As I write my book I’ve asked the contributors to update their story and I’m pleased to share the first of those. I first published Helen’s story almost exactly 3 years ago and it was the first time she’d shared it openly. I’ve left the comments here so you can see the power of sharing your story, and the section in italics is new.
In the intervening 3 years I’ve got to know Helen so much better; she’s a wonderful and supportive friend and has personally helped me so much.
There is so much wisdom in her words, and I urge you to take your time reading her story. As you know, I’ve struggled to process my own grief, and if this is you, I urge you to read and learn from Helen’s story. I’ll share just one paragraph here because to me it sums up what we’re all aiming for in life. ‘.. there will always be times when the pain of childlessness rears its head. The difference now, is that I don’t judge that or push it away. I know it will pass and when it does, I shift my focus back to the good things about life. We all have the power to choose how we respond to what happens to us – and within that response lies our salvation’ Amen.
Helen is also writing a book, as she says; ‘ Written for those who wish they had a magic wand to stop the busyness, this book is part personal story, part manifesto, part loving call to arms, and part road-map. It will guide you towards living a life you love, in a step-by-step way that honours what’s inside you, rather than honouring what the outside world expects from you.’
It’s called The Magical Unfolding comes with exclusive pre-order discounts & early-bird bonuses when you pre-order between September 15 – October 15 2017. You can read more here. I know it will be wonderful and I urge you to take a look and support it if you can.
Over to Helen,
1. Where are you on your journey now?
I am in a beautiful place of peace, joy and acceptance – although I am certainly not standing still! I am in the enviable position of being able to focus all of my attention on my business/passion, on my own exciting self-development journey, on my lovely soul-mate husband, and on trying to create the time and space for us both to grow and evolve together to fulfil our dreams. Life is good and I am grateful for every day that I get to wake up and breathe. I am on an exponential growth phase right now and it is both scary, exhilarating and enthralling!
2. What’s your story?
I met my gorgeous soul-mate when I was 30, having spent 3 years living alone, getting to know myself and working out what I wanted in life – which certainly wasn’t children! I remember having a conversation with him about it not long after we met, and worrying about the fact that even though I knew in my gut that he was ‘the one’, our views on having children were very different – and I didn’t know how we would transcend that.
Life likes to play games of course, so this all changed completely when I was utterly taken over by the unstoppable force of the ‘baby-blues’ a couple of years later. By this time we were married and I was working as a Sonographer, scanning babies all day and working with those going through fertility problems. I stopped taking contraceptive and stepped onto the turning wheel of ‘constant period awareness’, along with many of my friends who were similar ages, eventually becoming pregnant after what seemed like forever. Six weeks of complete terror/excitement followed before I miscarried.
This was really hard, but despite the baby time-clock ticking away and driving me, at the back of my mind I still wasn’t sure whether I had been committed ENOUGH to having a baby – so I naturally blamed myself for not wanting the baby enough and that’s why it didn’t work out. A year later, the same thing happened again. It was easier this time, but still gut-wrenching.
By this time, most of my friends that had been equally convinced that they would never get pregnant either, that had shared my fears and understood the journey as we travelled it together, were now mothers. One by one, they all got pregnant, until I was the last one without a child. At the time I wasn’t sure which hurt more – the fact that I didn’t have a baby, or the fact that I was the only one amongst them that remembered how it felt to be on that side of the fence as they all started to forget.
To cut a very long story short, I then found out that I had a 20cm fibroid indenting my endometrium (womb lining), and had a Myomectomy to remove the fibroid in the hope that I could then sustain a pregnancy. A long time later with no pregnancy in sight I took the difficult decision to have IVF after a friend asked me ‘would you regret it in 10 years time if you didn’t’ (Yes I probably would have!). The day before the consultation I found out I was pregnant – so the IVF was obviously delayed – until I found out I had an ectopic pregnancy and we started the whole journey again…
I eventually went back for IVF and found out at egg collection that I had a huge polyp at the entrance to my cervix – so the IVF was cancelled and the eggs were frozen whilst I had yet more surgery. By this time I was convinced that ‘someone’ was trying to tell me something – as things kept happening to stall the IVF (by this time I’d had about 7 Gynae Ops)– but we had eggs frozen, so eventually we went back to complete the journey we had started – which as you’re reading this, you know ended there.
