what now? life on “the other side”

You may have noticed that since moving to this new space, we have modified the PAIL acronym. “After” just didn’t quite feel right. And drawing on the many, many comments around the blogosphere these past few months, it didn’t quite feel right to many of you either. We settled on “through” as it felt a little more fluid. The ebb and flow of healing, of moving onward, however we may get there.

In the past few weeks, I have read a few powerful posts on the topic of healing. Each one began to stir the silt I had been letting settle but had not really begun to filter. The silt that makes my half-full/half-empty glass murky. The silt that IF and loss has eroded into my glass. A comment on one such post lead me to search for this article at Salon.com:

Now what? Life after cancer treatment by Mary Elizabeth Williams

I read it. And I wept. Not only because I had been reliving a lot of “old” feelings I have about losing a piece of my heart to cancer, but also because I think about losing a piece of my heart to infertility and loss all the time.

There are three passages in this piece that I have been revisiting, over and over:

And now, having endured surgeries and side effects and weekly monitoring, I can, with my last regular treatment mere weeks away, begin preparing for the rest of my life. Yet when my friends ask what we’re doing to celebrate, when they high-five me and ask, hopefully, “So now it’s over, right?” I don’t know what to tell them. I don’t know how to explain why I don’t feel yet like partying.

*****
But now, like many who’ve been in this very fortunate position, I find myself approaching this milestone date with both indescribable relief and gratitude — and a fair amount of other, surprising emotions as well.
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That’s why it’s bittersweet to move on to the next part. “I think there’s a huge rush of the tide to get you back as though nothing happened. To reassemble the picture that you had before,” says Anne. “People think that must be what you want, you must want to forget this. The big mistake is that it’s forgettable. Or that there’s an end to it. There’s no end to it.”

Obviously, these quotations are taken out of context here. They are not about infertility – they are about cancer. Which is not to say that I am equating the journey through cancer with infertility. I am intimately aware of the difference.  As I read this article though, I couldn’t help but think about how easily these feelings can be transposed onto the ALI journey. I have seen these feelings echoed in too many posts to link to over the past few months.

I wrote this post over and over again. I would get so overwhelmed and have to leave it for a while. Williams’ article  somehow articulated everything that has been swirling around in my head. The particles of silt in my glass that I simply cannot catch one at a time. I have tried to leave my emotions out of this post – to simply write an open-ended piece asking for your feedback on what the path to healing might look like, might feel like to each of us. The truth is, I can’t take myself out of it because I am still in the middle of it. I am unsure of where to go from here. But I do I know that I am not there yet. It’s that last quotation that really gets to me. And the complexity of emotions that surrounds that realization weighs heavily on me. How do I get there?

What now?

*****

What does the “after” feel like to you? Is it bittersweet, or are you at peace?

Do you still experience negative emotions surrounding your ALI journey? Did you expect this?

Williams discusses feeling like a veteran versus a survivor. What is your take on this, as it relates to the ALI journey? Do you think of yourself in some other way?

How can we help each other get “there”? What will healing look like?

*****

**If you have a post on this topic you would like to share with others, please share it with us in the comments.**

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Comments

  1. Hey there ladies,
    It is great Pail has a new home 🙂 and I’m looking forward to participating in the community.
    Just a quick note that although many of us have travelled an IF journey, there are those that haven’t, but have a loss journey (and some have both). Something to keep in mind when posing questions to the community 🙂

    Doing a great job ladies!

    • Thank you, and we look forward to everything to come as well!

      Despite my personal journey (which admittedly colours my perspective), I tried to thoughtfully craft the questions above to be open to thoughts from all kinds of ALI journeys. Of course, not all questions can or will apply to everyone, but I do thank you for the reminder. I would be interested in your thoughts on this post’s topic if you would feel comfortable sharing them with us here. And of course, feel free to ask your own discussion questions on this topic as well. 🙂

  2. Julie Anita says:

    Beautifully written post, Sarah– I appreciate your bravery in sharing it with us 🙂

    I’m going to have to respond to this one with a post myself– so much to say about it.

