The power of finding support

This post is my contribution to WorldChildlessWeek, here are my thoughts on finding support.

Let me guess, you’re struggling to come to terms with not being a mother.  You’ve found me and other bloggers, maybe you post on forums but there’s something missing. You want more. You want to sit across a table with other women who’ve been where you are, because until you look into their eyes you won’t ever really believe that anyone else understands what you’re going through.

This is when you need a support group.

And before you read more, please give yourself a pat on the back, because if this is you, congratulations you’ve come a long way already. And if you’re not quite ready, that’s okay too.

Coming to terms with your life is a process; you start by hiding from the world and even from yourself (especially from yourself) and then, over time you start emerging, slowly, slowly. And in safe places. It’s in the forums where you gain some confidence to be yourself, where you can feel a spark of your inner strength coming back. And it’s only when you’ve gained enough of this do you feel confident to talk to people face to face.

Why a support group?

There’s something really special about sharing your story with people who understand and can tell you that ‘you’re not alone’, ‘yes I had that experience’ and most importantly ‘I used to feel like that and now I’ve moved on. Mostly its knowing that you can share your challenges in a completely safe space and others will understand.

How joining a support group saved my life

I don’t say that lightly.

After finishing treatment, on the one hand we both felt numb, lost and isolated, and on the other we were relieved that it was all over and we could move on, if only we knew what that moving on would be.

All our friends had children and we had no idea how or where we were going to make new friends who understood us. We hibernated for a year, not really connecting with anyone and then went to our first MoreToLife meeting; a day trip from London to Cambridge. Until then we didn’t know anyone else who was childless and all of a sudden we were about to meet fifteen others.

This was the days before social media so we had no idea what to expect or what they looked like. We were meeting at Liverpool Street station so we bought our train tickets and decided that we’d look at them from a distance before committing ourselves. They looked okay so we decided to join and it was the best decision we’ve ever made. Without doubt.

I remember feeling like I’d hit the jackpot. Here were a group of people who, even though I met them for the first time, I felt completely at home and comfortable with. Because they saw me. We talked, laughed and cried and when we got home we KNEW that we could be Okay.

That was fourteen years ago and in that time a number of the women and couples have become our closest friends. We turn to them in hard times because they ‘get us’ like no one else. We’ve supported each other through so much in those years; divorces, job changes, a wedding, and many of us have lost parents. And I believe we have unbreakable bonds. Yes, some of us are closer than others, but we know we have friends we can turn to who understand us like no-one else.

Women’s or couples’ group?

For us it had to be a couples’ group. It was important for us both to meet others in the same boat and to grieve and heal together. There have been many times when the men have been in one place taking about cars, gadgets or something along those lines, anything but the thing we have in common. And the women will be in a different room, or sitting at a different table, talking about our feelings or challenges. Over the years we’ve grown immeasurably and the talk is more general now, and deeper.

If there had only been a women’s group available, then I guess I would have attended, but I feel it would have separated us as a couple, as I found others to talk to and Roger didn’t. I don’t think our marriage would be as strong as it is, had we not joined MoreToLife together.

‘Support’ or a group of friends, what’s the difference?

I’ve used the term ‘support’ here and certainly we all got a lot of support from each other, but there was no ‘official’ support or help. We were a group of friends finding our own way. And we all did want to find our way. There have been others we’ve known over the years who left after a while, essentially because they were happy being miserable and stuck. Maybe we didn’t voice it overtly, but we were moving on with our lives, make no mistake.

There are dangers in groups too, especially when the dynamic is one of wanting to stay stuck; you know those people I mean, who get a lot out of being a victim or maybe they think of themselves as a martyr to their suffering. If the whole group (or the ‘leader’) views themselves as a victim then my advice to you is to find another group.

What if I can’t find a group?

Maybe you’re throwing your hands up in the air because you’ve searched the internet and there are no face to face groups near you, or there are only women’s groups. Then this could be time to take your courage in both hands and either actively look for others and maybe set up your own group and/or to seek professional help.

When you need more – sometimes the support of a professional helps.

I grew up believing it was weak to ask for help and it’s taken me until recently to change that. I spent over ten years muddling along and so many things changed when I started to learn NLP.

I realise now that asking for help is the strong action to take. There’s so much stigma attached to it though, I mean we’re happy to employ a plumber or accountant so why not ask for help with our feelings?

I’ve spoken to women who’ve had no help at all and lead a great life, some who’ve had CBT and others who’ve seen a therapist. There’s no magic formula here. What’s clear though (as you’ve no doubt already discovered) is that you can’t talk to friends and family about this because they don’t understand. Your support group can help and sometimes only a professional can provide what you really need.

My story – how therapy helped me.

For about a year after my Dad died I was the perfect description of ‘keep calm and carry on.’ Until, that is I couldn’t. I kept getting upset at what seemed like trivial things, I was snapping at Roger and felt sad all the time. Eventually and VERY reluctantly I went to see a therapist and it was the second best decision I’ve made.

I’m not going to list all the positive changes that I’ve made since that day; suffice it to say that I’ve made more progress in the last year than in many years before.

The key things I’ve gained by about talking to a professional are:

  • It’s the only time you get to talk about you knowing they’ll listen without judgment,
  • They’ll make suggestions of things you can do to help, small or large changes,
  • They’ll normalise what you’re going through. I remember the relief I felt when she said ‘oh don’t worry about that, it’s normal.’
  • It’s a completely safe space, you can say anything you want and show any emotion that comes up.
  • And most of all, because they have no emotional connection to you so (unlike everyone else in your life) their only interest is you.

If you want to find other websites and groups take a look at my resources page.

This is an edited extract from my forthcoming book. It includes contributions from many of the Inspirational Story tellers I feature and will be available next year. Sign up to my newsletter below to find out more and receive regular updates.

What about you?

How has finding support helped you? Please comment below to help others.

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