The Things I Can Never Talk About
You are being heard. -x-
The Things I Can Never Talk About
You are being heard. -x-
By Lisa Manterfield
Every year it seems I get caught out with a bout of the Holiday Blues.
After a really fun and non-traditional Thanksgiving with wonderful friends, I headed into December ready to celebrate the holidays my way. Then Bam! I came down with the Holiday Blues.
There will always be things I wish were part of my festive season, like hand-delivering gifts to my family, shopping for small children, and creating the kind of Christmas I had as a child. But it wasn’t theses losses and what-ifs that gave me the blues this year.
Maybe it was the rainy weather that kept me indoors for much of the week. Maybe it was the end of year racing towards me highlighting the things that didn’t get accomplished this year. Or maybe it’s that Christmas doesn’t really feel like something to celebrate anymore.
Finally, I took my own advice, and that of a couple of friends, and dusted myself off. I bought a tree, made plans for Christmas Eve dinner at a favorite restaurant, and wrote and sent my cards. And then I made myself a cup of tea and sliced off a chunk of proper English fruitcake, and I curled up in a chair and wrote in my journal.
I made a list of everything good that happened this year—all the fun things I did (see photo below, for one), the challenges I overcame, the goals I reached this year, the friends I spent time with, the family I visited.
And guess what I discovered? It’s been another great year this year. I have lived my life, perhaps not always to the fullest, but to the best that I was able. And I had a good time doing it.
That, I think, is plenty of reason to celebrate.
By Lisa Manterfield
Last week we celebrated Thanksgiving here in the U.S., perhaps the official start of the holiday season. I’ve been hearing holiday music in stores for weeks, and know of people who’ve had their Christmas trees up since early November!
For many of you, the festive season might not be such a fun time. Traditionally, whichever holidays you celebrate, they include family gatherings, which might mean facing insensitive relatives and prying questions about children. It can be one of the most difficult times of the year, with social gatherings, kid-oriented activities, and constant reminders of the many ways we don’t get to celebrate the holidays.
I love that this community includes new readers and seasoned pros, so let’s help one another out this year by sharing ideas on getting through the season with our hearts intact.
What are some of the issues you know you’ll face this holiday season? What events are you dreading? What’s going to be hardest for you?
And perhaps most important of all, how to do plan to get through the season with minimum emotional damage?
If you’re looking for some guidance from those who’ve walked this path before you, make sure to add yourself to your gift shopping list this year. Here are some books written by members of our community. Please consider supporting their work, so that they can continue supporting all of us.
Lesley Pyne’s Finding Joy Beyond Childlessness: Inspiring Stories to Guide You to a Fulfilling Life shares real-world experiences of infertility survivors alongside Lesley’s gentle guidance. Lesley is a role model for redefining yourself after infertility and finding peace with a childless life.
In Living the Life Unexpected: 12 Weeks to Your Plan B for a Meaningful and Fulfilling Future Without Children, Jody Day takes you by the hand and leads you through her process of facing grief, letting go of lost dreams, and rebuilding a new kind of life.
Jessica Hepburn has two books on offer. Her first, The Pursuit of Motherhood tells her own heartbreaking story of her quest to become a mother. In 21 Miles: Swimming in Search of the Meaning of Motherhood, Jessica tells the “next chapter” of her story, her quest to find meaning in her own life and shares inspiring conversations about motherhood with some female powerhouses.
Civil M. Morgan offer a 31-Day devotional, 21st Century Hannah: 31 Days of Encouragement on her Childless Not By Choice site.
And I’d be remiss if I din’t include my own books on this list: Life Without Baby: Surviving and Thriving When Motherhood Doesn’t Happen, and Life Without Baby Holiday Companion, a compilation of stories and advice to get you through the holidays, written together with Kathleen Guthrie Woods.
We’d have a bonfire in the backyard, and my dad would bring home a box of fireworks to set off and a couple of packets of sparklers. We’d have baked potatoes and roast chestnuts, and my mum would make parkin and gooey, delicious bonfire toffee. It was an evening spent outdoors, clustered around the fire. It was about friends and food and a little bit of danger.
It’s one of the many things I miss about my homeland, and it’s one of the traditions I would have enjoyed sharing with my children. And that’s the topic for this week’s Whiny Wednesday:
Traditions you won’t get to share with your children
Happy Bonfire Night and happy whining.
By Kathleen Guthrie Woods
I had recently confided in a close friend about a truly difficult and painful situation I was in.
“How are you?” she asked in a follow-up email.
