When I reflect on my grief, not just the sensations of it, but also the duration of the grief since I was told there would be no children, it has definitely changed. And not just in terms of the intensity, but also the ratio of the good, the not-so-good and the downright fucking awful days. But what hasn’t changed is the fact that despite this, the grief is never far from my mind, and it never truly feels that I’m able to leave it somewhere without having to pick it back up.
So, after the last string of back-to-back fucking awful days I started to mull over why it was that grief changes and why we have to continue to pick it back up like a fetid , rotten comfort blanket. From my own experience, I think there are a number of reasons for this and I’m not the only one to feel this way – although Google searches show the absolute lack of research into grief and childlessness…
Anyway, for me I think the reason the grief around my childlessness has stuck around is because of the complexity of my back story. I’m not only grieving the fact I can’t have children, I’m grieving my miscarriage along with all of the procedures and missed opportunities for ‘experts’ to have sorted this sooner. I’m grieving the hysterectomy and the ravages that all of the procedures, operations and testing have had on my body. And that’s not even getting into all the anniversaries that pop up over the course of a year…
And I can imagine that no matter the reason for you finding yourself in this club, you also have similar reminders that pop up to remind you, you were unable to become the parent you dreamed of being. And with those reminders of the losses, comes the grief, which is why it seems to come in waves I think. Not just because of the triggers, but because as we start to process our grief, it stops being so permanent, in that we are able to find things that distract us away from the sadness.
And I think I’ve mentioned this before, but the grief caused by childlessness is a complicated grief. It’s not mourning the loss of someone that walked this Earth, but rather mourning the loss of a dream. And this makes it far more complicated, because that dream was individual to us, even if we share our lives with a partner. I know from experience that my grieving process has been very different to my partner’s, and not just because I’m the reason we’ve been unable to have that family.
It all seems to come down to the fact that males and females grieve differently. That’s not to say all men grieve one way and all women grieve another way – we are all unique and so are our ways of grieving. But what it does mean is that some people will shut down because to show emotions is weakness. Some will want to ‘fix’ the situation and some will want to just get on with their lives as though it has never happened*. In my experience, and I say this without criticism at all, this is very much the way my partner has tried to deal with it.
Others of us will grieve by wanting to talk about it with people around us in order to try and process it. We’ll want to share our story and make connections with others in the same position. And there will be some marking of the grief, perhaps with anniversary marking and the like*. And this has been very much my way of dealing with it, after the initial shutdown passed, I have moved into wanting to connect and share.
For me this has also meant that I have experienced far more triggers than my partner. And this really came up for me when I was chatting to him this weekend. It all centred around how we deal with the question of ‘do you have children?’. I know I’m not the only one, but I passionately hate this question, because it’s lazy small talk and it feels invasive when the answer is ‘no’.
My partner mentioned that he never feels sure how to answer this, because it makes him feel awkward. He says that he does just answer, but his admission that there is a discomfort there, is interesting, because he has never mentioned this before. For me, because I have perhaps been processing the grief longer in my own way, I have moved from awkwardly answering no, to now confidently stating ‘no I don’t because I’m infertile’. At some level this is because I don’t see why I should be the only one to feel that discomfort, but at another level I want people to feel able to talk to me about it.
But there has also been a difference in how my partner and I have handled triggers. Again because we have experienced this grief so differently, it would seem we have also viewed triggers and coping with them differently too. I have run away and not been able to maintain contact with people or situations that mean I feel the pain of those triggers, whereas my partner has worked hard to immerse himself in those experiences. I’ve started to notice that I am better able to deal with some of them, like putting up the Christmas decorations. But, for me avoidance has helped me shape the way I put boundaries in place and putting myself first. Time will tell which approach is the most helpful for each of us, but it is interesting to see the way we have both approached it.
For me though it really illustrates the changing nature of the grief I feel. Yes, it’s still there and it still does raise its head from time to time, because I think it always will. I don’t think this is something that you get over, or are able to entirely able to leave behind, because it has such a massive impact, but I do recognise how it is changing and that I am changing with it.
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