I really didn’t give enough credit to the grief I would feel after I finally had to accept I wasn’t going to have children. I glossed over it. I think both my husband and I put it in a box marked “Done Deal” and separately agreed with ourselves we were not going to give it any further thought. There was no point.
But it doesn’t work like that. Boxes burst open. Lids catapult off at inappropriate moments. And randomly crying in public, when you suddenly feel a pang of pain that you can’t give a name to, really is not the most fun to be having.
Turning 40 was a really big deal for me. I know lots of people find turning 40 hard, for a vast array of reasons. For me it was a line in the sand. The year I would finally have to accept that the decade of trying for babies was over. This was now the decade I was going to have to learn to live without them. That was really bloody tough to swallow. My birthday is in May. But January was soon enough for me to know I was once again succumbing to depression. The random crying in public was ramping up (always a sure sign for me). I was feeling the pressure build within me. The pressure that makes it hard to sit still, to pay attention to anything people are saying to you, to sleep, to not burst into flames.
I didn’t celebrate my 40th birthday. I went to my doctor. I try and avoid doing this until I know for sure I am not going to be able to cope if I don’t. That feeling I get when my mind is cracking and this time, if I don’t get some help, if somebody can’t please calm things down, that fissure will cause a quake that I am not going to be able to come back from. This was the second time I was given anti-depression medication, and as it turns out the last time – for now. I would never be blasé enough to say never again. None of us knows what life has in store for us, or how the blows will impact us when they come.
What I will say though is, on this occasion, my doctor also referred me to a counsellor and I am currently receiving that counselling, which is proving extremely beneficial and I think making me much more resilient for the future. I plan to talk about my experience of this therapy in another post. In this post however I wanted to share something useful that I was signposted to by a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist (CBT) who I saw first (again, I will discuss the revelatory experience of undergoing CBT in a later post). For now let’s just say, it is very clever, powerful magic.
I didn’t have counselling as part of my IVF treatment years before. We were told it was available to us, but neither my husband nor I really wanted to talk about the horrible set of circumstances we found ourselves in any more than we had to. It was excruciating enough to have to discuss it with the people we loved. I did seek some counselling some time later, when it became apparent that my emotional seams were splitting and I needed help from somewhere. The counsellor I was referred to, frankly, should not be allowed near people. I saw her once. I went home in a sorry mess. She truly was a very, very bad counsellor. I can now say this with the benefit of knowing what a good counsellor looks and feels like. This woman was a danger to the public, and I really should have let my husband write the letter of apoplectic rage he wanted to on hearing what this woman had said to me.
Anyhoo, I digress. As a result of this dreadful counselling experience, I had never really discussed with a professional the aftermath of IVF, and the impact that not having the children we had tried so hard for was having on my mental health. I didn’t appreciate that what I was experiencing was actually a bereavement. My therapist thankfully did. I think the bursting into a big puddly mess whenever I tried to talk about it may have been a clue. She suggested I might find it helpful to take a look at some of the online resources for ‘Childless women’ – Not her phrase I have to say, but one that is bandied about a lot within ‘The Community’. Lots of people have a real problem with this phrase. My best friend absolutely hates it. I have no problem with it myself, I just find it factual.
My therapist pointed me toward a website called Gateway Women.
It took me a few weeks to pluck up the courage to look at this website. Doing so felt like a very, very tall wall – one I wasn’t sure I was ready to climb. I have to say I was really blinking proud of myself once I did. And yes it was, of course, a teary process, but an entirely necessary one.
From this website I found others, many others. If these are websites you think might be useful to you, I would encourage you to shop around. I subscribed to very many of them at first, as I wanted to know everything there was to know about the subject (part of the ‘Perfectionism Trait’ we actually dealt with during my CBT – a whole other story). But you will find the styles of writing and support that suit you. I have stuck with two that I discovered for myself, and I still subscribe to them now, even though the pangs are thankfully much rarer, as is the random crying in public (though I still have my moments – writing this post for example).
The websites that I found most useful were the following:
Lesley’s website is actually my favourite. Lesley has a really human, straightforward, non-gimmicky way of sharing her own story and that of others that really attracted me. Just normal people experiencing abnormal pain and being brave enough to talk about it. The inspirational stories section of this website is fantastic and when I found it, I immediately felt less lonely in my grief. I actually wrote one of these stories myself. It was the first piece of writing I ever did that I shared with the outside world. That was a huge step for me. Writing isn’t for everyone, but I can tell you I found it incredibly therapeutic. It doesn’t matter if you think you are a good writer or not. In fact that is completely unimportant. Sometimes it is just the saying it out loud that is an incredibly powerful healing force.
The second website that I particularly liked is:
Lisa Manterfield has some fantastic resources on this site. I purchased one of her workbooks (Life Without Baby Workbook 1: Letting Go Of The Dream Of Motherhood) and it gave me such relief to finally have found the words which explained what I had been experiencing – bereavement for a tiny little person, my very own tiny little person, whose hand I would never get to hold, whose laughter I would never hear, who I would never get to watch sleeping – a loss that nobody who has children can possibly understand, hard as they may try. When I first read this workbook and thought “Bloody yes! That’s it! Exactly!” I actually wanted all my close friends and family to read it, just so they would get it. I didn’t do that in the end, but it still could happen.
If you have experienced any of the feelings I have described, my heart is with you. It is truly bloody awful. I know it. There is a chance that nobody around you quite understands how you are feeling, and we all experience these things differently. But I can tell you from my own experience, finding other people who have suffered similar grief is a good place to start. You don’t have to go through this alone, in fact I would encourage you not to. ‘Misery loves company’ as they say. I would suggest misery needs company. Going through this really tough life stuff is quite hard enough, I hope you don’t have to do it alone.
Finally I will leave you with a link to a little video I came across the other day. It is called ‘Tracey’s Coming Out Party’ and was developed for National Infertility Awareness Week.
This video made me both laugh and cry (yes, in public, again). If you are also susceptible to getting teary about these subjects, you might want to be in the comfort of your own home when you access these resources. I never, however, listen to my own advice apparently.
In my next post, I hope to convey some of the significant upsides to not having children in my life, and in fact, the upsides of having suffered from depression. Yes, depression has its own gifts to give. Who knew?!
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