“How am I? I’m so angry I could scream!” I replied. “I cannot believe I’m having to deal with ONE.MORE.THING!”
“Do you want me to scream with you?”
I laughed out loud at her response. Then I thought, What a brilliant idea!
And I may take her up on her offer, as I sense she, I, and we all could use a seriously outrageous yelling session as we vent the anger, frustration, disappointment, shame, pain, and unfairness of the unique challenges we’ve each been facing.
And then I thought a bit deeper about how lucky I am to have such an understanding friend who, even though she’s not in the same pickle I’m in, is willing to get into the fray with me and yell it out until I feel better.
When life hands me particularly sour lemons, I try to look for the potential for lemonade. What is God/the Universe/Life trying to tell me? I wonder. Perhaps:
I found a bit of good this week when I recognized the gift of my yelling-ready friend—as well as the support I’ve received in our community along this often frustrating and soul-crushing LWB journey.
Do you have a friend who will scream with you when things are beyond frustrating, who will cry with you when life’s hurts become unbearable, and who will celebrate with you when things look up? If not, maybe the message we need to hear today is It’s time to find those friends and nurture those relationships.
It’s a message I’m taking to heart.
As told to Kathleen Guthrie Woods
When Paulina Grace first shared her story with us in July 2014, she was, in her words, in a “dark, dark time.” I am happy to report that things have improved for her, and her story is now one of, in my words, hope and strength.
It’s important to me to hear these stories and share them with all of us so that we can have a sense what this whole journey to acceptance can feel like. We can be role models for each other. More than that, for those of us who have gone through the dark times and come out intact, we can offer support and encouragement with total understanding to our sisters who are new to the raw grief of life without baby. We remind each other “You are not alone.”
Wherever you are on your journey today, I hope reading Paulina Grace’s original story and update (following) will help you.
• • •
Paulina Grace spent five years actively pursuing pregnancy. Her arduous journey included three miscarriages, one hysterosalpingogram (HSG), one dilation and curettage procedure (D&C), semen analysis for her husband of 12 years, a couple of rounds of Clomiphene (Clomid), an intrauterine insemination (IUI), plus a round of shots. “Our next step was IVF,” she wrote, “and I couldn’t bear to go through with it.” She figured she faced embracing being childfree by choice (after unexplained infertility) or “complete insanity”. Here’s her story.
LWB: Briefly describe your dream of motherhood:
Paulina Grace: I wanted a daughter, one I’d name after my grandmother who died when my mom was young and my godmother who was basically the only grandmother I did know. I wanted a chance to be pregnant and enjoy preparing for the baby. I wanted to be called “Mom”. I wanted my stepson to have a sibling who was part him and me. I wanted both myself and my husband to be full-time parents and make all the decisions. I wanted to be spoiled and feel important on Mother’s Day. I wanted the chance to make up for all I didn’t get to enjoy as a child.
LWB: Where are you on your journey now?
Paulina Grace: I’m proud of myself for knowing when I needed to get off the fertility roller coaster. I’m a more empathetic and compassionate person. At times I wish my life could have been different. Mostly I face the reality that I have a wonderful life without biological children.
LWB: What was the turning point for you?
Paulina Grace: I was just so sad and shut down all of the time. I went to an infertility support group and saw more of that. That wasn’t the vision I’d had for myself or the image I wanted to project for other women. After reading the book Sweet Grapes: How to Stop Being Infertile and Start Living Again by Jean Carter (there wasn’t much else at the time), I came to the realization that the only reason I was unhappy with my life was this new information that I couldn’t have children. I’d been happy with my life up to that point, so I felt there was no reason I couldn’t be happy still.
LWB: What’s the hardest part for you about not having children?
Paulina Grace: The future. Having children carves out a fairly defined path for you for at least 18 years! No need to think about anything else for a while. I also worry about when I get older and need help. I actively watch over and care for my parents, and I wonder who will do that for me.
LWB: What’s the best part about not having children?
Paulina Grace: Being able to support others from a new perspective. I take more time to listen to my single, married, or parenting friends. I meet them where they are and tell them they are doing just fine. I have energy to play with and spoil my younger nieces and nephews. I have patience and understanding to listen and spend time with my older nieces, nephews, and now teenage stepson. And I can still take a nap whenever I want to!
LWB: What have you learned about yourself?
Paulina Grace: You have to put yourself first and, if you’re in a committed relationship, your partner a close second. If you don’t know yourself well enough, you can’t know how to ask for help from those who love you. Your courage to lead an unexpected yet happy life will help someone else do the same.
