*Trigger warning–this post discusses pregnancy, child loss and infertility.
Pregnancy–the wondrous means needed to perpetuate the human race. The reproductive process holds mysteries and miracles alike. Our living situations during a pregnancy or leading up to a birth can make pregnancy a wonderful, joyous journey to parenthood or a fear-filled burden resulting in a different life than the one envisioned. It’s one of those things that can’t be fully described to someone else. No one’s experience with pregnancy and childbirth is exactly like someone else’s experience. It is a unique process that changes each time someone reproduces. You have to experience it to understand the power that reproduction contains. Given that I had difficulty conceiving this child I’m carrying right this moment, I am sensitive to how insensitive that last sentence is for those that cannot conceive and carry a live baby to term. For some, there is nothing in the world that would be more meaningful than experiencing pregnancy and subsequently, parenthood.
The road to reproduction can also be the source of so much pain, heartache, anxiety and depression, just to name a few emotions, for those that struggle with infertility. We are genetically hard-wired to seek and desire parenthood. When a man or a woman cannot reproduce for some reason it can cause so much heartache. Many of us in this world who have managed to have a child but struggled to have another find secondary infertility just as heart breaking. Luckily, many stories of infertility end happily. Just as many, however, do not.
The road of the infertile is rife with so much disappointment. Not only is there disappointment every time a pregnancy test or ovulation predictor strip indicates a negative result, which for some is a daily occurrence, but there is the disappointment attached to missed life achievements and goals. There is disappointment at every holiday, anniversary and event as the infertile remain childless. There is plenty of financial disappointment as well, as most of those struggling with infertility realize the mandatory health insurance (in the U.S.) they are paying exorbitant fees to have won’t cover much or anything related to the treatment of infertility. For many, the lack of coverage and a lack of unlimited funds signals the death of a life-long dream to parent a child. For many, adoption isn’t an option either because of the financial burden adoption presents as well.
Fertile person, holding your child right now, imagine that your child never came into existence because you couldn’t afford the fees required to conceive, birth or adopt that child.
I’m not writing this to make you feel guilty that you have something someone else wants terribly. I’m not writing to try to explain to you how it feels to face infertility because, let’s face it, just as carrying and having a child is something that has to be experienced to be understood, infertility, too, must be experienced to be understood. Infertility is something that cannot be fully described. For each infertile person in the world, there is a separate story and experience.
So, why am I writing this? I’m not even sure myself. I suppose I just want to remind people that parenthood is a privilege that not everyone who wants to gets to experience. Everyone is different, and everyone has a story, if we just let them tell it. But, no, that isn’t really what I want to say either.
My grief is worse than your grief.
Before my comment section gets blown up with heated comments, please listen a bit longer.
I think many of us have parents, grandparents, aunts or uncles that have probably lost a child to miscarriage or stillbirth or disease way back when. In the 50’s, 60’s or 70’s, even to some degree in the 80’s, everything was governed by appearances. It was unseemly to speak of infertility, and it was even more unseemly to speak of something such as losing a child. Loss in general was something to be spoken of only in the most proper of ways at the most appropriate of times. This was the era in which the U.S. was thoroughly dedicated to one-upping the U.S.S.R. Everything needed to be better, brighter, happier, healthier and wealthier. Our lives as American citizens needed to be shining examples to the world as a demonstration of the superiority of democracy and free enterprise. The original version of keeping up with the Joneses involved being the Joneses.
We haven’t exactly held on to this view that everything had to appear perfect in the subsequent decades. For example, we now view divorce as a normal, common occurrence and accept all of its messy details without raising an eyebrow these days. We live unwed with a chosen partner without stigma or fear of ostracization even. But, for some reason, we still don’t openly talk about infertility or child loss. It is an uncomfortable subject that has been and continues to be avoided except as whispers among gossipers and curious folks alike. Is this a carry-over from earlier generations?
Now, in our open-minded modern society, we still live in a world of one-uppers. That is definitely something we have carried over from previous decades. Instead of a national movement to one-up another nation, now we try to one-up each other. To be able to one-up someone implies that there is a certain value attached to everything.
We define everything by degrees. Someone’s degree of loss is less or more than someone else’s. Someone’s hardship is lessened because he or she is more fortunate than someone else, for example. Or, someone who experiences a miscarriage should not be expected to grieve to the same degree as someone whose child is stillborn. Or, the degree of loss for someone who lost an infant to sudden infant death syndrome or an older child to cancer or an accident or some other tragedy, is more severe than that of the parents of the stillborn child.
My grief is worse than your grief.
Grief is grief. Why do we have to assign value to a person’s grief or pain or hardship?
I would like to think I’m not one of those insensitive people, thinking that my grief over my baby lost to miscarriage several years ago isn’t any more or less than anyone else’s grief over anything or anyone else. I would like to think that I don’t listen to a story of a woman struggling with infertility who was triumphant at conceiving after only a short period of time and then immediately think that my story can one-up her’s because it took me longer. But I’m just as bad as everyone else.
I do put the degree of pain and grief experienced as an infertile in terms of length of time trying before conception and birth. My infertility story is worse than some and better than others; I suffered more than some and less than others. That is what my brain says, anyway. I, too, rarely speak of my miscarriage, and when I do, I speak of it very casually. I don’t assign much value to my miscarriage because it was so incredibly early in pregnancy some could argue that there wasn’t ever a baby to lose. I don’t assign much value to the emotions that I still feel when I think of my baby that never got the chance to breathe or smile or laugh.
Why do we do this? Why do I do this?
Because it validates our feelings in some way I suppose. Maybe, just maybe, instead of comparing my grief to someone else’s grief, I could just accept it as it is within me. My pain is real. My pain is mine. Someone else’s pain does not lessen or increase my pain.
I am trying to be much more intentional with my thoughts and emotions. I am trying to realign my emotions and my brain. My story as an infertile, which barring any tragedy, will end happily. My happy ending does not negate the experiences I had to get to the happy ending, though. I now rarely talk about my struggle with infertility for the most part since my pregnancy was confirmed via ultrasound. This blog has been the only place in which I speak of my previous struggles, and that has been infrequent and not recent. It feels like, according to this law of degrees, I no longer have the right to publicly acknowledge the pain I felt as a person struggling to conceive a child.
Pain is pain and grief is grief. It can’t be quantified, graded or nullified. If I can’t make anything else I have said stick, I hope this one statement sticks–your pain is as big or as little, as much or as less, as you feel it.
My grief is my grief, and your grief is your grief.