Life Without Baby

Filling the silence in the motherhood discussion

My Pain is Bigger Than Yours April 16, 2012

Be honest. You’ve played this game, haven’t you? Someone tells you something awful, and you immediately weigh it against your own loss. It’s ok, you can say it. Tell you what, if it will make you feel better, I’ll go first.

My friend has suffered a series of miscarriages over the past couple of years and is now talking very openly about her infertility. She and I are kindred spirits…except that she already has a daughter. I have been supportive of her courage to speak out about secondary infertility, but that little voice in the back of my head keeps popping up. You know the one, don’t you? It’s the one that says, “Well, at least she got to have one baby. At least she got to experience pregnancy. I didn’t get any of that.” Have you ever caught yourself having those thoughts? And yet, is my friend’s loss any greater or less than mine? And does it really matter?

My thoughts on this crystallized recently when I started thinking about other losses. When someone loses a parent, do we dismiss that loss when they still have a surviving parent? If we lose a good friend, do we feel that loss less because we have other friends? No, we do not. And if we do, shame on us. How can you put a value on someone else’s grief?

And yet we do it all the time. All of us here have dealt with loss. Some of us have experienced childbirth, some of us pregnancy, and some of us have never experienced either. I don’t think that we can weigh one type of loss against another and say that one is worse or another is easier, because “at least she got experience [fill in the blank].”

Loss is loss, and it’s always painful. We’re all in this together, whatever our circumstances.

And now I think I’ll call my friend.


17 Responses to “My Pain is Bigger Than Yours”

  1. Kate B Says:

    Back when I was still in the middle of trying and participating in every infertility message board I could belong to, there was a prime example of the “pain olympics” as I’ve heard it termed. One forum had two groups for miscarriage – one for early losses and one for losses later in the pregmancy. After reading some of the posts, it because clear that some who lost their babies later in their pregnancy felt that their loss was greater than someone who had only carired 8 weeks or so. I was stunned. A loss is a loss, no matter when it occurs. I gave up on that forum, it clearly wasn’t for me.

  2. Quasi-Momma Says:

    So well said, and yes, I catch myself doing it. Both in my head, and even worse out loud to my husband. When he gets frustrated with the snail’s pace of my grief, I toss the fact that he has children into his face. Shame on me. I’ve got a lot of growing to do.

    The intangible aspect of what we deal with makes this difficult too. Not many people want to talk about it. It’s unseen. It doesn’t exist. So it’s easy to wall ourselves in and cast those shadows on the world. Thanks for the perspective.

  3. Maria Says:

    This just happened to me recently. A friend of mine got married for the first time at 43 last year. She spent less than a year trying to get pregnant (3 failed IVF with her eggs, 1 successful IVF with donor egg). Since I went through 5 years of trying which resulted in 1 pregnancy and 1 miscarriage, and am now 5 years post accepting my life without children, I was an ear for her during her treatment. I was really shocked that she got pregnant so quickly and everything seems to be going really well. It’s hard to understand why some people (me) can try and try for years and have nothing to show for it, and she has success in less than 6 months. The comparison came up when I asked if she was carrying twins because they implanted 2 donor eggs. She said it was just one and that when she found that out she felt a sense of loss. I have to admit my first thought was loss! what are you talking about! I have experienced loss and I still have nothing — you are pregnant, there is no loss! Anyway, I am now having a hard time talking to her because she is so excited and looking forward to the baby. Another friend who has children and has been understanding of my situation has agreed to be her ear from now on but she keeps reaching out to me. I really thought I was past feeling this way. Anyway, thanks for letting me share.

  4. Lee Cockrum Says:

    I can see your point, but that is comparing the loss of something you have. Of course having one parent does not make up for the loss of one. Or your example of still having friends does not lessen the loss of a friend. But I do think there is something different between never getting to carry a child vs secondary infertility. Even though my dreams from childhood involved having many children, having one, and then having secondary infertility would be infinitely better than being childless not by choice.

    I also struggle with the fact that my husband has a child from his first marriage (although the situation is significantly less than ideal due to the idiocy of his ex.) Although it makes him sad because I am sad, the fact of us never having a child is not really a problem for him, so I muddle along in this on my own.

    • Quasi-Momma Says:

      Lee, we sound strikingly similar in terms of being with a man that has kids of his own, and going through this struggle. I also struggle with my perception of my husband’s pain. Men experience these things differently. My hubs is also more concerned with me and how I’m dealing with it, then how he deals with it. It is how they are wired. And the differences between how we grieve sometimes create more grief (that’s the unholy unfairness of it all).

      I feel your pain. It sucks. I can’t tell you how many times I wished for my husband just to feel the same way at the same time I did, so we could console each other. But I can’t expect that.

      But while his pain may not be same, it is very real. And much like this post states, he has a right to it. I don’t hold the sole ownership to our losses. Neither does he. We’re both hurting. When I discount his pain, I hurt him even more.

      • Lee Cockrum Says:

        I totally agree that men and women often process grief (as well as lots of other things!) differently than we do. But my husband truly is fine with the fact that we never had kids(except that makes me sad.) He does not want me to be unhappy, but also truly does not understand. Such is life;)

    • IrisD Says:

      I find myself agreeing with Lee. My best friend has a daughter and has been going through secondary infertility. I don’t think she has gone through any fertility treatment yet, so she might very well have another child. She doesn’t really express her anxieties over this with me all that much. I can understand though that her anxiety is about her child. She doesn’t want her daughter to be an only child. I was really bad, however, about listening to my sister-in-law go through her “empty nest” crisis. I know she couldn’t help her feelings, but I couldn’t relate to all the drama. If you are lucky enough to be in a healthy marriage, financially very stable, have a career you enjoy, and have raised two lovely, intelligent kids who are lucky enough to be pursuing a college education, I have a hard time relating to your depression, especially when the daughter is moving to the dorms, but staying in the same city. For national fertility awareness week I saw some of the videos posted and there was one with a woman suffering from “secondary infertility” only she already had 2 kids, so I guess this would be “terciary inferfility”? She was so distraught. I can understand her feeling distraught when your body does not do what you think it should, but really didn’t feel much in the way of sympathy.

