I am delighted to share Helen’s Inspirational Story with you this week. It’s a story of spending 11 years feeling lonely and isolated, not knowing anyone else in her situation. It’s also a story of being not being told by professionals that she was grieving, which lead her to feel that she was ‘just making a fuss and that I should pull myself together.’
Her turning point was listening to the R4 programme Drawing the Line, and then reading my Inspirational Stories. As you read, you can feel how much they helped her.
Helen has worked through my Let Go and Move On programme and it has been a pleasure and a privilege to guide her. In that time I have seen her move from ‘a deep hole’ to ‘ feeling that I’m at the top of the hole, looking with interest at the world again‘ and ‘looking towards the future … with optimism and hope.’ Which is a fabulous place to be, don’t you think?
Over to Helen,
I’ve added the words in italics in May 2018, Helen provided this additional information for ‘Finding Joy Beyond Childlessness: Inspiring Stories to Guide You to a Fulfilling Life’. You can read more of Helen’s story and those of other childless women in the book.
1. What’s your story?
Marrying at the age of 32 in 1998 did feel quite late compared to my peers, but I had no idea that I was coming to the end of my most fertile stage in life – we both still felt so young and immature! After trying to conceive for a year or so we decided we would see our GP. This led to tests for both of us, the results of which came back fine, then on to low level treatments – clomid and scans to predict when ovulation would occur.
We then moved onto IUI and eventually to 4 cycles of IVF. All of which left us completely exhausted physically and emotionally and although we briefly considered adoption, we just couldn’t cope with more waiting and hoping. During this intense time of treatment, I remember thinking many times that couples who conceived naturally had no idea how lucky they were! After turning away from any further treatment, we decided to continue trying to conceive without all the pressure and stress of medical intervention. We also saw a nutritionist and after about a year or so I did actually conceive but sadly it was over before it had begun.
The final straw for me was my colleague announcing she was pregnant, just as I was being told I wasn’t and I knew then that we had to stop because I couldn’t cope any more with the build-up of hope, the waiting then the crushing disappointment.
I probably had mild depression after all of this and did have some counselling but most of the time I felt that I shouldn’t be there, that I was just making a fuss and that I should pull myself together. At no time did any professional tell me that I was grieving and that was normal and ok. It wasn’t until a friend said to me that not having children was like a bereavement that suddenly I felt I had been given the right to grieve and that I wasn’t just being overly emotional.
Most of the time though I was grieving alone. My husband had an absorbing job to lose himself in but I felt on the outside of society, outside of the “Mum’s club”, unattractive, a failure as a woman and a failure with regard to my career (I had given up teaching, not able to give it the energy that it required). There was no Plan B and I just coasted along for 10 or more years, putting on a brave face. With friends who had children, I’d always told them not to be worried about telling me they were pregnant or talking about their children because I didn’t want to be cut off from them and excluded.
Also I was genuinely happy for them, but I realise now that I was very lonely and isolated. Although we knew other couples who had had IUI or IVF, all of them had been successful. There was no-one in our situation.
2. What helped you to heal/how did you deal with your grief?
The turning point for me has happened only very recently. In May 2015 I heard the Woman’s Hour programme on IVF and Drawing the Line about when to draw the line under infertility treatment on Radio 4. I heard Lesley talking about More to Life and looked up the website which then led me to Lesley’s website.
This was a complete revelation to me and the tears rolled down my face as I read all of your amazing Inspirational Stories. For the first time in 12 years I had at last found other women whose experiences, feelings and pain mirrored mine. Gradually, through doing the Let Go and Move On Programme, starting to read some of the many books available on this subject and looking at blogs, I’ve developed a better understanding of the grief and indeed recognise my childlessness as a bereavement and that all the feelings I’ve had are ok.
3. What has not having children made possible for you?
For many years I think I would have answered this question rather grudgingly, but now I can acknowledge that not having children means we can follow our own interests and not have those of our children imposed upon us. We can have weekends away and holidays in term-time. Also I feel I’ve been able to follow various paths of self-development that I’m not sure I would have done if there’d been children around.
4. Is there anything missing in your life? (and what do you plan to do about it?)
Although I’m able now to look at babies or pregnant women and not feel the yearning that I did 10 years ago, as our friends’ children grow up, what I miss now is the relationship I could have had with our own children.
Although I’ve made good progress with my healing and grief work, I did take a few steps backwards last summer when a friend’s daughter graduated, turned 21 and got married. A lot all in one go I know, but it highlighted all those milestones I would never celebrate. Although I can’t conjure up a graduation or a wedding, I decided recently to list all of the things I would have liked to have done with my children and maybe just do them where possible. For example, I would have enjoyed doing craft-type things, so I’ve volunteered to help at my local church’s “Let’s Do Easter” activities morning.
I’ve also recently rediscovered my enjoyment of knitting and sewing, both of which I might have liked to pass on to my children, as my granny and Mum passed on to me. Finding a creative outlet has been important both in terms of expressing myself and feeling the satisfaction of creating something, albeit not a child!
Another thing I would have enjoyed doing with my own children is reading and hopefully encouraging them to enjoy books as I did as a child and still do now. I have started volunteering at my local school, hearing children read. It’s part of a reading recovery scheme, so I’m working with children who need some extra help and encouragement and I’m enjoying being in that nurturing role and building up a one-to-one relationship with them.
I have happy memories of watching children’s films as a family on winter weekend afternoons, so this was also on my list. Although I would feel self-indulgent doing this on my own, I was treated to a viewing of Frozen on a visit to friends whose daughter was a fan and I really enjoyed it!
There are times when I feel a pang, thinking about friends going on family holidays or having family celebrations, but I’m prepared to admit now that maybe I’m looking at these events through “rose-tinted spectacles”!
5. What brings you joy/what’s your passion?
I’ll swap the word joy for happiness because I’m not quite at the joyful stage yet! Things that make me happy though are walking on a beach looking at the sea, listening to birdsong, watching things develop in the garden, spending time with people who inspire and encourage and the feeling you get when you’ve helped someone or done something special for someone.
6. Where are you on your journey now?
It’s 13 years since our last IVF treatment and 11 years since we finally drew the line under ever having a family and I’ve realised that during those 11 years I had been gradually burying myself into a deep hole, which felt safe but unfulfilling, lonely and ultimately numbing.
Now, however, I feel that I’m at the top of the hole, looking with interest at the world again. I have a better understanding of the sadness I still feel and recognise that it’s ok to make space for it and to feel it from time to time because it’s a part of me and always will be. There’s no particular Plan B yet but when looking towards the future now, I feel optimistic and hopeful.
How did this help you?
How did Helen’s Inspirational Story resonate with you? Please share your comments below to help other women.
If you feel like you’re in a hole and you’ve had enough I’d love to help you. You can book a complimentary session via my online diary and we can spend 20 to 30 minutes to get clarity on how you, like Helen could climb to the top and be looking to the future with optimism and hope. The hard sell is not my style and I know you’ll get something from our conversation.