Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Comparing scars

A few weeks ago, I was privileged to attend an open meeting of Shine Chicago, a support group for people touched by infertility. Shine hosted a fascinating guest speaker, Sara Connell, who shared her insights, her empathy, and an abbreviated version of her amazing story. (I rushed out the next day and got my hands on her book, Bringing in Finn, which I have been eagerly reading every night). While Sara’s talk was the highlight of the evening, I was equally moved when the conversation turned and many of the women there shared their stories and struggles.

Moved and humbled, I should say. The honesty and vulnerability these women showed was so courageous. They talked about horrors I couldn’t imagine, like late-term losses, and shared experiences and hurts, like watching their partners suffer in silence or being told that something they were doing or were not doing was causing their infertility. I found myself nodding my head most of the evening and holding back tears more than once. I also experienced a familiar sensation of self-consciousness.

It happens to me, in situations like this, that I judge the severity of my struggle and my losses to those around me. And I wonder, still, if I belong in this group of warriors because my battle is over for now. I have a baby. We had success on our first round of IVF. I had two miscarriages – but one of them was “only” at 4 weeks. Does that really count? I simply don’t know the wrenching pain of losing a baby at 22 – or 32 – weeks. And yet I went through so much pain and darkness. Is it valid? I don’t know the hopelessness of a bleak diagnosis. I’ve never gone through the physical and emotional rigors of an IVF cycle to be faced with a negative pregnancy test. The prospect of any of it breaks my heart in a way that makes me think I couldn’t handle it.

Maybe this is our culture or maybe it is even specific to our socialization as women. We tend to validate others while judging ourselves harshly. I think that recognizing grief and loss and suffering – without quantifying it – is hard, but necessary. I have to believe that, rather than a group to which I question my belonging, the infertility community is a team that needs me. I’m a survivor. I’m a success story. My team needs that. My teammates need to hear that it can and does happen. Hope is the most important part of this journey.

Sara’s book, Bringing in Finn, has inspired and ignited me because it blends both honesty and hope. Sara respects her reader and doesn’t hold anything back. She gives the tragic details of how she lost her twin boys at 22 weeks. She recounts the experience of witnessing their cremation and the agony of her days and nights that follow. And then she stunned me by writing, “My rational self reminded me that people had suffered worse losses.” When I read this, I literally said out loud, “Who?!” Through my tears, I could not imagine a worse loss nor could I understand Sara’s need to qualify her emotions with that acknowledgement. It hit me then that we are all doing it. We are all wondering if our suffering is enough.

This isn’t to say that all losses are the same, of course. But loss is loss. Grief is grief, fear is fear, pain is pain. It has happened to all of us, and it’s worth respecting. So, let’s stand together as sisters, bonded not because our struggles are the same, but our goals are. We are mothers and will-be mothers. We are a community, and we need each other to carry that torch of hope.
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