Loss, grieving and gratitude during miscarriage and infertility

30 Jun

I was really inspired reading The Port of Indecision’s Post: Lessons from a drag queen about gratitude during infertility and the misperception that gratitude for the good things in life can’t co-exist with the painfully real desire to start a family.

I too have noticed how infertility and miscarriage get downplayed and even dismissed as “not real” medical problems.   Often when the topic comes up in mainstream conversation it’s downplayed and seen as not a big deal.  It’s not as if we have something terminal, right?  What I hear (and read on comment boards online) is, that we shouldn’t be so upset, there are bigger problems we could be facing.  After all, people can live without having kids, they say.  It’s not a like missing your legs or losing a vital organ.

On the one hand I find myself guilty of thinking this way.  I know I have a good life and it feels almost greedy to want more.  I have good health (all working organs and limbs), a loving husband, a well-paying steady job (despite the odds in a terrible economy), and we live in a perfectly comfortable home that we’ve been able to keep (despite foreclosures all around).  We are really lucky and I do feel very, very grateful, every day.

What hurts is that sometimes people use these gifts against us.  As if somehow we have “enough” and wanting a baby too is somehow not being grateful.  If you don’t believe it check out some of the really cold comments people post in response to online stories about celebrities with infertility.  As if being rich and famous cancels out this problem as a real problem deserving of sympathy.

Several of my single friends who are my age and still looking for a mate have outright said that I don’t have a real problem, like they do.  I see their point and I don’t want to compare pain so I generally just avoid talking about it with them.  I accept they don’t get it, and that complaining makes me seem ungrateful for what I have.

My other friends, the ones who have young kids, are often so wrapped up in the challenges of parenting young ones that they can’t see another perspective.  The message I hear from them often is “Look at US, don’t you see how HARD parenting is?  How could your problems be anywhere near as difficult?”.  In a conversation with Misfit Mrs. recently we joked about how we’d gladly trade places with these folks.  The invitation would be – “Sure, I’ll take your infant for a while and you can try having a few miscarriages instead and see how you feel…”.  I hear so often from new parents about how HARD parenting is.  I get jealous of how they can casually joke about it openly and how all the mommy talk actually opens doors for them to bond with other parents like a built in support network. Meanwhile I feel like noone talks about just how hard NOT parenting is.  Not just that but how hard it is to not be able to talk about it openly either.  It is by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  I had NO IDEA just how painful and isolating and socially destructive this was going to be.  Before we started TTC I was fine, but once the failures started (esp. after the second miscarriage) I was in a world of hurt I’d never known before.  Sometimes I find myself nostalgic for those pre-TTC days when things seemed so much more normal and I could actually talk openly with people about the problems in my life without feeling judged as a freak or as a hopeless self-consumed victim.  I feel surrounded by people who just don’t or can’t get it.

People who haven’t tried (yet) or have had no trouble having children just don’t understand how this could be painful.    For them the dream of parenting is either still a real dream ahead of them, or has already been realized (or maybe not a dream at all in the cases of people who have decided they don’t want to have children).  For those of us struggling in this space, each setback- a miscarriage, a failed IUI or IVF, cancelled adoption or other bad news is a personal loss.  It is the loss of a dream and the loss of a huge part of our drive for living as we look to the future.

With miscarriage they say that the length of time of the pregnancy often is a way to determine the length of the grieving period.  The idea being that losing a baby at 8 months is harder than losing one at 3 weeks.  The truth is really  much more complicated.  It’s not just that you lost a baby, it’s that you lost a dream, the dream of being a mother and having a child.  Chances are you had that dream LONG before you tried to conceive.  Likely it started with childhood playing house and later influenced who you dated and married (someone you may have thought would be a good parent). The dream of parenting drives so many things, the neighborhoods we choose to live in, houses we choose, school districts we consider- all things that came into mind before trying to conceive.  When I hear younger people talk about “when I have kids…”it reminds me how I used to talk this way too.  RPL took that kind of talk away from me, the dreaming, optimistic part.  I can’t use the term “when” anymore.  I’ve changed to “if” and I am still struggling to create and embrace this new picture of my future- the if we have kids future, and the if we don’t future.

My point in all this is that IF and RPL are about loss, loss of something real.  Even if our lives aren’t at risk, our modest dreams/drive for living may be.  When someone loses a child, noone says to that person- you can live without kids, at least you still have your spouse, job, house, etc.  When their child died so did their visions for their future with that child- seeing them celebrate their birthdays, graduate from school, get married, etc.  Those dreams and hopes die for that parent when they lose the child just like they die for us when we fail to have one.


15 Responses to “Loss, grieving and gratitude during miscarriage and infertility”

  1. Misfit Mrs. June 30, 2011 at 10:18 pm #

    Well put, dear. That dream gets harder to revive with every turn. It dies a bit harder every time. I know that there is hope. I tell you this as much as I can that everyone has a shot at that miracle and I’ll be here to keep telling you to say when and not if.

  2. jjiraffe June 30, 2011 at 10:32 pm #

    I’m so sorry to hear the news today. Bodega Bliss talks about you a lot (in case you were wondering how I found you).

    I think you make an excellent point about how hard “not parenting” is. I’ve never heard that phrase before but damn if doesn’t encapsulate how so many going through IF feel.

  3. gingerandlime July 1, 2011 at 1:52 am #

    Hi, I’m here from Misfit Mrs.’ blog. I’m so sorry to hear about your recent loss, and I think this post is brilliant. It’s so incredibly hard not to parent, as you say, and I don’t think there’s really any way that someone who hasn’t been through it can understand.

  4. Mo July 1, 2011 at 2:27 am #

    So beautifully written. I seriously think I’ll show this post to people who say I don’t have a “real” problem.

