Sometimes Facebook throws out gems of wisdom, and this week I saw one worth sharing:
It's meant to apply to this pandemic holiday, but oh man does it apply to infertility, too. LITERALLY ALL OF IT.
The missing normalcy.
The grieving heart.
Swap out "It's okay if you wish the holidays would be the same as they have been in the past" with "It's okay if you wish the holidays looked different from what they have in the past."
My favorite is,
You can cry for what you are missing, and at the same time give thanks for all you have.
It's a double whammy, I would imagine, for people fresh in the throes of the pain and loss of infertility, adoption, resolving differently than you'd hoped -- those losses AND the loss of the pandemic (and the pandemic amplifying the uncertainty of treatment, of finances, of stability, of the ability to pursue parenthood).
This sums up my feelings on loss. You can BOTH see the things that are missing, and be happy about what you have. One does not cancel out the other. I can be grateful and happy for my health, my marriage, my home, my job, my family, and my friends... and also feel the loss that the holidays usually bring because my immediate nuclear family is me, Bryce, and the cat. I can be grateful for that reality, and also mourn my 35 ghost embryos, two that got further than the rest but still didn't stay, and 8 of which became a double lost dream through embryo adoption. They didn't thaw, they didn't take, they were our loss and another couple's loss, and added some hefty guilt to the mix as well. I can mourn the adoptions where we weren't chosen, those moments where we thought we could become parents imminently but just weren't quite right for anyone to say, "I want THEM to parent my child."
I really dislike the culture that shoves gratitude down your throat. The "Well, at least you..." culture. It diminishes grief. It diminishes the fact that grief doesn't have an expiration date, that it is ever-evolving and cyclical and able to be triggered at any moment, no matter how happy and grateful and fortunate you are in other arenas.
When I commented on Mel's Thanksgiving post, I realized... It's been THREE AND A HALF YEARS since we made the decision to resolve childfree. It blew my mind. In some ways it feels like a lifetime away. In others it feels more fresh. In the comments you say what you'll bring to the virtual table, and you say where you are in life (usually infertility but doesn't have to be). It amazed me that I am in such a different place than holidays past -- that I feel truly resolved, that I can look at my house and see the life we have and not ghosts of the life that just never came to pass.
It doesn't mean that grief doesn't live there, inside my rebuilt life. It just has further to go to seep to the surface, unless something cuts deep enough to cause an immediate bleed.
It doesn't mean that while I will enjoy the (increasingly dwindling) cards that will be coming through the mail, that I won't also notice fertility friends' kids who are now nowhere near babies, signalling a passage of time and a widening gap between my life and theirs.
It doesn't mean that while I will decorate my house for Christmas and participate in traditions Bryce and I have cultivated over the years, that I won't also feel a twinge of sadness that we will have no one to pass these traditions on to. That much of our collected treasures will likely end up donated and enjoyed by people we don't know, we hope.
It helps a lot that we're not in the house where I had a room set aside for a nursery, where I had a room that WAS a shell of a nursery. It helps that I don't have to go down the steps and see the Christmas tree and stockings on the hearth that I imagined each year would NEXT YEAR be joined by a third stocking, presents for a baby, some year a child or children racing down the steps to see the magical transformation. Our house now has never had that dream living within it. It's harder to see what we lost quite so viscerally. And for that I am so very grateful.
This is a hard time for many people, harder now that we are in a pandemic, people are grappling with family loss and financial hardship and isolation and health worries, on top of other issues that complicate the holidays.
Give yourself grace. Give yourself (and others) the right to both enjoy the happiness and gratitude of the holidays AND feel those losses. To not slap a smile on all the time or always answer with "I'm good! Great! Okay!" all the time. To be honest about where we are in these unprecedented pandemic holidays. It was hard enough before, to feel the pressures of so much joy and togetherness when inside you might at times feel sad and alone.
I hope you have space for the grace, for the love you can give yourself and others who need to remember that it's a balance, that you can be both happy and sad, both grateful and feeling that something/one is missing. Being able to sit in both of those feelings is what makes us beautifully human.