LWB: What is the best advice you’d offer someone else like you?
Paulina Grace: Let life do its part. You don’t have to control everything, and trying to only makes the hard times worse. Try new things and meet lots of people. This journey has led me to some of the most wonderful, courageous, open, and loving women I’ve ever met. Don’t just focus on the losses, because there’s still so much to be gained.
LWB: Who is your personal chero (a heroine who happens to be childfree)? What about her inspires you?
Paulina Grace: Lisa Manterfield and her ongoing commitment to sharing her story and the story of childfree women everywhere. I first “met” Lisa via the blog around 2009, and her amazing book has a permanent place on my bookshelf. Her e-course and personal warmth on the videos and support calls helped give me emotional strength I didn’t even know I needed. I really can’t thank Lisa enough for being a light during dark moments.
• • •
LWB: Where are you on your journey today?
Paulina Grace: When I got this request to update my story, I think I was a bit hesitant to read my post, afraid of what it might bring back. However, it was an interesting stroll down memory lane.
I’m definitely embracing Plan B. In the last few years, I moved away of being an entrepreneur and headed back out into the working world. This was a huge change for me, and right away my first employer was full of pregnant families. It was the ultimate test on whether I had truly done my work. Thankfully, I passed with flying colors and even enjoyed the baby showers. I was able to talk to the pregnant moms with curiosity versus jealousy. I think they appreciated I didn’t give them any pregnancy/baby advice or horror stories. I also didn’t force myself to try and fit in, I let the young moms/parents do their thing. I was okay being me, and them being them.
A couple of years ago I did finally insist to my husband that he get a vasectomy. It was still a lingering issue on the journey. I was turning 40 and truly did not want the surprise of becoming pregnant. My periods also started getting heavier around that time, and it would make me wonder if I was miscarrying again. I needed to be clear mentally and physically that it was over. I needed my husband to take the step with me.
Interestingly enough, I found out in the last month I need a hysterectomy. While I won’t miss the awful periods, it is also a very final point in my own fertility journey, too. I do wonder if there will be an emotional point for me or, if again, it will offer a bit of relief to know that door is locked and the key gone forever!
LWB: What would you like to say to the you of 2014?
Paulina Grace: I’m so proud of her. That was such a dark, dark time. I’m actually going through a valley in my life right now. Looking back on how I got through all of that reminds me how strong I am, how loved I am, and it gives me heart that I’ll get through this, too. I am reminded that the first journey led me to some amazing friendships, most of which I still maintain today.
I grew and evolved tremendously in those years. As I get older, I see over and over how we’re all handed issues we cannot handle and/or are completely unfair. Having biological children doesn’t stop you from pain. I even found a way to give my pain an outlet for meaning by volunteering for a grief camp for children, Camp Erin. I wasn’t there to share my story but bear witness to theirs. Watching them release their pain and start to feel alive again was one of the most emotionally draining yet uplifting things I’ve ever done. I’m no longer afraid of uncomfortable or taboo topics. The world needs people who can have those conversations to help us all heal together.
I’m still eternally grateful for Lisa Manterfield. She’ll always be an angel in my life.
By Kathleen Guthrie Woods
I was in a really good place. That particular day, I had been feeling optimistic about my future, about my Plan B, about my life without babies. Then someone asked me “Do you have kids?”, and I said “No,” and I got The Pity Face.
You know what I’m talking about. That look that says, “Oh you poor, pathetic loser of a lesser human.” And it really pissed me off.
Certainly I want people to understand my pain and losses, and I want to feel supported, but not at the cost of condensation and humiliation. So when I received a note from LWBer Jane about the difference between sympathy and empathy, it struck a deep chord.
“I was surprised to read the real difference and found it helped me understand why I became isolated and distanced from friends and family,” she wrote. She shared with me this powerful article, “Sympathy and Empathy—Do You Know the Difference?” on Harley Therapy’s Counselling Blog.
The authors look at historical meanings as well as contemporary usage. I hope you’ll take the time to read it through. For now, I’ll summarize it with “empathy is empowering.”
Although intended to be compassionate, “sympathy too often comes in its lower form—thinly disguised as pity,” says the authors. “Empathy, on the other hand, involves trying with great sincerity to understand what the other person is going through.”
That sounds like what I want. I don’t yet know how to ask for it, or how to educate people on this (without coming across as a crazy woman), but what I can do is practice it. (There are tips in the article.) For there is a possible hidden gift for offering empathy, for really listening to another person who is going through a tough time, says the authors. “We…might even end up being in awe of their personal strength.”
