Tuesday, June 8, 2010

grief

When I went to the library a week or so ago, I was prompted to look, again, for books on dealing with IF. (I know, there's lots of blogs! I was thinking more in terms of psychologically constructive methods - sort of expert advice?) Foolishly, I searched under "infertility" in the card catalog again. Books and books of remedies, treatments, technologies, cures...nothing on just being infertile. This time I had a plan B: finding the Dewey decimal number for the psychology/grief section, I went to peruse that.

I found a couple of titles I figured it couldn't hurt to bring home. One was about helping children deal with grief - yes, this seems cruelly ironic, but in fact, I was thinking that I need to think about how to help a third party deal with grief. They had no books on helping spouses or adult loved ones to heal, so I settled for that. I also grabbed John Welshons's Awakening from Grief. It's subtitled as if it provided actual methods for addressing grief, but this is barely true.

It's basically a smallish book, in optimistic tone, giving a delightful set of stories about how he dealt with grief. The stories do not actually translate into constructive results for the reader, and though he eventually describes a series of techniques, these are a very small portion of the book, and are directed toward working through the grievning process (valuable, obviously), and don't claim to lead to the zen-like quality he claims to have attained himself. But, every book has its limits. (The other limitation is that he is, apparently, an adherent of some sort of Eastern spirituality, and consequently asserts things about the nature of love and of the human person that are untrue and misleading. I have a whole diatribe about this in my head, but that threatens to become a totally engulfing tangent.)

Anyway. I was reading the little chapter on grieving techniques before I fell asleep last night. He talked about grieving for the lost person, or thing (he mentions career/job loss), picturing what he/it was, telling him/it how you feel, etc. These exercises obviously would also have some value in contemplative prayer. I was reading it basically for its teaching value in dealing with IF. I recognize - and many experts have acknowledged - that IF causes grief. But what loss are we mourning, specifically?

I realized reading that I am not mourning the loss of a specific child or children (miscarriage sufferers will presumably have a different take here). I am bitterly grieving the loss of someone, but that person is me. I am mourning, and have long been mourning, the person I believed I would be, and who I was already becoming when infertility put an insuperable barricade across my forward road. Whether reality would otherwise have followed my mental image I don't know (it rarely does); but I'm not grieving the loss of particular maternity clothes or a specific neighborhood or number or character of children.

What I can't bear to have lost is the character and temperament of the person I thought I'd be. And though I'm sure motherhood would have worn me down far more than I expected, and my feeble virtues would have been burdened more than I thought, and buoyed less, by the avocation I expected, nevertheless - I'm convinced my predictions weren't wholly off the mark. In my heart I had already laid the foundation for that person. That foundation has been abandoned. I've just up and gone elsewhere to work on something else.

I know that's what I'm mourning, because that's the image that brings tears to my eyes; not a baby, but a lovely young woman who has the look in her eyes that I used to have, that I can still see, dramatically, in pictures of my younger self. I know this sounds terribly narcissistic, but it's just the truth. And it's not that I was happier; I was often sad. But I had something else - some sort of innocence, some sort of underlying joy. It's not merely time that took that away. Something I had, has died.

I think I've been on the verge of this realization before. And then I had a thought far more jarring than that one. It's not just that the person I wanted so much to become has died; it's that I blame the person I became instead for killing the person I wanted to be. I'm the murderer of a person worth being. I've not become quite the anti-matter opposite, but it's very close. I was a more or less kindhearted traditionalist who didn't care about her appearance, was constantly praying, volunteered for most everything, loved babies, and prized family first. I'm now a career woman who avoids other people's children, is emotionally exhausted by baby pictures, owns way too much clothing, never says daily prayers, goes to Mass only on Sundays, and has become professional, thick-skinned, and jaded. The one pursuit I maintained (until recently, largely by choice) was an active social life, in which I stay up until all hours. I'm the woman that other woman would have sincerely, and rightly, seen as heartless, empty, and evil. I live the life I was hoping to flee.

I'm not sure why this was so hard to see. I hate who I've become. I would vehemently defend a lot of the particular choices I've made, on the basis that no more prudent option existed; it was what was necessary; it happened by itself; or I literally had no other options. Most of those arguments are objectively correct. I literally did do my best on many of these fronts - the consequences are not blameworthy. On some fronts, they are, and I could have done better, though it would have been a really uphill battle. But I see the person I've become as worthless, or, more accurately, as affirmatively bad.

And I structure my life around that - I can see that, now. Though I hardly make extraordinary efforts to be diplomatic, if I need to spend time with people, I work to make my company not objectively objectionable - so that on a rational analysis, I could argue that it does them no more harm to spend time with me than with anyone else. I try to say nice things, demand of them little, make myself useful, support entertaining topics. When I don't care about people's regard, I'm often difficult, of course, but if I'm trying to be good company, I do it rather scientifically. Anybody who is willing to spend time with me is either doing the same superficial analysis - she's no trouble to be around and she can be entertaining - or is motivated by his own charity and generosity only.

