My sister’s friend lost her father two weeks after I lost my fourth pregnancy. He developed a relatively rare cancer, and though he fought valiantly, died much too young. I felt so sorry for her. I am close to my father, as was she, so I could easily imagine her heartbreak. I also felt like she was more entitled to grief than I was. Afterall, she was grieving 30-some years of memories of her father. She lost a fully actualized person. I hadn’t lost a person – no person existed. I didn’t feel like I should hurt.
I have often blamed my company or society for urging me out of my sadness too quickly, and maybe that’s true, but I also wanted to move on and put it behind me. It hurt. Mentally. Physically. Grief is uncomfortable. I didn’t necessarily want to forget what happened, but I wanted to prune the pain from the tree of my psyche as quickly as possible.
One of the mechanisms I used to try to motivate myself out of pain was self-talk. But instead of being compassionate, my inner voice tended towards judgement and tough love. I would remind myself of all loss in the world; people who have lost their homes because of war, people who have been disabled by injury, people who are dealing with terminal illnesses, people who have lost parents or spouses, people who have lost children. Thus, instead of feeling better, I would end up feeling like these people deserved grief more than I did. Since my pregnancies lasted only a few weeks, the magnitude of my sadness did not feel commensurate to the length of my experience. I felt melodramatic and ashamed of my grief. It made me wonder if I was weak or out of touch.
What I was really grieving, what I still am grieving, is the loss of a future I had envisioned. Yet in this way, my grief was similar to that of my sister’s friend. I had no memories to mourn, but we were both robbed of futures we wanted. She lost future holidays with her father and the ability to have him walk her down the aisle at her wedding. I lost the ability to hold the children I never met, the family vacations I imagined, the possibility of them. In different ways, we were both grieving the absence of something in our future, something we cared about and wanted.
I am not saying that the loss of a pregnancy is the same as the loss of a parent, or a partner, or a child. Or the loss of one’s own health due to sickness or injury. Or the loss of one’s home due to war or economy. But the themes of grief are common regardless of circumstance:
Outrage that something you cared about has been taken from you unjustly.
Anger that the future will no longer look the way you want it to.
Anguish about the loss itself.
Hurt from the trauma that may have been endured physically or mentally.
Remorse over feelings that you could have done something sooner or better that may have resulted in a different outcome.
It’s really hard to not have your life work out the way you want it to. It’s really hard to know that no matter how hard you try there are things you simply cannot control. These feelings are hard for everyone, they just manifest themselves through different circumstances in our lives. Trying to comfort me after my losses, people would remind me of all the great things I had going in my life. I did. I still do. But gratefulness and grief are not mutually exclusive.
Beneath the umbrella of infertility and pregnancy loss there is comparative judgement of pain. Women who experience secondary infertility are told to be grateful for the children they have when they try and fail to grow their family. I was told to be grateful for my ability to get pregnant when other women couldn’t. When I had one loss, I was told stories of women who’d had multiple losses. When I spoke of early losses, I was told about women who’d had later losses or stillbirths. The message in all these situations is the same “be grateful for what you have, someone hurts worse than you.”
But we don’t have to act this way. We don’t need to determine who hurts the worst before determining how much kindness they’re due. Placing someone’s loss in relative perspective of other losses does not remove their grief. Instead, we can empathize with the experience of grief, which we all have felt or will feel at some point. In this common theme, we can find the compassion for others and for ourselves.