“I still haven’t figured out how to make friends with people my own age (40s) who have children. I often feel disposable, or okay to invite to things when it suits them. I’m a thoughtful, caring person who deserves better.”
What do you think about this? It’s Whiny Wednesday, so let it all out.
By Lisa Manterfield
I was always a pretty confident person, even as a child. I could be quite shy, and still am at times, but I was never fearful. I firmly believed that I could accomplish anything I set my mind to and I wasn’t afraid to try anything. I backpacked around South America, jumped out of airplanes, and tried all kinds of strange foods. If anyone told me it couldn’t be done, I took it as a cue to prove her wrong.
But infertility changed that.
Suddenly, I was more timid about getting out there and going for what I wanted. I became a nervous flyer, popping Rescue Remedy and gripping the seat arms on flights. I even caught myself assessing flight times and potential for disaster when considering a trip. I couldn’t seem to make a decision without asking for opinions from everyone and then second-guessing myself.
After a friend commented on the change, I took a long hard look at what had happened to me, and the thing that popped to the forefront of my mind is infertility.
I hate to pin everything that’s wrong in my life on infertility, but in this case, I think I was right. Infertility taught me that I can’t always get what I want just by trying hard. It taught me that bad things do happen to good people, and they could even happen to me. And it taught me that I am not invincible, and that created a giant fissure in my confidence.
It was very disturbing to realize what had happened, because that wasn’t who I was. I wasn’t a timid mouse. I didn’t want to be afraid of life, but that was who I had become. Maybe you’ve seen similar changes in yourself.
So, how to undo the damage?
Self-awareness was the first step. Once I recognized the change, I made sure to check in with myself whenever I felt my courage waver. It was very helpful to step away from myself and look at what I was really afraid of, instead of just pulling the blankets over my head and giving into it.
I also began looking for the old Lisa in some of the places she used to be most confident. I took up orienteering again, which used to be a sport I was pretty good at. Even though I wasn’t as in shape as I’d once been, the old skills were still there and reawakening them helped my confidence grow again. I tried to recognize fear and treat it accordingly.
Finally I looked for ways to gently push myself out of my comfort zone (and drag poor Mr. Fab out of his, too.) We learned to sail, something we’d never done together before. It was just a small step, but it was definitely an area in which neither of us was an expert, and so we built our confidence together.
Infertility taught me that I am not invincible, but slowly, I found my confidence again. No matter what happened in my past, I don’t want to spend my future afraid of what might, or might not, happen.
For ideas on how to gently step out of your own comfort zone, please check out the interview I did with Kathleen Guthrie Woods last week. Her 52 Nudges might be the perfect way to start finding your confidence again.
A few weeks ago, I ran a little experiment: I took a break from social media. Six full days, in fact. That meant no checking Twitter or Instagram, no liking the comments posted on Facebook by “friends”, no suffering pangs of envy while viewing recent photos of impossibly cute royal toddlers, no keeping up with the Kardashians or anyone else of questionable famousness. I also mostly avoided online news venues, so bypassed updates about local stabbings, weather-related catastrophes, political mud-slinging, scathing diatribes disguised as opinion pieces, and the many bleeding tragedies that lead in the headlines.
It was not easy. I felt out of the loop, uninformed, and maybe even a little bored.
I also did not feel overly stressed or depressed. I sensed my blood pressure drop a couple of points. I swear I slept a bit better.
We usually talk about taking a break from social media around the big triggering holidays, like Mother’s Day and the winter holiday season, when family gatherings are promoted in advertisements and shared by friends and relatives in private missives. So often these postings are not heartwarming for those of us in this community; they’re more likely heart-wrenching. They remind us of all we’ve lost and what we’ll never have, and, dangit, it hurts.
So why do we can continue to subject ourselves to this onslaught? Good question. I supposed I could come up with a number of reasons, from wanting to keep in touch, wanting to be supportive, wanting to live vicariously through my friends’ good fortunes.
But this week I’d like to suggest we shift our perspectives from what supports other people’s happiness to what will allow us to heal and find our own happiness.
I’d like to suggest we try, every so often, to take a holiday from social media. Is this the week you can do it? Will you try it with me?
Oh, but one exception: This site and any of the others you visit for support on your journey don’t count. Stay connected to any community that offers you encouragement, love, and acceptance.
Let me know how it goes. And please be gentle with yourself.
~ "a raw, transparent account of the gut-wrenching journey of infertility."
~ "a welcome sanity check for women left to wonder how society became so fixated on motherhood."