It puts an interesting spin on the graduation of others from this purgatory here. While I wish nobody ill - there's nobody I want to see get another BFN, lose another child, endure another failed procedure - the migration of fellow infertiles en masse from these blackened shores carries an additional message: that they weren't worthless, as I am; their suffering was a test of the faithful, an opportunity for them to see yet greater value in their future blessings. My suffering is deserved, and to prove that, this is where I will ever remain. It's funny - I have such strident eloquent arguments against the ignorant and malicious who claim that infertility is earned by infertiles, which they conclude precisely because they don't have to suffer it. But I can argue as loudly as I want to against what others say - and I can be perfectly right; but it doesn't make a bit of difference if I believe I deserve it myself.

I know this is a disaster - I can't see the road back from here and if I keep moving forward I will travel deeper into the forest. Maybe there actually isn't any way out. But, in any case, I can't really understand how I got here. What about just not having children is so horrible that it's driven all the value out of who I am?

And, for what it's worth, I'm not looking for reassurance that my life is more valuable on the whole than not - it's not something, I think, that the ideas of others could fix. Just a belated realization of how I've come to see my life. And worth sharing, I thought, as it was rather an epiphany; but perhaps I'm mistaken. Either way.

16 comments:

  1. Perhaps you aren't happy with who you've become, but who you are now isn't who you have to be. You have a choice to become the person you want. Won't be easy - I know I'd have some struggles to become the person I'd like to see myself to be - but it would certainly be worthwhile.

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  2. I understand what you are saying about logic not being helpful. You mentioned seeking "professional help" a while ago - and it might help - (not that I've done it yet) - but some things you've convinced yourself of aren't constructive and I hope they aren't neccessary or true, and it would be better if you didn't have to carry a heavier burden than is absolutely neccessary.
    As kind-hearted as you may have been in earlier days, the person you were would have had difficulties with the woman you are now out of a deep ignorance, innocent though it might have been. She wouldn't have imagined all the situations in which you had few or any choices. She might have assumed that you landed where you are freely and that that's what you had wanted.
    be a little more compassionate with yourself - you are formidable! but I rather doubt you are capable of brining all this on yourself (although I've hade some of the same thoughts) thinking of you and praying for you
    xhedwig

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  3. I often remember the person I was before IF took over. I was happy and looking forward to our growing family. However, I truly believe b/c of my IF I've become a closer person to God and I've become stronger. I'm happy now but in a different way. I've had to learn to be thankful for all that I do have and know I've been blessed in other ways. I,personally, feel it helped to be going back to school which has been such a positive experience! So positive.

    All that being said...I think it's okay to mourn IF and all that it has done. I'm never going to deny how hard it is to live with IF. So hard! I will keep you in my prayers.

    BTW: You are very insightful and you write about your thoughts very elloquently. I do enjoy reading your blog.

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  4. I was recently putting together our photo album for our adoption and I had gathered some photographs of when R and I were dating in college. I couldn't help but look at myself and wish I could be that person again. It's not so much that I'm not happy with who I am now; I am. For the most part, IF has been a force for good in my life. But what I mourn was that innocence I once had. But it's more than innocence. I look back at my younger self and try to remember what it was like to dream about the future and to have hope in what was to come. It came so easily; I fight to have hope these days, and I hardly ever dare to dream about what our life might be. I've changed, some ways for the better, and in some ways that I wish I hadn't.
    The bottom line is that whatever life throws at us, we control how we react to it. I'm sure you made the right decisions for yourself and your life, but I'm not sure your mourning what you've done so much as who you perceive yourself to be. We choose who we are and how we act. We are empowered to change if we don't like what we see.

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  5. P.S. I think it is amusing, possibly even marginally significant, that I posted this in the middle of a rash of other Catholic bloggers posting their faith stories. Thus, my contribution...

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  6. Misfit - regardless of when/if you "migrate" YOU ARE NOT WORTHLESS! I realize that I don't know you at all outside of the blogosphere, but your opinions and insights are some of the most poignant out there. Your pain has been so palpable - I just wish I could reach out and hug you. I suck at advice and commenting in situations like this, so my apologies if this isn't graceful or literarily spellbinding. Continued prayers...

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  7. If you're still looking for a book, I have a suggestion - 'Life Shouldn't Look Like This' by Gregory Popcak. It helped me a great deal, like nothing else I had previously read to help with infertility, suffering, or my life in general, and it just really seems like it might be good for what you are describing. And the best part is the author/counselor is Catholic, and while I think a non-Catholic could be helped by it too, it does happen to be written based on our beliefs. I also liked that while it's not specifically about infertility at all, a few of the examples he uses are about infertility, which I thought helped to drive the point home for me.