  5. illanare Says:

    I do do this, although never within this community. One of my friends didn’t get pregnant until 8 months after throwing away the birth control and this to me didn’t feel like “problems conceiving” although it did to her. She and her husband have now been trying for their second child for a year (their first is 2 years old) and she told me recently that she “knows exactly what I went through”. While I realise that she is going through her own pain, I find it really, really hard to maintain a sympathetic ear when all the while I want to scream “you don’t know how lucky you are”.

  6. Emma Says:

    Well said. I feel that sometimes it works the other way around, too: I have often found myself feeling that my grief over not being able to conceive a child must be somehow lesser because I haven’t been through multiple rounds of IVF or miscarriages.

    • Lee Cockrum Says:

      I know what you mean. I sometimes think that people might be thinking to themselves that I did not want a child as much as them because i did not go through all of that.

      I realize I would be in a worse emotional state if I had dealt with all the hope, and having it dashed every month, or every attempt. Never mind the way the hormones themselves can make you feel.

  7. You do make a good point Lisa and I have always been a bit annoyed by people with a child bemoaning the fact that they can’t have another child. I still believe however that there is a difference between having one child and wanting more and never having a child, actually a huge difference. There was a woman on a forum I was on who was desperately trying to have her second child and it was extremely painful and difficult for her, but I really respected her one day when she said “You know as hard as this is for me, I fully understand that it’s not the same as struggling to have your first/only child, I have a son and for that I am truly grateful. I would love for him to have a sibbling, but if that doesn’t happen then at least I have him’. Automatically I felt more warmth and compassion for her situation.

    I guess I feel that what you say about not putting a value on another’s grief is quite true, but I also think it works both ways and that the person with the child who has what I’d be very happy with should also look at my situation. If they could display adequate empathy for my loss then I’d be much more open to displaying empathy for their loss. I know that’s probably not very giving of me, but I think it’s also quite understandable and should be to them as well.

  8. Mali Says:

    I wrote about this – The Pain Olympics – recently. And yes, we’ve all done it, or had someone do it/say it to us. And it’s true that loss is loss, but we all feel differently about things, because we are all in different emotional situations, have different backgrounds/baggage, cope differently with emotion, have different world views, etc etc. (I could have saved myself a lot of typing there if I’d just said “we are all different.”) None of us knows how another person feels.

    I wrote about perspective. I find it important to put my pain in perspective – both against different pain/loss, and that of others. Not to judge those others, but to allow myself to either protect myself “I cannnot support my pregnant friend right now or it might destroy our friendship” or to think “actually, I don’t have it so bad, my glass is half-full, not half-empty” or “I remember how upset I was when I (xxxx), so A must be feeling dreadful.” I think it is inevitable that we compare pain. It’s what we do with that comparison, or how we move on to still be compassionate, that is really important.

  9. mina Says:

    I think it’s normal that we compare losses. People may have read from me here being really overly sensitive to posts about marriage/partners because i not only lost my future as a mum but also my partner at the same time. I guess i was being unfair but here is the only place that i expected people to be sensitive and not talk about marriages in a way that to me, felt like “bragging”.

    But i think that’s the whole point of it. We all start comparing loss/grief when faced with a grief we can’t understand. I think if we’re honest all of us have experienced our own lack of understanding. I, for example, have a hard time understanding someone’s serious grief over a dead (deceased?) dog or cat, but then, i never had any pet bigger and more intelligent than a hamster… Some people mourn the loss of a career in a way others who just go on to try something new can’t empathize with at all… etc…. i hope you understand what i mean.
    I think the only way to deal with this is to honestly accept that you feel that way, not push the thought away. It would be the basis to developing a good attitude towards the other person experiencing the loss. We of all people should know that loss doesn’t compare and sometimes can’t even be described or understood.

  10. HR Hughes Says:

    Wonderful topic. And I think judging grief, pain, loss, infertility and the blessings of children for some while others never get to have is another way women are mean to women. I totally get it. I do it. I’ve become the one people reach out to when they think they may be having miscarriages. They call to ask what my symptoms were. They tell me theirs. I get the call when they miscarry. They want my support. I do my best but every call breaks my own heart again.

    But I’m the girl you hate. I have a 4-year-old daughter. I’ve been infertile ever since her birth. I went far beyond anything I thought I would to TTC. I’ve seen two babies die inside of me and watched my body re-obsorb most of the second miscarried embryo. I’ve gone back on the pill to kill the small breath of hope that lingers in me for a miracle. And you know what? My body is mimicing pregnancy. Why is it that my body can fake pregnancy so well but not keep one? I’m at a loss as to what to do next. How do I keep the hope at bay and finally completely heal?

    There is no way I can understand your loss, but I can empathize with you. I wish you could empathize with me, because there aren’t too many friends out there who understand the pain that I think you do. And for once, I’d like to be able to lean my head on a friend’s shoulder and take my turn crying.

  11. […] can find my post on the topic of compassion here. (Regular readers may recognize the topic from a post I wrote here a couple of weeks ago.) If you’re comfortable, please feel free to share the […]

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