Grief was an academic concept to me before I started to try for a family. I had understood it to be this far off notion that would happen when I’m old. I never knew it would hit me in different ways and through multiple angles.
I’ve experienced the typical ‘older person dies’ version of grief, but the first true hit was when we couldn’t get pregnant. When my husband and I started dating we knew this love was the good stuff. We got married and started trying right away. It was fun at first… and then it wasn’t. It became clear that the pathway to parenthood would not be as easy for us. I had to learn how to grieve that. I had to grieve the life I had imagined for myself.
Failing at building a family was a type of grief I never knew about. At least not at this level. It brought up a lot of shame and envy, and I was taught that these were bad things, which only made it harder. You have this dream that has been building since you were a child and no part of that was IVF, surrogacy, autoimmune diseases or low sperm count. Wrapping my head around this made it difficult to process and I became a mess. I lost friendships, drank a lot, cried at every possible situation, and became envious of all my friends that could get pregnant. It was a dark and lonely time.
We finally conjured up the courage to seek help. We found out that we were dealing with a low sperm count and were great candidates for IVF. This would be it!
Our first round of IVF resulted with a miscarriage. This grief creeped up on me and didn’t show its face for a few weeks. I remember crying to my boss about it and thinking, “This isn’t who I am.” But grief does that to you. It changes you and you become an entirely different person.
On our second round of IVF I carried our daughter for 31 weeks. I developed a rare pregnancy liver disease that resulted in losing her. There is no way to be prepared for this type of grief.
This is not the order in which things work. Children are supposed to bury their parents, not the other way around. I remember lying in the hospital bed after finding out our little one had died and thinking, “We need help with this.” I Googled local grief therapists and booked an appointment before I ever delivered our stillborn, Clementine. I knew this wasn’t meant to be done alone and wanted resources.
Something that did really help was that we opened our home to everyone. So many showed up on our doorstep. I know that talking about things helps me process, so that’s what I did. Every person that came through the door was told the truth of how we were feeling and what this meant for our life. It was therapeutic for me. There was something so humanizing about it all. People came, we sat together and shared dark parts all without judgment and full of love. Tears were shed and hugs were felt. This created space to heal.
Triggers started to pop up everywhere. I had triggers prior to trying to conceive for 6 years, but these were deeper. Obvious ones were easy to identify: birthing scenes in movies, pregnant women, newborns… but the grocery store became one of the heaviest. We live a block away from one and would frequent it often. The staff knew me by name and would comment as my belly grew. I had always envisioned taking our baby there. When we lost our daughter it took me the longest time to go back. I was afraid people would ask about the baby, but the hardest part was actually just being there without her. No one actually asked, but I still cried. I still often cry there. I will picture what my life could have been like with our daughter and burst into tears. I would have never imagined a grocery store being the most triggering place for me.
We can’t judge how we deal with grief ourselves, and the same goes for others. I needed to cry on the couch surrounded by my people, while my husband painted the house. I remember I asked him to come in and sit with me for a bit. I felt like he wasn’t responding in the way I thought was “correct.” He told me that painting and doing something to make our home better was his way of grieving. We all have our own way and as long as it isn’t hurting ourselves or others… then we must do what feels best.
If you’re going through grief, know that you’re not alone. It sucks and is awful, but we’re in this together. Trying to conceive can create isolating feelings but we are strong and have community. We are not alone.