  3. Love the new site. Even though I am just a reader and not a blogger, I find it to be such a great resource.

    Being on the other side after 2 losses, I feel both at peace and bittersweet. I look at my baby and feel at peace with my journey because without out it, he wouldn’t be here. All the cliches apply…”what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” and “it was meant to be”- he was the baby we were meant to have. But my journey still affects me everyday. It is with me when I check on him numerous times while he sleeps because The Fear that he could taken away any moment has never gone away. The Fear is with me anytime the conversation of adding to our family comes up. I may be at peace with what I went through, but that doesn’t mean I am not petrified of every going through it again.

    The quote “People think that must be what you want, you must want to forget this” really resonated with me. When people who know what we went through ask when are we having another, I want to scream, but instead I say, “We are good with one for now”. I definitely feel like a veteran vs. a survivor.

    Fear is the worst negative emotion for me, but also to be honest, I find myself a little bitter that it seems everyone else I know stays pregnant so easily, tells everyone before the pee has dried on the stick and furnishes the nursery in the first trimester. This journey means I have more fear for them than they have themselves. And I feel badly about feeling this way.

    Talking about it helps the healing process. Thanks for this post.

    • Thank you for your comment, A. I am so glad to see readers of all kinds!

      I can related to wanting to scream when the “next one” comments come from people who *know* better. Sometimes, it feels like we should forget too, but they don’t live with our hearts and memories. Also, The Fear, with capitals. This really struck me, as for me, it is The Anger, but I didn’t quite know what to call it. I hope this helps me stare it down a little more – so thank you for sharing this. Looking forward to seeing you more in the future. 🙂

    • Julie Anita says:

      Oh man, I still have so much fear about my girls vanishing one day like they were never here, and I’ve never had a loss… it’s just infertility paranoia. I couldn’t believe I was pregnant, I *didn’t* believe I was pregnant, I couldn’t believe I had babies, I couldn’t believe we brought them home, and I can’t believe they’re still here and getting bigger and will one day be grown-up people. And that’s a weird feeling to line up next to “I don’t remember what my life was like before they were born.”

  4. I have written a post about my feelings on going to the other side. It is a little rambled. If I knew how to do one of those fancy pingback things I would but baby steps 😉

    http://lifeafterinfertility.wordpress.com/2012/06/05/what-now-life-on-the-other-side/

    • Julie Anita says:

      Commented! 🙂 thanks for weighing in– I love how all these posts are touching on different facets of this topic. It’s giving me a lot to think about. ❤

  5. I am so happy that my post and comments on my post spurred this discussion. It’s so helpful I think for all of us to step back and look at this journey in this way – from 10,000 feet so to speak. So much of my time lately on my blog I feel was spent defending myself, defending the fact that I am still scarred from this journey, so it is helpful for me (and I’m sure others) to have this post and comments respecting that life post-IF with baby can still be a challenge.

    I like both terms used. I like survivor, because I feel it states that I survived something truly challenging. I did – I had survived a hell of a hard year of testing, treatments, and loss. But I think I love the term veteran more, as it states I’ve been through hell, and come out the other side changed, and come home with some serious emotional baggage and PTSD to deal with. I also think of returning to the trenches (returning to active duty?) when I go back to ttc #2. new war. New scars.

    I’m at peace today, at this moment. But I’m well aware of the battle scars that lie beneath the surface. My skin is thicker these days, the scars have healed, but just beneath the surface lies all of those old IF wounds that can suddenly be aggravated again by situation or an oops-baby-pregnancy announcement.

    Thank you all for creating this space!

    • cysterworld says:

      What stood out for me here is when you said “So much of my time lately on my blog I feel was spent defending myself, defending the fact that I am still scarred from this journey”

      I’ve had my little of share of being pushed to a point where the validity of my IF battle was questioned because I was now a mother. It really bugs me that there’s this line drawn in the sand that says – if you have a kid – your IF battle wasn’t as bad as someone who hasn’t become a mother yet. We really do bear scars from everything we’ve dealt with – and perhaps the expectation that we should be “over it” now that we’re parents – makes it that much harder to deal with.