    It just really addresses what you seem to be talking about - how life can go down a direction we never intended it to and suddenly we find ourselves unhappy and unsure how to change it. He gives real solid advice, centered on our faith, on how to change things and discover greater purpose. It was a real eye-opener for me.

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  8. I agree very much with Thankful. I really hope and pray that you can find a way to become a person that you can be happy with. Don't be overly hard on yourself about the person that you feel that you've become. Obviously, you can't regain the innocence you had before IF, but I'm sure that you can find joy again (and I'm not saying through having children...though it would be wonderful if that miracle did happen for you). I'll be praying for you.

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  9. I am sorry to hear how you are suffering and being so hard on yourself. I am sure there is good you are not seeing - please be gentle with your hurt heart. I pray that God will bring you out of this darkness / dryness to a place where you will have light, warmth, and moisture again. Perhaps this epiphany will help you find a path to a place where you are more at peace and finding joy again.

    Don't forget too that - while I believe we need to realistically see ourselves and be willing to accept course changes, etc - if there is something bringing self-hatred, it does NOT come from God (at least I don't believe so). I think that woujld be a hallmark of evil trying to get in and make you believe that you are not loveable, unique, precious, a child that God treasures - which He does. Just a thought.

    Andie

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  10. Allow me to preface my question by saying that I can't answer it for myself, so maybe you're in the same shoes....have you considered adoption? My heart aches for the loss of the future you'd hoped for but I wonder if adoption is simply a different means to the end you desire so deeply. I think we infertiles have to journey through the grieving process before we can get to that, though...I'm not there yet.

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  11. I love this line "I am bitterly grieving the loss of someone, but that person is me." I think that that is exactly why we feel the way we do, why we are so sad. But You are NOT worthless! None of us that deal with this rediculous IF are. God put this before us to bring us to be the person He wants us to be. That person will be better than anything that our feeble little minds could have conjured up.
    You will find joy and peace again. I know it! :) *hugs*

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  12. I have no advice for you, mostly because you are far more insightful and intelligent than I. But I admire you so for what you have done here. I was just telling someone today, "I have such admiration for those who are self-aware." I admit (for good or ill) that I do not admire many people. I do admire you. Always praying for you, sister.

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  13. It's true that one of the biggest losses of infertility is the loss of ourselves as we used to be - innocent, optimistic, and young of course. Up until last fall, I mourned the loss of my sense of humor. I used to smile a lot - laugh a lot and out loud, and I have slowly regained that joy in life that was beaten out of me by endo and 3 years of surgeries and countless years of pain.
    You can regain "self". It takes conscious effort to change, though. And maybe we'll never get back to the person we used to be - we've had too many experiences and revelations to completely return to our naivety - but that doesn't mean we're doomed forever to live lives we're not happy with!

    I actually have a lot more to say here, but I've got to run to a hair appt. You definitely gave me a lot to think about, so I might come back and comment more later :).

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  14. When I was a child I used to have nightmares. Terrorizing nightmares. I learned a trick to get out of them. Blink. Blink. Blink. And I would wake. You need to blink. You need to change something. You may not have joy, or a child, but you must survive this. Do not travel the path you are on if you can see that it is dark - that it is darkening you. Do not be lured by lies of worthlessness. He tries that on all of us. Turn back to the light, someway, somehow. Just find it. Fight for your life hon. St. Michael be with you. Danya

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  15. I've been thinking about your post all week, deciding what I wanted to say. Then, I read your comment on my blog (http://tryingagian.blogspot.com/2010/06/conversations-outside-my-door.html#comments), and that gave me even more to think about.

    First, I think you are being too hard on yourself. I thought that initially, but then reading the comment you left on my blog confirmed it. Dealing with infertility does change a person, and I think that's ok. I used to be optimistic - naive, even - and assumed that everything would go according to plan. Why wouldn't it?

    The comment you left on my blog made me think about the perspective that infertility has given me. It's made me work harder to be happy, instead of taking anything for granted, and it's made me more sympathetic to others. Some situations I cannot relate to (particularly if it's someone complaining about a baby or pregnancy), but I do feel like I am more aware of other people's feelings and am more affected by other people's difficult experiences. You alluded to it on my blog, and I think you're right.

    When one has an image of what life will be, realizing that it may not unfold as planned is difficult. I think it can make us question who we are, and who we want to be. The key, I think, is accepting it and finding a way to be happy regardless of the outcome.

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  16. wow, I just found your blog and all I can think is wow. I feel like your pain is tangible in this post, so heavy and thick that i can touch it, it weighs on me. and i understand it. i've seen this same thing happen where women dive into their careers by "defect" but i feel like you just let me into the mind of how that person sees herself. this makes me wonder what will happen to me, as i feel like i'm at that cross-roads point in my career/schooling of deciding what my future will contain (well, of the things I can control...).
    thank you for your honesty. and like others have said, it is not too late. i can only think that you've done such profound introspection for a reason.

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