sadness and allow me to grieve it. I would need someone to pray for me, encourage me, and give me the sense that there is hope for the future of my mommy-hood dreams.