      • This is what I am having the most difficulty with as well – the simultaneous insinuation that my IF isn’t ‘as bad’ because I finally had a successful pregnancy and/or that I was never *really* infertile in the first place. Although for me, this is felt directly and acutely IRL, but I do witness it in some blog comments. After a major injury of any kind, stitching up the wound and having it heal over it only one small part of the recovery process. Much like what Williams discusses in her article – the physical healing is only one part. It is unrealistic and unreasonable to assume that the healing is complete when you bring a child home. To just “get over it.”

        • It comes back to the whole concept of the pain Olympics – when people compare pain. It doesn’t matter what form our IF takes it completely sucks regardless. Doesn’t matter if it takes 1 – 3 years or more in some way we have all suffered pain and it needs to be recognised not brushed off because you finally had a successful pregnancy. Those comments really upset me and have led me to stop following certain blogs!

    • Julie Anita says:

      Something I hadn’t even considered in what you said (maybe because I’m not there yet myself)– being a “survivor” and going BACK into battle to TTC #2. Who are we then?

      And ohhhh man, I still get angry and jealous when I go to a baby shower (got one coming up this weekend) or hear a pregnancy announcement, although it’s all mitigated by whether the person in question had IF issues as well. But seriously, I have TWO BABIES and I am often leaving them with my husband/mom/dad so I can get out of the house for a few hours, and I’m usually giddy for the time alone… how is it possible to be SO glad to get out of the house without my babies and then be somewhere feeling bitter and jealous that someone else is having a baby? It doesn’t make any sense at all!

      • Flowerchica says:

        See – many people would say – if I had a child, I would never complain – because they are still TTC. There are many things I thought I would never do. Things I thought I would never feel. Having a child is completely romanticized when you are TTC with your first. You will love that child and be in total bliss. Then you have that child and reality sets in. Yes there’s bliss, but there’s sleep deprivation, loss of One’s self, physical pain, and then the hormonal emotional roller coaster. I feel envy because I see mother-to-be’s having somewhat worry-free pregnancies. I don’t claim that they have no worries at all, but you can see they don’t have the pregnancy paranoia that infertile women do. I wanted to feel that way. To not be terrified for the potential loss of the life in me. That’s what I feel jealous of – even now although I have a child.

  6. I just came across this post linked on another blog I read. It’s by a therapist specializing in infertility: http://theinfertilitytherapist.blogspot.com/2012/05/get-over-it.html

    • Thanks for that link! I am sad to admit that I have not visited that blog in a long time.

      Another series that has helped me make sense of the last few months, and why I am having such trouble “getting over it” and struggling to find adequate (or any) support is beautifully articulated by JW Moxie’s (@ The Smartness) 4-part series on emotional infertility.

      Check out all 4 parts – there is some profound stuff in there, and she has helped me feel validated and worthy in ways she can never know.

      • I got an email that one of my posts had a trackback and I followed it through to find your words here. (((hugs))), SRB. I’m glad that my words could bring comfort to you at a time when you most needed it. xoxo

    • Julie Anita says:

      *eyes wide* I have never seen this blog before, thank you!

  7. When I sat down to answer your questions – I didn’t realize I’d pretty much write a whole post! I may just post this on my blog….

    What does the “after” feel like to you? Is it bittersweet, or are you at peace?

    It’s extremely bittersweet for me. I mean I’m happy that I’m a mother, but I still have this nagging sense that I’m less than a whole woman. When I was trying – all I thought was – I want to be a mother, who cares how I get there? But once I crossed the line, I was happy I got there, but I felt like I’d been cheated of some of my motherhood experiences. I still can’t conceive on my own. I’m still traumatized from the physical torture it was to get to this point. I can still taste the constant anxiety and fear as I went through my high risk pregnancy. I remember my guilt for feeling disconnected from my pregnancy until I was literally at the end of the 3rd trimester. I couldn’t allow myself to enjoy nesting because I’d already lost a baby at 20 weeks once before. I’m not an unhappy person – but I don’t think I’d go so far as to say I’m at peace….

