Monday, August 18, 2014

This sounds familiar... (part 2)

(Continued from yesterday's Part 1...)

After hearing a little Kubler-Ross and discussing the SCARF model, our facilitator offered some tips for dealing with transitions -- in this case, moving forward after job loss, but also applicable in many cases (I thought) to surviving pregnancy loss, infertility and the decision to remain childless/free: 

1)  Accept that bad things can happen. Develop resilience.  Become an expert on your situation.    (For most of us who have lost a pregnancy, dealt with infertility or childlessness, this has probably meant devouring books, blogs and other information to help us deal with our new reality.)  Wallowing in our grief may have a certain appeal at first, but after a while, we need to start focusing on what our next steps could be. We may not have chosen what happened to us, but we can choose how we respond.

2)  "Preventative medicine."  Avoid negative individuals who might push you to play the role of victim ("poor you"). Some people need to confirm to themselves "so glad it's you and not me" and don't really bring anything of value to the relationship.  Also avoid situations you don't like and that you know will make you feel unhappy (e.g., baby showers!). 

3)  "Healthy schizophrenia."  Try to detach or distance yourself from the situation. (This is admittedly hard to do when you've just lost a baby.)  In the case of job loss, try to avoid thinking of your former company as "we" and "us."  Become a reporter and try to view the situation objectively.  What should a person in this situation do? What would you advise a friend in a similar situation to do?

4)  Change the meaning of what is happening;  try to look on the bright side. (Again, perhaps not really applicable when you've just lost a baby.)  This is not always easy to do.  Your brain needs time to think and process what's happened. We can't work full tilt 24 hours a day;  we'll burn out. We need rest, we need sleep, we need to take vacations, we need to take breaks and do something different. That's often when the best ideas pop into our heads. Now is the time (we, who had lost our jobs, were told) to do some of the things you wanted to do when you were working -- and that you won't have time to do when you start working again).

In the same vein, taking a break from fertility treatment can bring a fresh perspective and new energy to whatever you decide to do next.  If you decide to continue to live without children, look at it as an opportunity to do some of the things you didn't have time or money to pursue when you were in treatment -- and wouldn't be able (or might find harder) to do if you had children.

5)  Focus on your strengths.  What are you good at doing? What do you enjoy doing?  Write them down. (In handwriting, not on the computer -- handwriting helps us absorb messages better than typing them into a computer.) 

6)  Create an identity map.  In the centre of a bulletin board or a big sheet of poster board, place your favourite photo of yourself.  Around it, place photos or magazine pictures or other visual reminders (e.g., restaurant menus, theatre tickets) of the people and things you love and enjoy:  family, friends, hobbies, celebrations, travel, music, art, sports, achievements. Jobs. 

This reminded me of a collage exercise we used to do in our perinatal bereavement support group:  we'd bring in stacks of old magazines & give everyone half an hour to go through them and rip out any images & words that reminded them of their baby(s), of what had happened, and how they were feeling now. Then we'd hand out sheets of poster paper and glue sticks, and after another half hour or so, we'd all share what we had created and talk about what the words & images meant to us.

This was always a powerful exercise and it was amazing to see what people would come up with.  Along with photos of babies, pregnant women and moms with kids, I remember one mother had the image of a knotted in a length of rope at the centre of her collage, another had a picture of a big bolt of lightning cutting across a dark, threatening sky.  I did the collage exercise along with the group every time it came up in the topic rotation, and I still have every one I made. It was interesting to see how my collages evolved and changed as time went on.

7)  Energy balance exercise.  What people, places and activities in your life are sources of energy for you? Which ones are energy suckers? (Try to avoid those.)  Which are a mixture?

8)  Apply the Stockdale Paradox.  We heard the story of James Stockdale, who spent eight years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam in the 1960s, where he was brutally mistreated. Said Stockdale later of the experience:  "You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end -- which you can never afford to lose -- with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be." 

In the context of infertility & childlessness, to me, "faith that you will prevail in the end" doesn't necessarily mean that "you will have a baby, somehow, some way." This is where "the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality" comes in. I suppose dh & I could have scraped together more money and more energy to continue with infertility treatment, or try donor eggs or adopt, etc. But the reality, our reality at the time, was that we were completely burned out. The reality was, we were in our 40s, with medical issues that made the likelihood of a successful pregnancy highly unlikely. The odds were not in our favour.  

It was hard to face the brutal truth that we were not going to be parents (to a living child). But we had faith that we could still have a good life anyway as a family of two.  And I think we've been able to do that.

It's not a perfect life, it's certainly not the life we imagined when we got married, almost 30 years ago. But it's the life we have, and on balance, it's not a bad one.  And we're doing our best to make the most of it.


  1. LOOOOOOOVEEEEEE it! Thanks a lot for sharing! :-)

    Here's to making the best of our lives!

  2. What a wonderful post and very helpful tips that can be applied to any difficult situation we ever encounter in our lives. I especially like #2 (which can be combined with #7 I think).

    It's not fun to feel like a victim. Victims are always so overwhelmed by the simple fact that the world is not fair that they become incapable of any action which in turn makes them even more helpless. Sometimes it's hard to identify right away when we are downgraded into the role of victim by people (or circumstances)so I find the advice of energy balancing to be extremely valuable.

  3. I think the faith that we will prevail in th end is, in the infertility context, our story. In the end, we are prevailing.

    These two posts are really great. I'm going to need more time to absorb them.

  4. Awesome list. #1 I have had to really learn over the past few years. I've definitely gotten to that place of "Ok, time to keep moving forward". And #2 is so, so, important. #6 I could use to do still. thanks so much for sharing your great insights!