All this took several years, and for most of the journey I had no-one to talk to that understood, other than my husband. Most of my friends were too embarrassed to ask, or I did a good job of pretending I was ok, being too ‘constrained’ to volunteer the info. I felt embarrassed to talk about it, and was very hard on myself and my inability to ‘get over it’. I didn’t want to burden other people with my ‘stuff’…
Eventually I left my job as a Sonographer, because I couldn’t do my job professionally anymore – I found it impossible to cope with those that were having terminations or were upset that their baby was the ‘wrong sex’. I was really angry for a long time at why I should be the only one I knew in this situation, but luckily for me, being forced to re-examine my job and my life was my salvation, as it started a path of self-discovery and learning a whole new way of being. Several years and lots of training and evolving later, I have ‘birthed’ a very different life and a much more nourishing way of helping others.
3. What helped you to heal/how did you deal with your grief?
It was a combination of things, at the core of which was an honesty with myself about what I was feeling and what I needed to do to honour those feelings – even though this was sometimes at the detriment of friendships when I went through a period of being unable to deal with friends with young babies. I also chose to dive right into those feelings and find a way through them with yoga, meditation, Cranio-Sacral Therapy treatments and Shiatsu – all of the things I now practice and offer others.
I learned how to live with my grief by letting it process, accepting that things were as they were, and learning how to love myself, nourish myself and embrace gratitude and positivity. The final stage of healing came when I had to undergo a hysterectomy aged 42 – this forced me to take time out and really face the final ‘end point.’ I can honestly say that I wouldn’t change a thing – my husband always said we have two potential paths – Path A & Path B – and whichever one we find ourselves on, we will live life to the fullest and we will be ok. I held onto that for years as my soothing balm – it was very effective!
I recognised that holding my feelings back and pretending they weren’t there was more damaging than helpful. I had previously experienced major depression twice in my life – the first time it was so bad that I couldn’t leave the house or function normally, so I knew I had that tendency and I was not going back down that path again. It was not a good one to revisit for any reason – and I had no intention of going back into the black hole I had worked so hard to climb out of again.
I also knew that no feelings get buried for good – they always resurface in the end, and in the meantime I had a life to get on with living. It felt like I was doubling the pain of childlessness by NOT dealing with the grief. It gave it more power and I had already spent enough years trapped in the endless cycle of ‘maybe’ and ‘what if’. I needed to get on with living my life on path B – and I knew that the only way to do that was to let the feelings arise and deal with them as they came.
This was not easy for me – having spent years working in the NHS, I was world-class at putting a happy face on for stressed or scared patients. I had previously fooled cognitive therapists and teachers, and I had a lifelong habit of burying feelings or finding destructive ways to deal with them. I had learned the hard way that showing your feelings to those wanting to hurt you only gave them more fuel – but this time, I chose to find a way to let feelings arise without me suppressing them.
I used yoga to slowly reconnect to the body that I had grown to hate, so that I could learn to forgive it and live inside it with more peace again. Being more connected to my body meant that I learned what my feelings felt like, and I developed non-harmful ways to express them when they arose. I learned how to breathe through sorrow, so that it could work its way through me without me breaking. I learned that my feelings did not define me and that they came and went in waves. Pillows and cushions became good tools for expression, as did walking outside with bare feet on cold grass – there is something very satisfying about taking your anger out harmlessly on a pillow, or walking slowly on the earth until your pain eases.
These methods taught me that the world around me still turned whether I dealt with my feelings or not. The trees still stood and the birds still sang, and no one but me knew what was going on in my head. I learned that feelings were easier to deal with when you let them arise, and so I slowly became more mindful and present, so that I got better at noticing what was going on in my head. I also realised that the very act of noticing my feelings meant that there was part of me that wasn’t feeling them – this observer part of me stayed untouched and simply waited until the emotional storm passed. This awareness helped me get better at letting feelings come up – they still had the force of a tidal wave at times, but I knew that they always eased in the end, and I knew that there was a part of me that stayed intact no matter what came up for me to process.
I got better at sitting in stillness and journaling my feelings if I felt like I wanted to. I doodled and scribbled, moved my body and cried in private. Eventually the feelings started easing as I learned ways to live with them daily. I knew that I had no control over them and could not hurry the process; so I learned to accept them for what they were, and stop using my energy to try controlling them. It was a process requiring patience and acceptance, and bit-by-bit, life started feeling lighter as I made peace with my pain.
This approach to processing my grief helped me stop trying to fight with things as they were, and in the process, I also stopped blaming myself for my inability to have children. The very act of being more mindful and better connected to what was going on in my head enabled me to start appreciating my positive qualities. It taught me how much strength I had and how much power I had to choose my responses to life – and realising this helped me to start loving myself again, for the first time since childhood.
This self-love showed up in subtle ways – I would eat more healthily, read nourishing books more often, and I started prioritising myself rather than others. Like learning how to stop hiding behind a happy face, this meant changing a lifetime’s habit of pleasing others and thinking of myself as somehow inferior; but through my increased ability to ‘be’ with myself, I got better at identifying the inner voice of sabotage and more skilled at listening to the inner voice of support.
