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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Broken Hearted--Part One

As I was musing about the pros and cons about being out (as well as what I can do to torture my eight-year-old neighbour), one of my ladies-when-waiting called last night. Her two-year relationship is over. The one that was supposed to continue into engagement and marriage and growing old with one another. Her heart is breaking.

This was one of those terrible break-ups that took a month to complete. And in the end, it felt like a miscarriage of sorts. While this analogy may feel offensive to some, I think it is a very helpful metaphor for those who have never experienced a pregnancy loss. Sometimes people just need to have the experience connected to something within their own life to have that "a-ha" moment where they learn how to be sensitive and how to step in and help based on how they felt within their own situation. And since many more people have experienced lost love, it is the most universal analogy I can create to give those who haven't experienced pregnancy loss a window into understanding. It is also the background you need to know so I can flagellate myself for doing EXACTLY what I hate when everyone else does it to me. And perhaps I just needed to see the situation as a reverse metaphor--from a space of infertility--to remember how relationship loss feels.

So many of the emotions experienced through relationships and infertility are the same. Our generation of women were raised to believe that anything was possible if we worked hard enough for it. Study in school and you'll go to college. Work hard in college and you'll get a good job. In Hebrew, we have a word that means the person you were meant to be with--your b'shert. Trying to find my b'shert was the first time that working hard meant nothing. I could do certain things that made the likelihood of finding my husband more plausible. If I had remained locked in the house, it was unlikely that I would find people to date. But I couldn't do anything to find someone who fit me perfectly nor could I make anyone fall in love with me (I know what you're thinking--who wouldn't be in love with me since I'm so freakin' adorable? But...alas...there were boys who were idiots and couldn't see the perfection before them). And we all know this is true for children too. There are things we can do help along the process--such as having sex or doing procedures or filling out paperwork. But in the end, most paths to parenthood are out of our control.

This could become a long post about all the losers I dated, but let's skip ahead (until I come back to certain losers from the past in my next post since this is definitely a two or three post thought) to meeting my husband. Another idea we have in Hebrew is the term "mazel" meaning "luck." The term "mazel" is comprised of three letters: mem, zayin, and lamed. Those three letters stand for three words: ma-com (place), zeman (time), and la'asot (doing). Meaning that luck is about being in the right place at the right time and doing the right thing. It's not about magic happening--it's about you making it happen. But doing your job may mean that many pieces need to line up in order to make it work. Does that make sense? So that luck is (1) somewhat within your control, but (2) takes time. Luck may not happen when you want it to happen, but it will happen if you keep doing your part. Unfortunately, it becomes a bit of slogging on since you don't know when the "right" time will occur until it happens.

I know you didn't come here for a linguistics lesson (and I'm not even certain how reliable my aunt is when she told me the etymology of "mazel" because she also told me that 90% of English words come from Hebrew. Which doesn't sound quite right to me....), but that's sort of how I view hooking up with my b'shert. I made it happen and he made it happen, but we were brought together at the right place when we were in the right time to find each other because we were both looking to do the right thing. And that's the way I had to think about infertility because it was the guiding thought that kept me sane in that process, even though I didn't truly believe that I would be a mother. I said it kept me sane--I didn't say I entirely believed it.

In relationships and infertility, it's out of our control. We can only do so much to make it happen. And that's very frustrating to a woman who has been taught that if she works hard enough, she'll achieve whatever she wants.

And then there were the times when I did achieve what I wanted through that hard work and I lost it. My friend's relationship was a blighted ovum. It looked like a pregnancy, and the hCG rose like a pregnancy, but once it came time to look inside, she found an empty sac. Nothing. And her heart is breaking right now because she had been led to believe that she was pregnant. Her body, her heart, her relationship tricked her into believing that this was going to be forever. And that is the cruelest part of relationships and infertility--the hope that is taken away in an instant.

Now here is the self-flagellation: what do we hear when we experience a pregnancy loss? You can try again. You'll have the child you're meant to have. It was your body's way of saying that it wasn't perfect enough. It will happen for you. And these platitudes are so offensive because they completely dismiss the life that was growing inside of you. You don't want to try again--you want to mourn this baby. This was the child you were meant to have. And who determines perfection? And no one can promise that it will happen for you.

