Listening is an act of love
Cheers, dear readers,
I hope that you enjoyed Eric’s post from last week. He and I had a week where we were dealing with some rough emotional issues with relationships that currently feel strained and difficult. We have dealt with this type of situation more than we care to admit since we have struggled with infertility. The trauma of infertility as well as the treatment that some choose to undergo can leave lasting effects on our hearts, our minds and leave a trail of damaged relationships. As you can imagine, one can start to feel alone and isolated both during and in the aftermath of such trauma, especially with a topic that not many people understand or want to talk about: infertility.
As Eric and I traversed the path of trying to make our own biological family, we did not feel that we had anyone to talk to, and though our friends were well meaning, they really did not know what to say. It is difficult to live with what infertility does to me everyday – to know that I will never have a child of my own. I will not get to see what kind of adorable child Eric and I could create together. I will never get to see my father’s eyes on my son’s sweet face. This is an absolute impossibility. It does not matter if you are 25 or 45 – wanting a first, second or third biological child is no less devastating or painful. It is heartbreaking because your whole life stretches out ahead of you, and it can feel inconceivable to imagine it without your own children. If we try to repress those very real feelings, we only end up hurting ourselves much more in the end. But how to you get those feelings out or what do you do with them?
It has been five years since my last infertility treatment. I have very few people in my life who know or understand the feelings of anger, hurt, missing out, unworthiness and shame I feel or have felt, all while my friends and families are creating babies so easily, with no difficulties whatsoever. Part of how I dealt with those very challenging and sometimes overwhelming feelings was to stuff them deep down. To hide them. Or even to cry silently alone in the safety of my house or in my husband’s arms, someone who understood. The feelings of pain, isolation, being misunderstood and even ignored were huge. Yet I would still show up at the baby showers, the christenings, and the toddler birthday parties with gifts that I had to enter an enormous Babies R Us store with pain in my heart. I would try to smile at these events as I did my very best to show up, and be a good friend to the people that we considered special in our lives. Did they know how incredibly painful and difficult it was for me even to walk through the front door with gift in hand and a strained smile on my face? Did anyone ask me if I was OK? Did anyone give me a hug that melted and unfroze my heart so that I could sink into my feelings of despair and sadness?
Eventually, I lost all hope of having my own biological child, and I also lost all hope of any of those close to me ever understanding what I went through. No one wanted to listen it seems. The few times I had the courage and strength to bring it up in conversation, in about two minutes, the conversation gets changed to something more pleasant. I understand the human need to do this, to stay positive, to talk about “light” things. But I think it just adds to the problem of people not understanding what you’re going through, of hiding the effects of infertility. Some things that we as humans deal with on a daily basis are extremely difficult. They rock us to the core. And part of the way through the dark forest, my friends, is through TALKING about it. But there were so few people in my life who even tried to understand. There are others who don’t know what to say, and don’t want to say the wrong thing, so then I am intentionally left out. I’m not sure which is more difficult – being left out by not being invited or being there and feeling left out anyway as everyone talks about their children. That can be possibly the most isolating thing of all is everyone quite naturally talking about their children all the time: the development of them, the cute things they do, how fast they are growing… and I have nothing to say. I just smile (or excuse myself to the bathroom and hope the conversation changes by the time I get back). Am I alone in the feelings I have? Does anyone out there know the pain of infertility? I do.
I eventually felt so alone and isolated that I sought therapy several years ago. That did indeed help as it was clearly such a relief to have someone really HEAR what I was saying. Listen to me describe my pain unabashedly. To reflect back to me what they had heard, and to acknowledge and validate my very real pain. That therapist recently retired, and that made me very sad. What if I have a relapse of depression and feelings of deep isolation and I have nowhere to turn?
Several months ago, a very good friend of mine was staying over my house with her adorable and sweet daughter. I was very excited to have house guests and to entertain a young person. Many (not all) of my wounds have healed. I can walk through life now with a thicker skin and a different perspective. But infertility has completely changed who I am fundamentally. I know that now. As I spoke with my long-time friend in my kitchen, we started to talk about difficult things that we had undergone in our lives. How we lost loved ones. The ensuing pain. The feelings of loss. I started to cry as I mentioned my painful path with infertility. My friend asked me questions and I was relieved to be asked, and to finally tell someone I loved the struggles I had undergone. As she asked me why I didn’t adopt, she kept interrupting my answers. Finally she said rather loudly in my home within earshot of her child…
“Cathy, I don’t want to hear about your infertility ANYMORE!”
… silence ensued. My jaw dropped. I sunk back in my chair, and thought, “of course. NO ONE wants to talk about infertility… not willingly anyway.”
I took a deep breath. Looked my friend in the eye, and tried to explain the concept of empathy. I reminded her that good friends are there for each other when the chips are down. How could she ever support me, how could we ever feel close again, if she was unwillingly to ever understand my pain? She said that she would never understand. There is certainly some truth to that. But we ALL understand feelings of loss. We ALL understand that life is not all roses and butterflies sometimes. We ALL can be a little more loving and compassionate to each other, can’t we? I believe we can.
I listened to an audiobook this weekend. In it, the author said:
Listening is an act of love.
Amen to that! My dear readers, if you feel you have nowhere to turn, and no one to talk to as you traverse your own personal journey of family creation, please remember that you are not alone. There are online support groups such as Resolve, there are blogs such as this one or one of my favorites, “Silent Sorority” as well as a book of the same name. There are so many places to turn, even when you think you are isolated and alone. I know that you might not feel like it’s going to be OK right now, and that’s normal and fine that you may feel that way. Many of us know that feeling. My friends, please take care of yourselves and your hearts any way that you can. Be kind and forgiving to yourselves. You can find a world of love and support if you look.
Please join me next week to hear more about my personal journey down the infertility path. I look forward to speaking with you. And I wish you the best on your journey.