Next year at this time, my baby will be starting high school.
This week marks the start of a new school year. Summer break began in May, and although it feels like we’re cutting the summer awfully short by going back to school in the beginning of August, we have actually had our fair share of time off. We’ve traveled, we’ve stayed home. We’ve enjoyed time with good friends and time with each other. We’ve stayed up late and slept in late too.
Now, it’s back to business. Sports, homework, projects, work; and although I know I’ll miss the carefree summer days, I love back to school time too. The anticipation that accompanies the new school year and fall season has always been intoxicating for me. The smell of newly sharpened pencils, the leaves changing color on the trees. Apple cider, pumpkins, Halloween…back to school marks the start of the season I have always loved most.
But this year feels different. This year, I have an eighth grader starting his last year of middle school and, instead of celebrating his new school year, I find myself feeling sad as this new school year marks the passage of time.
Time that I will never get back.
We anticipated having a larger family. At 28, when we started our family, we thought we had plenty of time.
We gave ourselves a four-year gap before trying again. Send the older to kindergarten, spend time with the new baby. That sort of thing.
But we were too late. That plan never came to pass.
Secondary infertility, or the inability to conceive after having one or more children, has made me acutely aware of the passage of time.
Trying to simultaneously cherish every moment of my one chance at motherhood, while still giving my child the independence he needs to grow, is a constant push-pull. I want to be there for ALL THE THINGS because there is no next time. There is only this time.
I won’t get another front row seat to watch a child grow into an adult.
So, I hold on a little tighter. I stay a little longer. I volunteer a little more than the other moms do because I don’t want to miss a thing.
It’s because I am so aware of how fast time is going, how soon he will be grown and gone, that I treasure each and every moment I get to share with him.
Making me wonder, am I holding on too tightly?
How much is my experience of infertility shaping his experience of childhood?
From the moment our children are born, we begin the process of letting them go.
From their first cry, to that first red-faced, emphatic, two-year-old “NO!” to the day they set off on their own hero’s journey, our children were only meant to be ours for a little while. We, as parents, are merely loving tour guides introducing them to this life.
So, as high school looms on the horizon and I practice letting go of my only child little by little each day, I am also letting go of my dream of having more children.
And letting go is a loss.
Infertility, Loss, and Grief
Infertility isn’t a loss you grieve once. It is a loss you grieve over and over again throughout the progression of your life.
With every happy milestone, there is an underlying sense of something missing; someone missing. Maybe several someones.
There is the underlying sadness of wanting to do it all again, but not being able.
There are the unsympathetic words offered by those who mean well, ignoring, minimizing, invalidating, this unchosen experience.
Just be grateful for the child you have.
Kids are expensive. You’re lucky you just have one.
Why don’t you just adopt?
All valid points, but unnecessary to say and even harder to hear.
For those unable to conceive again after the birth of a child, we are enormously grateful for the child(ren) we were blessed with. It doesn’t mean we don’t also miss the children we hoped for.
Kids are expensive. So are fertility treatments. I’d prefer the chance to spend it on my kids.
As a veteran social worker who has spent a great deal of time in child welfare and dependency, adoption isn’t as easy as you might think. I will leave it at that.
Infertility and the 5 Stages of Grief
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, who outlined the traditional five stages of grief, probably didn’t anticipate applying them to the loss of parenthood through infertility; yet these 5 stages keep rearing their heads as new situations, new feelings, and new circumstances present themselves over the course of a lifetime.
- Denial and isolation
For example, when I was originally diagnosed with secondary infertility nine years ago, I didn’t tell anyone. I didn’t want to say the words and risk speaking them into being. Denial and isolation kept me from facing the heart-wrenching reality of my loss. As I began to come to terms with the situation, I was SO angry. Angry at the time I had wasted chasing degrees and promotions when I could have been growing my family. Angry at the people I knew who had many children but didn’t protect and provide for them. Angry at the family members who told me to just be grateful for the child I did have. That’s when the bargaining began. Eastern medicine, Western medicine, fertility treatments, energy healers, crystals, acupuncturists. I begged God and the universe for another chance at motherhood. Please, please. Countless hours and dollars spent on just one more chance. It didn’t work. That was when the real sadness set in. Depression over the loss of future plans, and grief for my children who I would never know. Tears. Talks. Writing. Therapy. Then, finally, acceptance. Acceptance of the situation. Acceptance that, although I may not experience pregnancy and birth again, I would enjoy every single moment with the child I did have. I would surrender.
I wish I could say that acceptance was the end. That I was healed. The grief was behind me. But today, I’m still going through the five stages. It seems that once acceptance arrives for one situation, the circumstances change and the grief process begins again. Sometimes easier. Sometimes harder. But again and again and again.
With my only child entering his final year of middle school, I can no longer deny that I will be a young empty nester and that fact makes me incredibly sad. Instead of isolating myself by ignoring it, and pretending that everything is okay, I know that it’s up to me to find support by reaching out to other people who might understand. I’m angry. I bought a house in the suburbs and expected to fill it with children. Now I’m questioning, what’s next? Once my only child is grown and gone, will we move? Will we stay? I would be sad to be surrounded by a neighborhood full of children and families if my time to parent is through, a constant reminder of loss. So, I bargain. Please, God. Maybe…miracles happen every day. Women in their forties have babies all the time. Maybe there’s still a chance. But with each passing year, the chances are less and less. Depression is fleeting this time around, but comes when I think too much about the future. When I think about how fast time has passed between kindergarten and eighth grade, and how much faster it will go between eighth grade and twelfth. When I think about a quiet house, empty rooms, unused space. I know, within the next five years, I have to plan for my future too so that I will have something amazing to look forward to. That is how I’m working toward gaining acceptance this time around.
Can we talk?
- Have you experienced secondary infertility?
- Where are you on your journey? (Are you still growing your family? Empty nester? Somewhere in between?)
- How are you holding up?
- Have you experienced the 5 stages of grief related to your loss? If so, what did it look like for you?
Please comment below or connect with me here. I would love to hear from you!
As always, if you need support or need to talk, please reach out. Appointments are available, in-person, via text, and over Skype.