When someone loses a spouse, no one shows up at the funeral and says, "you can date again. You'll get married again. You'll find another person soon." Even if these sentiments are semi-true. Many people do remarry who lose their spouse at a young age. Some do not, but most do re-enter dating and relationships after a mourning period. We don't remind them of these possibilities when they're in the crushing wave of loss because we take those losses (of a friend, family member, or spouse) seriously. We give them gravity. We give the person space and time. We don't dismiss their loss by making them focus on the future. We instead help them to mourn. And follow their timetable. And offer support.

I think Murray's point last week that people can't understand what they can't see is so true. Sadly true. I don't think we properly mourn pregnancy loss in this society. There are many who would say that it's more difficult to lose someone you knew outside your body, that you shared your life with, or that you even once held. Speak to anyone who has experienced a stillbirth vs. an early miscarriage and they'll say that the stillbirth was emotionally harder. But does the lessening of intensity warrant the complete detachment from recognition of its emotional importance? Is a divorce the same as a bad break-up? Well, no. It isn't. But that doesn't mean that a bad break-up doesn't come with its own gravity. In the same way that an early miscarriage comes with its own gravity that does not detract from the importance of a stillbirth or the loss of a family member. Y'all know how I feel about creating a hierarchy of loss. We each process loss differently, and we need to respect each other's process.

Which means that the bad break-up and the miscarriage deserve respect. And deserve mourning time. And deserve the supporter to follow the timetable of the mourner. And I say this because in my head, I started thinking about set-ups. And singles groups. And blind dates. And I started going through the rolodex in my head of all the new people I had met since I had last set her up (which was a disaster, okay, I can now admit that set-up was a disaster). And by doing so, I wasn't allowing her to mourn. Because she didn't want a relationship. She wanted that relationship. She didn't want just any husband. She wanted that man to be her husband. And to tell her to move on semi-immediately demeans the love she had with that man. Because she needs to mourn the loss before moving on.

One day, she will wake up and feel ready. I hope everyone gives her the space she needs and lets her focus on the present without pushing her toward the future. She will have time to try again and I will have time to help her meet her b'shert and get her into that right place at that right time. But right now she needs to mourn. And the best words we can give in the loss of a relationship: I'm so sorry; talk about it; do you want me to comment or just listen; talk about the good points; what did you learn from this--are also the ones we can use to help a person mourn a pregnancy loss: I'm so sorry; talk about it; do you want me to comment or just listen; tell me about how you felt while you were pregnant; how do you want to remember this loss; what did your RE learn from this. Instead of pushing them. Before they're ready. To move on and try again.

Self-flagellation is over for the time being. But we had an interesting conversation last night about why things happen that deserves its own post. But right now, a huge pile of laundry awaits.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

All I can say is that this is one of the most beautiful posts I have read in a long time. Thank you.

The metaphor is perfect...and your suggestions on how to speak to someone who is going through loss I wish could be printed for the entire world to see. As supportive as people can be, not everyone knows what to say and this is an excellent lesson.

Thank you again and many prayers for your friend as she goes through her mourning.

Piccinigirl said...

I loved the post mostly because it's so true. I know that ache of losing someone and I mourn with your friend.
I think that comparing it to a m/c (although I've never had one) is right. When we lose something that we worked for , that we smiled about , that made us feel whole and a part of a bigger community (remember how I attempted to tie "feeling like a mother" to "feeling like a wife" and how those two things are subjective ) then the hurt is amplified and spills over.
I will think good thoughts for your friend, I know in you she has a true comfort.
Thanks for saying so eloquently what we all want to say.

Josefina said...

I can't agree more with you!! I came to the SAME analogy some time ago...more focused on the part of "looking for the right man" and "waiting to get pregnant"...comments like "he will appear when you less expect it" (I was told that SO many times), and for the baby "you'll get pregnant when you stop thinking about it"...so there the answer is "how do you expect I stop thinking about it when I know I have to stop thinking about it, so I'm thinking about "not thinking about it""...sounds funny, but it's like that...
Of course both are things that you can't totally control, so they're objectively similar...
Now, I hadn't thought about the analogy in the mourning, but you're sooo right, and it's so true that many times, when a friend breaks up with her/his boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse, I've started with the "it was not meant to be", "you'll find another one"...and now that I think of it, it can be pretty insulting, or at least, not right!!
Thank you so much for the post!!

the_road_less_travelled said...

Very Well said.

Carlynn said...

What a beautiful post.

And loved the part about men not realising how adorable you are, it made me laugh out loud.