The inspirational stories are flooding into my inbox and this week we have Tracey Cleantis. Tracey is a psychotherapist and this brings additional insights to her writing.
This is our third story and different again. There are so many great points that I’m finding it hard to pick out what resonates most for me. I’ll go with two, that it takes more than time to heal, you need to seek out help, and the positive that she is ‘flabbergasted by all the joy, passion and happiness in my life‘ now that’s something to aim for, isn’t it?
So over to Tracey,
Where are you on your journey now?
Before, I tell you where I am I feel like you need to know where I started. See next question
Okay, so, where I am now? I am in a place of happiness that I never imagined possible.
What’s your story?
I remember the moment I got off the phone with my reproductive endocrinologists office and telling them that I would not be doing any more treatment. It was a dark moment, major dark…the kind of dark that if it was a movie there would be cellos playing and violins instructing you to cry your eyes out.
Only I required no such soundtrack to cue me, I was a wreck. It was over, I would no longer be trying to conceive and I would never be a parent to a biological child. Yes, I was making the choice to quit trying; however, I was making the choice because I was at the bottom emotionally, physically and there was no more money to spend on treatment.
I had undergone 4 full rounds of IVF, 20-something rounds of IUI (over half of those with injectables). While that sounds like a lot, it ain’t nothing compared to how much non-traditional treatment I endured in order to conceive (acupuncture, nutritionists, chi gong practitioners, Maori chieftains, astrologers, healers, etc., etc.) Making the decision that I could endure no more was a hard one, but a necessary one for my emotional, mental, physical and psychological well-being.
What helped you to heal/how did you deal with your grief?
This very question that I asked myself when prepping to speak on “How to Let go of the hope of having Genetic Offspring”(Hazelden 2013) at a fertility conference is what birthed my new book, “The Next Happy: Let Go of the Life You Planned and Find a New Way Forward”, which is all about how to let go of a dream that isn’t working and move on and find unexpected happiness on the other side. So many things were important in my process of getting from here to there, and I saw in interviewing people for my book, that there are universal elements that really help people in this process.
a) Getting to my personal limit and calling the “time of death”
Knowing that I had tried as hard as I could to have a baby and that I could personally try no more. That was the first step in my letting go. I have no regrets about how hard I tried to get pregnant. I know I gave it my personal best, and then some, and that is all I can ask of myself. “Calling the time of death” sounds grim, but I believe it is really important. You see, I think, there is power and you saying, “I did all I can and I am choosing not to do this anymore.” Taking some power back and making a choice about your limits is helpful, I believe, in restoring a sense of agency. I jokingly call myself “The Dr. Kevorkian of Dreams” in my book, because I am so passionate about the importance of calling the time of death that are destructive to our well- being.
b) Therapy or support groups
For me, there came a time when I needed more support than my dear friends and family could give me. It was so important to have a place I could go twice a week and be totally honest about my feelings and not worry that anyone was going to be overwhelmed by my feelings or tell me that I was wrong for having them, or worse…my therapist was never going to suggest I “just adopt”.
For fifty-minutes I could cry, grieve and share feeling that I wouldn’t like express elsewhere (shame, anger, rage, envy) are not the kind of thing I wanted to share at my book club. My therapist would never try to take my feelings away or tell me I was wrong for feeling as I did. It was also really great to be able to leave the feelings there in the therapy room and leave the space feeling a little lighter for having gotten them out of me.
c) Really and truly grieving
Another one that may seem obvious was allowing myself to really grieve and not push myself to hurry up and get happy, this is a huge part of what allowed me (and others I have spoken to about what allowed them to get to the other side of their pain) to really move through the grief and not to simply deny it. I had to grieve as long as I had to grieve and I also had to know that I wouldn’t always feel like this…but that I did now.
d) Finding other people who had gone through the pain I had and seeing evidence that they had moved on
Reading Silent Sorority and Life Without Baby was profoundly helpful. The first place I turned to after deciding to let go was to Google. I queried, “what to do after failed infertility treatment?” At first I found nothing helpful, except a few posts about how to stay away from Disneyland and Chucky Cheese’s. Finally I found Pamela Mahoney Tsigdinos and then Lisa Manterfield (and other bloggers who knew my pain, even though I didn’t know them. It made me feel less alone and it helped to see people who were surviving and thriving without children.
e) Giving voice to my experience
Having my blog to write about my experience. Was major for me. Through my blog I made friends. I found even support for my experience. I had an outlet to process what felt was unprocessable (to coin a term). And ultimately it allowed me to help others with their pain, which has been amazing.
People love to say that time heals all wounds. I am here to say that I think it takes more than time. It took time, paired with work, and all the other aforementioned tools, and some deeper work that I describe in the book, to deal with and heal my grief. Time helps, but without the other tools, it isn’t enough.
What has not having children made possible for you?
If I had gotten pregnant I would have likely chosen to stay in a marriage that was not the right fit for me, so there’s that. It is unlikely, if I had children, that I would have had the time or energy for writing a book, running a practice, doing speaking engagements and supervising interns. Likely I would have been able to do some of those things, or even all of them, but not all at the same time the way I can now.
Is there anything missing in your life? (and what do you plan to do about it?)
I’d like a second dog and to write a second book, otherwise I am really good.
How are you different now (who are you now)?
Now, I still have the wound of this loss; I always will, it will never go away. Shelagh Little writes that infertility is like a low level lifelong bio-psycho-social syndrome. My inability to produce children has emotional and social consequences that I struggle with. Yet it no longer hurts as it did will—even as I move on. Now I can actually say that I am truly happy that it all worked out as it did. Five-years ago I could never imagine saying that much less having it be my real truth. And that is my truth.
What brings you joy/what’s your passion?
Looking back and seeing the certainty in which I clung to that couldn’t imagine happiness without a child, I am flabbergasted by all the joy, passion and happiness in my life. I find particular joy in, working as a therapist, writing on the blog, speaking with others, and helping those who are struggling get to the other side of their pain to their next happy. I love being able to share all that I have learned with others and give them hope and assurance that you can be very happy even if you didn’t get what you most wanted.
What’s your 6 word memoir?
Unexpected happiness rose out of ashes.
Bio: My name is Tracey, aka La Belette Rouge. I am a psychotherapist and the author of Freudian Sip @ Psychology Today. I blog about psychology, my therapy, dreams, writing, meaning making, home, longing, loss, infertility and other things that delight or inspire me. I try to make deep and elusive psychodynamic concepts accessible and funny, and here’s my website
Did Tracey’s story resonate with you? Are your experiences similar? If so please share your thoughts below.
Interested in writing?
To recap, I believe it will really help those who are struggling to see what’s possible in their life. The purpose is:
• To show that it’s possible to have a positive life,
• To explain what’s positive about being childless and
• To explore what helped healing & how to make it happen.
If you’re interested in writing this is how it works.
I’ll post your story in your real name or any other that you chose to give me. If you have a website or blog I’d be happy to link to it so I’ll need the details and a short bio.
I’ll send you a list of questions, and you choose and answer a minimum of 6.
If you’d like to be included please contact me.