I took things slowly, treating each day as a precious gift, and doing what I could to keep moving forwards. I identified what things nourished me, what made me talk unkindly to myself, and in small, almost imperceptible steps, I became the more peaceful person I am now by doing more of those nourishing things.
Today I am more mindful, present, accepting, loving and strong. I accept that my circumstances have helped define me by enabling me to more fully become the person I came here to be. I also accept that I am human, that I will have good days and bad, and there will always be times when the pain of childlessness rears its head. The difference now, is that I don’t judge that or push it away. I know it will pass and when it does, I shift my focus back to the good things about life. We all have the power to choose how we respond to what happens to us – and within that response lies our salvation.
4. What are the positives (gifts) for you of not having children?
Freedom – being able to explore my own path as and when I want to, which means I have been able to indulge my lifelong tendency of being endlessly curious about life and always wanting to know more. I have been able to engage consciously with life and also offer as much time and energy as I choose to those I work with. I get to explore and learn and play and travel with my husband – which we could do with children, but it would be much more challenging, and I am grateful that we don’t have to worry about being responsible for anyone other than ourselves when we travel to far away places! We also don’t have to worry about things such as paying off our mortgage – which gives us more financial freedom – after all, what is the point in owning a house outright when there is no-one to pass it to! We aren’t stupid with our money, but at the same time we can spend it wisely on things that add value to us and others right NOW – and I am grateful for that.
5. What has not having children made possible for you?
One aspect of my Cranio-Sacral Therapy is working with babies – ironically not having children of my own has made me able to do this with great focus, empathy and understanding, and an ability to ‘listen’ to the babies story without any pre-conception of how it is to be a new mum – this helps me to help the whole family dynamic by easing the baby’s transition into their new life.
6. Is there anything missing in your life? (and what do you plan to do about it?)
The only thing missing is a bit more space and time – but that is a side-effect of being driven, engaged and enthusiastic about life – so my husband and I are both working on our boundaries and long-term life goals now to ensure that we don’t over-commit ourselves or work too hard!
7. How are you different now (who are you now)?
I am confident about who I am and what is important to me – and I am much better at taking ownership of that. I am hugely spiritual which gives me acceptance, clarity and peace. I live as much as possible in the present and I have changed my mindset over the years to embrace blessings and face the fear of challenges – I believe we all have the resources to deal with whatever comes our way, even if we don’t always know it at the time. I accept and honour my quirks and I don’t hide behind a veil of ‘pleasing others’. I am honest about my feelings and act with more integrity – having said that, I also embrace my inner ‘pixie’ and refuse to take life too seriously – a good laugh always makes everything brighter – you can blame my Wirral roots for that!
8. What advice would you give to women who are not as far down the road as you are?
To always remember that you have two possible paths – Path A and B – and TRUST that the one you find yourself on is the right one for you.
Be KIND to yourself always – talk to yourself like you would talk to your dearest friend, and never allow yourself the indulgence of ‘what-ifs’ – it will just drain your energy for no purpose.
HONOUR your needs around friends with babies if this is a problem for you and accept your ups and downs. ALLOW your feelings and don’t try to push them away – it will only hurt you more. You will have good days and bad days, but ACCEPTANCE will help, and then the bad days will become rare ones. Remember that you and your partner are on the same team and remember that you both need to have JOY and FUN! I’ll let you into a secret – to make ourselves feel better when life felt a bit rubbish, me and my husband used to secretly ‘high-five’ each other when we were around friends and their kids were playing up – it never ceased to amuse us and make us feel better! (Sorry friends!)
9. What brings you joy/what’s your passion?
Life brings me joy – I am grateful to be having this experience, I am glad to be alive here and now, and I love that I get to live, love, laugh every day. I am incredibly lucky to have met my soul-mate, who brings me joy constantly, who has stayed with me every step of the way, and helped me to be a better version of myself. I am passionate about helping others to live their best lives and blessed to be able to offer this through my work.
10. What’s your 6 word memoir?
Loving Life, Living Joyfully, Shining Bright
Helen Rebello empowers soulful female entrepreneurs who’ve fallen out of love with their work, to find more meaning & purpose in their life & unlock the courage to live & work on their terms. She is currently crowdfunding her first book, The Magical Unfolding, which offers a gently empowering and liberating process to unlock your inner peace, potential and purpose, so that you can create a life you love.
Do you think your story could inspire others?
I started these stories so that women who are struggling can be inspired. 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.
So if you think your story could help other women this is how it works.
I’ll send you a list of questions, and you choose and answer a minimum of 6. 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.
So if you think you could inspire others please contact me.
Over to you
How has reading Helen’s story helped you? Please add your comment below.