Grief and Pain: Why My Grief Is Worse Than Your Grief

*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.

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23 Replies to “Grief and Pain: Why My Grief Is Worse Than Your Grief”

      1. Exactly!!!! I am thinking of you. I think your blog is wonderful and I hope you never quit writing!

  1. I appreciate how balanced this post is in its effort to honor and offer empathy to all perspectives. It would be nice if people who perceive their grief to be greater than other’s grief didn’t use that grief as a platform to (1) instruct others on how to behave with an air of moral superiority, (2) exaggerate and mock parents and pregnant women as an outlet for that grief, or (3) reblog and feature and quote these things that are so clearly divisive.

    1. Thank you very much. This post evolved so many times me as I wrote. I’m so tired of the lack of compassion and understanding among all of us, infertile and fertile alike. Thank you for your thoughtful comments.

  2. Reblogged this on The Empress and the Fool and commented:
    Once upon a time, another blogger was cautioning against the fruitlessness of the “pain olympics” in what is, at its core, a support community. (I can’t remember who you are, so if you’re out there reading, please step forward to take credit.) I thought this post did a really nice job of honoring all the different perspectives of this community in an effort, as I interpreted it, to fuse back together this broken bone. Real support begins with mutual empathy.

  3. What everyone needs is empathy. Those in the infertility community who go on to have their happy ending need to have empathy for those who don’t. It’s not comparing one’s journey to another it’s putting yourself in their shoes and imagining what it would be like to not have the happy ending that they have. Those in the infertility community who don’t have their happy ending need to have empathy for those who do and the challenges they face during pregnancy (fears that it’s not real and fear that something bad will happen to their pregnancy) and even after they give birth to their child.

    Sure those who don’t have a happy ending would trade places with those who have and I doubt the other side would trade places but we shouldn’t dismiss that there are challenges that come with that happy ending. The best thing we can do is empathize and support one another. We shouldn’t be afraid to hear difficult things on both sides and have difficult conversations. We all can learn from one another.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to write such a thought out comment. You are so right. The difficult conversations are usually avoided and avoided resulting in nothing but more hurt and isolation. Every story has value. Period.

  4. I feel a little differently about my miscarriage. I tried to think it was so early it almost wasn’t even a baby but that ended up making things more painful for me. It wasn’t until I took a step back and said you want this thing, this pregnancy so much and it was taken from you, it’s ok to feel hurt. Whether it was 7 weeks or 7 months I had the right to my grief. I’m sad to say I judged another woman, a former co-worker, for all her facebook posts and pictures of her still born, which continue more than a year and a half later. It took this horrible experience for me to realize, who am I to judge the way she grieves or deals with this terrible loss?

    1. I went to the doctor following my miscarriage and she first asked if my pregnancy had been confirmed by an ultrasound or blood test. I told her no, and her immediate response was to tell me it was just a chemical pregnancy and then change the subject. I was devastated and felt like an idiot for feeling that way.

      Thank you for reading, sharing and being so honest.

  5. Dh has asked me several times why I can’t just let it go that we dealt with infertility. Why can’t I close the door on that closet? I guess because the pain is always there. I will always feel the grief. That you for expressing that I don’t have to hide it or keep it quiet. It isn’t less important just because we have become parents now. It is still a huge part of the course my life has taken.

  6. I know I keep telling you cancer stories, but it’s been on my mind a lot. Believe it or not, this also happens in the cancer community – the comparison of stories/diseases. I think it happens for a lot of the reasons you’ve described above. I wish everyone, in every circumstance, could take a moment to step back before speaking and remember that we’re all in this thing called life together. ❤

  7. I agree and I disagree. We shouldn’t downplay others’ grief by saying ours is worse than theirs. But we also shouldn’t downplay others’ grief by saying our grief is the same as theirs. When I read bloggers who have been at it for many years, with painful obstacles along the way, loosing their babies late in pregnancy, it would be wrong of me to think that only 3 years of this infertility path enables be to understand the enormity of their grief. And I get hurt when I speak with women who wail like the world has come to an end and insist they know just how I feel because they’ve been trying for a whopping 5 months and they “even cut down on coffee”. They simply don’t know my grief, and I hope they never will. Just like I don’t know the grief of those who have experienced watching their near-term babies die at the NICU after trying for many years, and I hope I never will. All grief is different, and experienced differently, but not all grief is equal.

    Love your blog, keep writing those inspiring pieces you do!

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