  5. Little Bird July 1, 2011 at 5:57 am #

    You captured my feelings much more eloquently than I ever could! I have been trying to get my Mom to understand this – I think she is starting to (and God love her, she tries). I am going to show her your post because I think it captures my feelings so well in a way that she will understand beter than I have been able to explain it.

    I am so so sorry for your losses. I have lost three and with the first two, it was the loss of each of our babies – but with the third, it is also the loss of hope that we will ever have kids. It’s just so hard, isn’t it?

    Thank you so much for wirting this.

  6. Amy-Lynn July 1, 2011 at 7:23 am #

    Well said Starfish Kitty. It is isolating and socially destructive. It is so frustrating that so many people just don’t get it. Thank you for putting it out there so well.

  7. Mrs. Brightside July 1, 2011 at 7:43 pm #

    I’m just so sorry about this loss – it is just beyond comprehension. And thank you for this post. Our pain is so cruelly isolating, since early pregnancy is such a traditionally taboo subject to discuss openly, let alone miscarriage. It means very few understand it well, if they know it at all. The change from “when” to “if” – it unravels me, it is a very hard concept to get my head around. Your last paragraph hit me hard – really, the loss of a future is at the heart of most grieving, isn’t it; in this light, the pain of IF/RPL shouldn’t be such a hard concept for others to understand.

  8. eggsinarow July 1, 2011 at 8:50 pm #

    Thank. You. So. Much. Currently my “best” friend and I aren’t speaking…she (who went off the pill Sept 1…point of conception? Sept 5) said to me the other day that I’m “DWELLING” and that “Not everyone needs to be a mom”. I was speechless and don’t feel like I need to talk to her. This post is perfect.

  9. Kristen July 2, 2011 at 12:16 pm #

    Thanks for this post. Brings a couple things up for me…one is my mother, who is such a positive person and is trying to help, but she spends a lot of time pointing out how great my life is and will actually change the subject if I bring up how sad I am about my miscarriage/failed IVF attempts and the fact that I still don’t have a baby after 5 1/2 years TTC. Sucks.
    Also, I think infertility is such an isolating thing, as you say. Not having children in general. It seems like the world bonds over children and it’s just so hard to be on the outside looking in.
    Thinking of you the next few days…hope you’re doing OK.

  10. Port of Indecision July 2, 2011 at 3:27 pm #

    1. Thanks for the shoutout.

    2. This is such a great post.

    3. Yes, yes, yes, fucking YES. Thank you.

    Parenting is hard. Fucking duh, dimwits. I never thought parenting was easy, but it’s a challenge I’d like to voluntarily sign up for. RPL, on the other hand, is also hard in surprising and unimaginable ways. And I sure as shit didn’t sign up for this, it’s as involuntary as it comes. It is SO disrespectful for people with children to tell women who are struggling with IF and RPL that “there there, parenting is SO hard anyway, easier to deal with not having children than to deal with having them.” It’s so self-absorbed and nearsighted. Rawr. Just rawr. In fact, the next time someone says that to me, I think I just might reply back that I’ll gladly take their kids and they can have my next several miscarriages for me.

  11. Divine Miss S July 3, 2011 at 8:54 pm #

    Here from LFCA. I have a history of RPL. I now have two children and in spite of that I STILL don’t feel like I fit in with a lot of parents. Probably because I am so fiercely protective of my parenting experience that I want to kick a person in the teeth when they comment negatively – or “helpfully” as some might call it – on me or my children. Not that it happens often, but it does. And the assertive woman in me wants to say, “Look, these children here represent two of the six pregnancies I’ve had. I believe in good parenting, but I take everything with an appreciative grain of salt. So regarding your treatise on the perfect bedtime and my lameness at attending to my older son’s sometimes night wakings? Piss off.” Instead I just mumble a noncommittal “Oh, interesting.” So, not parenting is hard, but these same buffoons will make parenting after infertility hard, too. And in spite of that, I hope upon hope that you will one day get to experience that brand of asshattery.

  12. mutemockingbird July 8, 2011 at 11:45 am #

    What a wonderfully written post. I feel the exact same way, but I haven’t been able to put it into words this well.

    I’m so sorry for what you are going through.

  13. Deborah July 12, 2011 at 9:06 am #

    You are right and sad as it is, it doesn’t change. I now have a little girl through adoption after a diagnosis of complete bilateral tubal blockage and two failed IVFs. The truth is that no one that hasn’t been through it will ever understand the emotional pain and sometimes physical pain of not being able to get pregnant or sustain a pregnancy. I’ve been about as open as possible about my experience, but you will very rarely get the look on a person’s face that says they really understand. My daughter is 2.5 and I still get comments from people, that knew what I went through, and they still ask when I will have or “get” another child. Like I just placed an order one day. It is not an easy thing to deal with, but it is just part of my life and I do have so much to be thankful for that it is just best to forgive and move on. Best to you!

  14. Jenny July 15, 2011 at 1:16 pm #

    Thank you for saying so well so many things that I’m feeling and unable to articulate. I recently had a miscarriage at 9wks after years of infertility and IVF and feel so lost, alone and angry. I don’t even try to talk about it with my friends because I know they won’t understand. I can’t talk about it with my mother because she tries to make me see the bright side by saying things like, “at least you weren’t farther along when you lost it.”

    And oh.my.god. If one more person tells me how hard parentlng is, as if I’m getting off easy by not having to do it. The worst is my friend who had twins thru IVF who, when the subject of my failed IVFs comes up, says flippantly, “oh you can have one of mine, they’re driving me CRAZY!” And she has no idea how offensive I find her “joke.”

    I’m so sorry for your loss.

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