This past week, I spent an afternoon at a seminar on neuroscience -- how the brain works -- and life transitions, and how we can use this knowledge to help us adjust faster to our new reality.
The life transition in question for most of us present, of course, was the sudden loss of our jobs -- but having previously been through pregnancy loss, infertility and the transition to permanent childless/free living, there was a lot that sounded VERY familiar & applicable. I thought I'd do a Coles notes version (Cliffs notes, for you in the States, lol)(in two parts, since this was starting to get lengthy):
After walking through a slide on Elizabeth Kubler-Ross & the stages of grief (of course!) we talked about the SCARF model of how people interact -- including five areas that affect our behaviour during a life transition:
Status: Our "rank" or position in relation to others -- how important am I? This area is influenced by things like title & salary; comments, criticism or recognition, being included or excluded (or feeling that way). Obviously, when you lose your job, your feeling of importance to others, to the team you worked with, takes a real beating.
Now -- for those of us who have lost pregnancies -- think back to when you were pregnant -- and then when you suddenly were not. I think most of us realize that pregnant women hold a particularly hallowed place in our society at the moment -- pregnant celebrities & their new babies dominate magazine covers, every other commercial on television seems to feature a pregnant woman or new baby -- and if you (and your extended family) have been waiting to become pregnant for a long time (as I did), your pregnancy becomes extra-special. For those of us who dealt with infertility before seeing those two lines on the pee stick, pregnancy was not just special -- it was something we'd been craving -- not just a baby, but NORMALCY. We'd finally been admitted to the club that everyone else seemed to join so easily, that had been barred to us for so long.
And then (as my support group facilitator so aptly put it), we "got kicked out of the club." :p
And if it hurts to be admitted briefly to the club that most women join without a second thought, and then rejected, think of how it feels for women without children (for whatever reason), who never even managed to get a foot in the door.
Certainty: Most of us crave a certain degree of certainty or security. When things are certain or predictable, it's easier to plan for the future and control what happens to us (or so we think). When things change, when we lose our jobs, the future suddenly becomes uncertain. We've suddenly lost control of our careers, of our future.
In one sense, having a baby is the ultimate loss of control. ;) But in another sense, when you have a baby, you know there is a certain template your life is about to follow -- a measure of -- certainty -- that the path you're following has been trod by many other parents. BILLIONS of parents. This is how life is meant to unfold, we think. There is a certain rhythm & predictability to family life for most people. Breast or bottlefeeding is followed by solids; crawling becomes walking and then running and riding a bike (and then driving a car). Daycare turns into nursery school, then kindergarten. September means back to school, October means Halloween costumes and trick or treating. Etc. etc. etc.
Losing a pregnancy forever destroys any sense of control that you might have had. And realizing that a baby is not going to be a part of your life -- ever -- destroys the life plan most of us have had since we were children, and blurs our image of what the future should look like. We suddenly realize that our lives are never going to resemble those of many of the people around us. We have to figure out what our lives are going to look like now, if we're not going to be parents. We have to rethink -- sometimes dramatically -- our life plans.
Autonomy: Autonomy reflects the need to have control over our lives and our choices. When we lose our jobs, we lose control and the choice of if/when we want to leave our workplace is taken from us.
On the other hand, with the future wide open ahead of us, we may suddenly find ourselves faced with too many choices: I can do anything with my life now! What should I do?? This is also the dilemma facing those of us who find ourselves facing a childless/free future. If we're not going to be moms, what are we going to do with our lives?
The prospect can be exhilarating. It can also be terrifying.
Relatedness: "Relatedness" refers to the need to belong to a group and receive their support. When we lose our jobs, we're suddenly cut off from the people we've been working with every day, in some cases for years. We were part of a team -- and now we're not. Now, there are insiders and outsiders.
As I mentioned earlier, getting pregnant means admission to the Mommy Club. Everyone is anxious to rub your belly and give you tips and tell you their birth story and throw you baby showers and pass down their baby clothes and paraphernalia. They want to know what you're going to name him/her, breast or bottle, cloth or disposable, and if you're going to take the full year of mat leave.
Losing a pregnancy means getting kicked out of the club. Suddenly, nobody is anxious to talk to you. Nobody has tips to offer on how to organize the baby's funeral or what you should put on the cemetery marker. Some will call -- once -- or send a card or bring over a casserole, but very few will offer to sit at the kitchen table while you cry & hold your hand, or ask to hear your delivery story. (Hang onto those people!)
Being childless means you'll never be part of the club, period. But people will still ask you when you're going to join, because having kids is one of the easiest, no-brainer ways to relate to other people, and when you don't have that common link between you... well... sometimes they just can't relate, can't fathom what your life must be like, can't think of anything else that you might have in common to talk about (try: the weather, sports, your latest vacation, your aging parents' health, work, the latest movie or Downton Abbey....).
It's hard not to feel like an outsider sometimes.
Fairness: We all have a powerful need to feel that we are being treated fairly.
Losing our job for no good reason offends our sense of fairness and justice.
Losing a baby REALLY offends our sense of fairness and justice. :(
Being involuntarily childless while other parents complain about their kids -- or worse, mistreat or neglect them -- also makes the universe seem unfair and unjust.
Coming next: transition tips.