    Do you still experience negative emotions surrounding your ALI journey? Did you expect this?

    I definitely still have those negative emotions. They are strongest when I think of gearing up to try and have a second child. I do have some internal resentment because I know I’ll never have a normal road to motherhood. I don’t think I expected to feel this way. I thought that when I laid eyes on my daughter – all the negative feelings would just disappear.

    You know – I’ve heard people tell me, “you should be happy that you have a child – if I had one – I’d never complain. I’d never be negative because I’d be so grateful for what I had.” I think that’s far easier said than done. The TTC battle does some serious emotional damage, and the addition of a child doesn’t negate that. If anything it makes it harder to accept, because you feel like you shouldn’t feel bad, so it’s harder to work through those emotions.

    Williams discusses feeling like a veteran versus a survivor. What is your take on this, as it relates to the ALI journey? Do you think of yourself in some other way?

    I definitely see myself as a veteran – or in my eyes – a warrior because the fight just isn’t over yet. To me – being a survivor would mean getting my body to the point of being fully fertile on its own. But the reality is that I’m always going to have to fight to try and get / keep my reproductive system in order – so unless some miracle happens – I’ll never really be a survivor – because the fight will never be over. I think when we’re still TTC – we feel like finally having a kid will make all of this over. I also shared that sentiment until I had a child – and I realized that the pains of infertility, miscarriage, and the TTC process have left scars that will be there with me forever.

    How can we help each other get “there”? What will healing look like?

    I think vocalizing how we feel helps a lot. It sort of makes this thing we’re going through a part of life instead of a dirty little secret we’re holding deep inside. When I lost my first baby, just hearing the number of women who also went through the same thing made it easier to deal with. When I got diagnosed with PCOS, just hearing the stories of women with PCOS helped. When I went through my pregnancy with an incompetent cervix, just talking to women who dealt with it to just helped. The healing for me is realizing I’m one of many women who have dealt with this – and come out ok on the other side.

    • I think many of us can relate to the lingering/nagging feelings that still daunt us, that still weigh us down. And that these are typical met with invalidating platitudes that begin with “At least you have…” or “Just be happy that…” without realizing that the whole issue *IS* holding these two opposing thoughts at once, with the end result being *more* guilt. I can only speak for myself, but it brings me some measure of comfort and peace to know that I am not alone in these types of feelings. That nothing is wrong with me and that there is still road to walk beyond the ‘finish line’. Many years ago, I ran the NYC marathon, and when you cross the finish line they make you walk another mile before you exit the race. Then you have to find your family/friend, find a cab, hobble into your hotel room, see which toenails you lost, ease into a bath, try to eat, etc. The muscle soreness takes a few days to abate, and so on. Sometimes, I think this is like that.

      Thank you for sharing this. And of course, if you have more that you would like to add to your insightful comment, please write your own post and share it with us. 🙂

  8. POWERFUL post Sarah. It was such an interesting article to draw references from, and so relevant, in an oddly sad way. I just posted replied to your questions on my own blog: http://mycheapversionoftherapy.blogspot.com/2012/06/what-now-life-on-other-side.html

  9. I finally wrote a post responding to your first question: http://mymirababy.blogspot.com/2012/06/aftermath.html. It’s hard for me to separate my feelings about IF from my feelings about other things that have gone wrong in my life, not least because I feel that, at the end of the day, I did win the lottery. I love reading about how and what other people process because it helps me better identify and process the things I need to.

Trackbacks

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  3. […] Now what? In the last year, I have had a surprise natural conception, easy pregnancy, and amazing homebirth experience. I have the two children I always wanted. And for a little while, this was an elixir that made me feel as though my wounds had really, truly, finally healed. But as the weeks keeping passing, I find that glow slowly ebbing. So what is my problem? […]

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