Monday, March 27, 2017

In Grief: Coping with Childlessness

Oh, my friend, it's not what they take away from you that counts. It's what you do with what you have left.  ~ Hubert Humphrey

A reader writes: I just wanted to say Thank You for your site -- it's been a real help to me today, as I try and start to get my head around our childlessness. It's a strange grief as it's a loss that only I see -- to the rest of the world it's life as usual! I found your pieces on the process of grief really useful -- and the quotes and pieces of inspiration. I really needed some practical tips on coping with the mood swings - I found all the information on the grief work really helpful, and I realize that I need to leave more time and be kinder on myself. Over the past few weeks I've suddenly had a real desire to get a dog -- a pet I've never had before. Your pieces on companion animals have made me realize that this might not be such a daft idea after all.
Thanks again.

My response: Thank you so much, my dear, for your kind words about my Grief Healing website; I appreciate your feedback and I truly do hope that what you found there is helpful to you.

You don't say the cause of your childlessness, but if it is infertility, I hope that you will take advantage of all the support that is available for that particular situation. (See, for example, the International Council on Infertility Dissemination.)

There is a special place in my heart for those who struggle with infertility, as my own son and daughter-in-law wrestled with it for over 14 years. They even went through the stress and expense of three in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedures, each time unsuccessfully, and each failure was no different from any other death in our family. It was an agonizing time for all of us.

As you say, childlessness "is a strange grief as it's a loss that only I see," as if you haven't experienced a "real" loss and don’t have a legitimate “right” to grieve. It is the very definition of a disenfranchised grief.

The loss of a dream is yet another kind of death, and your loss is just as real as anyone else’s. Once again I am reminded of the beautiful passage by author Robert Fulghum that I have posted on my site's Comfort for Grieving Hearts page:
When we’ve changed our religious views or political convictions,
a part of our past dies.
When love ends,
be it the first mad romance of adolescence,
the love that will not sustain a marriage,
or the love of a failed friendship,
it is the same.
A death.
Likewise in the event of a miscarriage
or an abortion:
a possibility is dead.
And there is no public or even private funeral.
Sometimes only regret and nostalgia mark the passage.
And the last rites are held
in the solitude of one’s most secret self —
a service of mourning
in the tabernacle of the soul
~ Robert Fulghum, in From Beginning to End: The Rituals of Our Lives
You say that over the past few weeks you've suddenly had a real desire to get a dog. I can tell you that I have worked with many childless couples who've brought companion animals into their lives, as a way to shower all the love they have to give onto someone else in need of their commitment and caring. I think it's a wonderful way to fulfill your need to nurture and care for another living being, and the unconditional love you'll get in return is priceless.

Below I've gathered for you a list of resources that I hope will be useful to you. Please know that I am thinking of you and your husband and wishing you all the best.

Your feedback is welcome! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question, or share a tip, a related article or a resource of your own in the Comments section below.
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