Finding Compassion During Pain at Father's Day
This Sunday, we celebrate fathers. Our own, first.
The cynical among us would say that retailers and card designers celebrate Father's Day and the rest of us just go along for the ride. My own cynicism is a very light layer on top of a hard core of vulnerability and passion. Father's Day chips away easily at the cynicism and my heart is revealed.
My father died 23 years ago. Certain holidays have been hard, emotionally, ever since.
Father's Day is one of those holidays. No great surprise there.
I miss my father on Father’s Day. I miss being able to celebrate our loving and very flawed relationship. Without him, the day feels empty.
Infertility Grief at Father's Day
My husband is not my father. Yet, while we struggled with infertility, I grieved for him. Outwardly, I grieved for both of us. My husband was and still is, in many ways, a stoic man. Yet, like me, his stoicism is a light cover for a tender and loving heart.
He is in many ways, more compassionate, more forgiving, and more loving than I am. I’m flashier about it all. Louder about it.
He just is.
And his layer on top is easily peeled aside.
Father’s Day hurt him. His wounds, from infertility, were not invisible, nor even hard to see, only hard for me to see past my own pain.
He wondered if he would ever get to enjoy a Father’s Day with a baby in his arms that allowed him to join the Daddy club. He wondered whether he would ever eat breakfast prepared lovingly just for him. Whether he’d ever wear a tie, not one he’d normally wear, picked out especially for him.
When it was safe enough, he wondered about these things out loud. What I couldn’t give to my own father, I gave to my husband. I made it safe enough for him to speak about his own pain by putting my own aside. It wasn’t easy. But giving a true gift isn’t always easy; it’s about finding something from within to offer to someone else. I felt a lot of pain on Father’s Day; I missed my own father and my husband not being a father. I found a way to breathe into that pain and recognize my husband’s need to express himself. I made it safe.
That was my Father’s Day gift to my husband.
Lisa Rosenthal's Google+
Pregnancy Loss and Facing Grief
A friend shared this poem with me recently. She just suffered pregnancy loss, the loss of a much wanted, much longed for pregnancy. Her heart is broken and still she chooses to share her hope and dreams for next time. She showed up and let all of us know of her determination to have her baby, her family.
This poem, she dedicated to her husband, who stands with her, hand in hand, and who she knows is grieving as well.
It meant a lot to me that she shared it with me. I went to the website on which it was published and asked and recieved permission to reprint it. Their website's name is "Pregnancy Loss Australia" and you can click here to connect to them.
Written by Eileen Knight Hagemeister
to her son-in-law after his baby girl was born still
It must be very difficult
To be a man in grief,
Since "men don't cry" and "men are strong"
No tears can bring relief.
It must be very difficult
To stand up to the test
And field calls and visitors
So she can get some rest.
They always ask if she's all right
And what she's going through
But seldom take his hand and ask,
"My friend, but how are you?"
He hears her crying in the night
And thinks his heart will break
And dries her tears and comforts her
But "stays strong" for her sake.
It must be very difficult
To start each day anew
And try to be so very brave ~
He lost his baby too. . .
Thank you to my friend who shared, to Eileen Knight Hagemeister who wrote this beautiful poem and to Pregnancy Loss Australia who is doing such compassionate work.
You are not alone is a phrase I have used over and over again on this blog in the last three years.
I listened to President Obama say that to a group of Newtown families, community and religious leaders last night.
He was speaking in a high school auditorium about twelve minutes from my home. A national tragedy that was also a very, very local tragedy for me.
I have no words. It is not possible to make sense out of something that in my deepest despair, wildest grief or most intense anger, I could not and would not ever conceive of doing.
Some things are beyond understanding.
I've been resisting impulses to do something.
To just sit with the pain.
Some words that I read from a dear friend, David Forman, yesterday:
"Thinking about why I was pained yesterday by how many of us felt the need to stand on a soap box and yell about gun control . . . The inability to sit with sadness, the recourse to anger and the insistence on quick solution to make it go away-- I feel those impulses too, of course, and said something along those lines in the first hour after the news broke. But, ultimately, I feel that this desire to instantly reassert control over what we cannot understand is part of the problem. If the goal is to remake our society so that children's lives are valued, so that those suffering from mental illness get help, so that guns are removed from the central place they have in our culture, we need to keep our hearts open to the suffering of the parents. We need to let this change us."
Thanks David. Your words help me remember that I am not alone. You are not alone. None of us are alone.
Even when we feel like we are.
I'm going to leave you with some more images I've collected over the years. Sometimes it just helps to look at something beautiful.
Yesterday was September 11, 2011.
Ten years after the attacks of September 11, 2001.
A heavy anniversary. No possibility of a celebration. An anniversary, where the entire country mourned.
There were many different ways that mourning took place, from memorial services to volunteers donating their time to help others. There were many different twists to how people felt about the horrors of ten years ago.
For me, first and foremost, it's about the people who lost their lives that day. I don't want to get into a political morass here folks, so it's not going to be about whether they lost their lives or had them stolen from them, or any other version.
For me, it's not about the politics. First and foremost, it's about the people who died. The people who died because they were there, the people who died because they came to help those who were there. It's about them.
It's about the families and friends that were left behind. Without fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, children, aunts & uncles, friends, lovers. And yes, it's about all the injustices that have been done in the years since to keep America safe and secure or yes, even in the name of justice. Not getting into the politics of this. Go somewhere else for that.
Anyone out there disagreeing that a tragedy of tremendous magnitude took place ten years ago? Even if you disagree with that, then chances are you believe that there were tragedies that led to the deaths and violence that occurred ten years ago.
There was horror, deaths and violence ten years ago. There's been grief, recovery and more grief ever since. It's a day that marked this country and will have it's place for the rest of time. And now it's ten years later and there is still so much grief, blame, horror and death.
