This has been a tremendous weekend. It’s strange because it’s been one of those times where no ONE thing happened that was earth shattering, but instead it was kind of a three day process of Things Happening.
won a trip to a faith-based infertility and adoption conference in California. It wasn’t just the registration fee that I won – I also won airfare, hotel, transportation. Zero reason to keep me from going. And even so, I was nervous and hesitant. Because I wouldn’t use the word “faith-based” to describe my lifestyle. At all. And, in fact, that didn’t really change this weekend.
However, I’ve been following this event for several years, and it has always looked like a strange and wonderful microcosmic bubble of support and understanding and sharing. I wanted that. And holy smokes, I got it.
Part of what makes infertility so terrible is the way it isolates. It’s a loss that is completely unseen. It’s a loss that doesn’t usually include an event or any kind of mourning period.
With most other kinds of grief there are social and mental boundaries sort of built in – it only happens once, it’s a huge deal, other people understand, Hallmark makes cards for it. They do 5Ks for it. You know? There are ways to remember positively, and ways to share the loss, and ways to feel not-alone. And the whole “it’s been XX years since XX grief” allows you to not only mark your grief in a very real way, but also allows you to get some mental distance from it.
None of this is a thing with infertility. It is an ongoing grief because it is an ongoing loss (a death-magnitude loss) throughout the entirety of childbearing years. It is a specific kind of grief – one that only a limited number of people share. And it is unseen. There are no photos of now-gone loved ones to remind others (or us) of a life well-lived. There are few anniversaries. No 5Ks and very few support groups to create any kind of community or safe space to work through it.
Infertility is a lonely grief.
Sharing it online has been helpful because it allows me to connect with others who are dealing with similar stories. It also allows me to share what I’m dealing with in a way that is emotionally safe – posting online and moderating feedback means I’m not exposed to weird comments or judgement the same way I would be if I was sharing “in real life.” People say some awful stuff but it’s not because they’re mean or unfeeling. It’s because people don’t know this grief. It’s not familiar, and so they (even the really good ones) say dumb things.
So sharing in real life is rare.
One of the intense and incredible things about this weekend at the Choose Joy 2015 conference was being in a huge group where everyone feels the same way as me. They are dealing with the same kind of grief. They have similar stories and similar triggers, and struggle with moving on in the same ways as I do. In the eight years we have been trying to have kids, I’ve never once experienced that. Ever. There is no camaraderie in infertility. It is a thing that a woman (or family) experiences alone. And that is so different from how we, as humans, are wired.
The “not-alone” feeling was driven home for me right near the end of the weekend, when I happened to be next to two women who had the good fortune of having been able to birth some kids. They forgot themselves and spent a few moments co-lamenting the misery of summer pregnancies. It was such a little thing for them that they didn’t even realize how painful it was for those around them.
In that moment, though, instead of being upset, I was kind of fascinated. I realized that I have heard this kind of thing millions of times in my adult life. I have many, many friends with kids, and having kids comes with a host of trials and tribulations that are miserably real. I expect this kind of commiserating. It’s how we operate; It doesn’t bother me (anymore) because I know that sharing struggle, commiserating, is so integral to being a human and being a woman – you build a community around common experiences, and usually around common hardships.
I haven’t had that. It’s pretty much been eight years of suffocated suffering (that’s weird to type) but I got it this weekend. I got to share, to commiserate, to say “holy smokes I KNOW how you feel” and get that response in return.
I didn’t even realize how much I craved that simple human connection.
So many people came out of the woodwork when we started having miscarriages – miscarriage is a 1 in 3 event (meaning most couples have had at least one). Infertility has a 1 in 8 occurrence rate. And yet, except for very brief glimpses into that pain (and only six years ago, when we were regularly losing pregnancies), we don’t talk about those things. We don’t commune over those things. There is no common ground between us an those around us in relation to infertility. We don’t lessen the pain by sharing with those who can empathize – we really can’t. And we suffer for it.
But this weekend I got to do that. I got a community. I got to share. I got to listen as a fellow, as someone who could empathize. And just that simple thing of being able to commiserate, to give and take, with people who deeply understood because they’d been through the same stuff… it was insane.
I so needed it. I so needed the experience of feeling that others are dealing with this, and that I’m not alone, and that even if it might be forever it won’t always feel like it does now.
I’m not alone.