How does one heal, individually from a loss? How does a country heal, collectively from such a loss?
How have we helped one another and how have we made it worse?
That's the question for me the day after.
How do we make it better?
Reproductive Medicine Associates of Connecticut has two wonderful mental health professionals that work with our infertility practice. Lisa Tuttle PhD works with our patients in the Norwalk office and Jane Elisofon MSW sees patients in our Danbury office.
Jane was gracious and compassionate enough to tackle a very emotionally laden topic today. She offers her own brand of understanding and non-judgemental advice as well as letting you know that the feelings that you may be experiencing are normal. Enough from me, read what she has to say:
Perhaps you had an abortion as long ago as one or two decades prior to beginning infertility treatment. Like most women with that experience, you may feel that if you had to make that decision all over again you would do it the same way, for the same reasons. Maybe you even wanted to have that child but circumstances in your life made that an unrealistic possibility. You were brave and you moved on with your life. It may seem difficult to believe that something in your distant past could affect you now, but it can and it will. Abortion is an enormous loss in one’s life, no matter what the circumstances were. Losses need to be mourned. The mourning process encompasses experiencing a myriad of intense feelings. Sadness, guilt, disappointment, anger, decreased feelings of self worth are some of the more common feelings aroused in this painful process.
Usually our losses are ones that we share with those close to us. We are surrounded by people who know what we are going through. With women who have just had an abortion, however, this information is often not shared or shared with very few people. Therefore, there are few opportunities to mourn and sort out all the feelings that might surface. Many women have not even begun to grieve for the child given up through an abortion—even one or two decades later. Other women begin grieving but become stuck somewhere in the process, with no opportunity to feel free to talk it out.
Loss and mourning are inherent in many phases of the infertility process. Anyone going through infertility treatments knows the visceral feelings that one has when they receive a negative pregnancy test or a negative result of any kind during the process. We know that these highs of anticipation and lows of disappointment make one feel as if on an emotional ‘rollercoaster.’ The dream of having one’s own child is a longing unlike most wishes and needs in our life. Therefore when you receive negative news about an attempted conception or negative possibilities from a doctor, you feel more than disappointment. You feel “loss.” Many people can understand your feelings of loss when you have conceived and lost a pregnancy. However, it is more difficult to understand the legitimate feelings of loss when an IUI or IVF cycle is unsuccessful. After all, what has been lost? Plenty! For many women, the loss of an embryo at any stage is the loss of a child. But even if you do not consider this early embryo in this way, you have temporarily lost the dream of the cycle working and becoming pregnant with your child. At these times of grieving, you need to have support and understanding of those around you, so that you can sort out all the feelings you have in relation to these losses. Being able to mourn gives you the emotional strength to continue the infertility journey until you are successful in having your family. If you need to terminate the infertility treatments, regardless of the reason, it is important to mourn the losses left behind before embarking on other paths to having a family.
When we are faced with all the emotions we may be experiencing about a loss during the infertility process, there is an eruption of feelings from prior losses in our life. Even if those prior losses have been mourned, the intensity of that upsurge of affect can be difficult but manageable with support. However, when a woman has not had the opportunity to mourn an enormous previous loss, infertility issues and treatment can cause the suppressed feelings to return with a vengeance.
Many women feel guilty and think that maybe they are now being punished. Guilt is an emotion that is part of any normal mourning process but it becomes more intense and complicated when it is in response to having decided to terminate a pregnancy. Sometimes the guilt is related to strong religious belief and can leave one feeling that they do not deserve to have their desire or prayers for a child now to be answered. Too often women are unable to forgive themselves. I have heard many women blame themselves for waiting too long to try to conceive, even though it is clear to them and to me that the reasons they waited to start a family were mature and realistic. Some women feel guilty because they feel responsible about their husbands being on the emotional roller coaster with them.
Many women speak of the irony of having trouble conceiving when they easily conceived a child that they were not ready to have. Some women have spoken of wanting that baby but knowing that they did not have the support system necessary to raise the child. Thus the feelings of loss are endless and resurface with each new loss. One woman spoke of feeling that “someone was missing” in her family. She was pained at the idea of maybe not having a second child. A realization hit her: that she was not sure if she wanted a second child because that was her idea of a family, or whether ‘the empty place’ in her life was because of the lost child. That insight caused her to question whether a second child would fill that empty space. In her counseling sessions she mourned the lost child and discovered much about herself. In the end, she decided that she did want a second child for her family and that the ‘missing person’ was put to rest. This was quite important for this woman. Why? Because if she had not mourned the lost pregnancy, she would have found that having a second child would not have filled that ‘empty place,’ and that recognition could interfere in her relationship with this child. Now she is pregnant and thrilled. In addition, she expressed finding a peace within herself and in her relationships with others.
The traumatic experience of an abortion can surface in other ways. The medical procedures and appointments can stimulate memories of the medical experience of the abortion. Thus the infertility process takes on traumatic memories and can feel unbearable. I know a woman who is questioning continuing her treatments, even though her doctor feels positive about her prospects. Although encouraged to talk about her abortion experience, she fears being re-traumatized just in the ‘talking about it.’
If this blog article is speaking to you, you need to know that you are not alone. There are many women who share your past and present. There are many professionals: nurses, doctors, counselors, and other professionals involved in your care, who would understand and support you, without judgment. I strongly believe that when painful and difficult crises come into our lives, we need to try to take advantage of any opportunities for growth that the situation may present to us. For example, this infertility journey may strengthen your marital relationship or it may validate the strength you have as an individual. For some patients, this difficult journey, which no one would ask for, can present an opportunity to heal from a prior painful event, like an abortion.
Jane Elisofon MSW
Reproductive Medicine Associates of Connecticut