How often at this time of the year have we said, “I’ll be glad to see the back of that year!”? Often closely followed by: “New Year New Me”. It’s tempting, at the first strike of the bells on new year’s eve, to clink our glasses or watch those fireworks and think, “Next year will be different…I’ll be different.” For those of us who experience the grief of childlessness we can often feel a strong desire for something new to happen, something that will make us feel ‘complete’, or ‘worthwhile’, or visible or happy without our wished-for family. Of course, dreaming and planning are positive things – they keep us moving forward and developing. But the New-Year-New-Me imperative can be a bit of a burden too; it can push us to become so entrenched in lists of ‘shoulds’ and demands on ourselves that we don’t stop to take stock of what we might learn from all we experienced – the good and the bad – in the old year.
Learning from a challenging descent
As I write this I’m taken back to a moment when I was learning to ski in my twenties. One afternoon I’d decided to push myself and to follow the more experienced skiers. I was out of my skill zone and our last run of the day involved descending a very steep, icy slope with large moguls and punctuated by rocks and tufts of grass breaking through. It was a nightmare. I was convinced I was going to die! More than once I sat down and shouted that I wasn’t moving unless it was into a rescue helicopter!
I eventually navigated my way down and at the bottom of the slope I berated myself for being scared, useless, a rubbish skier and simply Not Good Enough. I sat on the snow unable to believe I’d survived and my fellow skiers started to move off. Whilst I was keen not to be left behind, something made me pause to look back up the mountain. And in that one moment a new thought clicked in my brain: “I did that! And I survived.” Had I not taken that moment to look back, my lasting memory of the experience would have been of my perceived inadequacy and inelegance. Instead, now I still see that ski slope as one of my greatest ski achievements and I realise that both my mind and my body learned more about navigating difficult slopes in that one run than in any run I’d done previously…or since.
If we are coming to the end of a difficult year, it can be tempting to ‘get off the slope and into the bar’ as quickly as possible! But taking time to pause, to not simply say, “I survived” but to notice how we navigated the difficult stuff and, importantly, to celebrate that navigation, can be just as affirming and positive as the promises we make ourselves on the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve. The eve of a new year can be the perfect time to look back and praise ourselves for the things we should feel proud of and to honour the emotions brought by our low points. Whether we like it or not, we do take the echoes of these experiences into the New Year so we may as well acknowledge them.
The Emerging Self
Perhaps instead of setting ourselves that huge task of re-creating ourselves completely for this next year we can think of how we are emerging. When I look back over my 16 years, thus far, of childlessness, I see my (on-going) journey towards healing as a series of ‘moments of emergence’. In my experience, emergence does not always happen in large leaps nor does it necessarily come as a result of the big life landmarks. Rather, emergence often happens in small incremental steps – in those crystal moments of self-awareness and self-realisation.
Here are some examples:
- Getting through that bittersweet act of buying a gift for a friend’s newborn.
- Daring yourself to look at a father/mother with his/her son or daughter for slightly longer than you would have before.
- Accepting an invitation to a naming ceremony or family event and finding a coping strategy for when it all gets too much.
- Telling someone about the loss you feel.
- Appreciating the times you feel truly at ease with yourself and happy to be in that one moment.
- Recognising that it’s okay to actually feel glad that this morning you’re not doing a school run or ferrying a carful of children to a football game.
These situations all involve some kind of emotional ambiguity – bitter with sweet, joy with sadness, satisfaction with guilt, fear with hope. There are myriad moments like this and they will reflect your life and your unique way of being and, just like looking back at the moguls and rocks amongst the snow, they all deserve to be recognised – it’s the whole experience that can teach us about ourselves and that allows us to witness our progress towards healing and acceptance.
If you think it will help, write your ‘moments of emergence’ down in one beautiful, self-affirming list.
It is empowering to be able to recognise our emotional challenges and how we navigated them. This recognition can also help us cut ourselves some slack and to realise that we don’t have to beat ourselves up if we feel we are moving into the new year still grieving or being angry or sad – or all of the above.
There is a poem by Mary Oliver called Wild Geese that has helped me in some low moments when I’ve felt I have to be ‘more’ or better or super- strong. You can see this lovely poet reading the poem here.
The poem speaks of kindness to oneself, of noticing the beauty of the world and of honouring loss – and how you can do all three often in the same breath. Copyright prevents me quoting the poem in full here but the first lines say so much:
You do not have to be good
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert…
So, as you cross the threshold into 2018, you don’t have to do so as a fully re-created or reinvented person. You don’t need to put that pressure on yourself. Take some time before The Bells to recognise just what you have achieved and to acknowledge what you will take with you into the New Year – both the challenges and the good stuff. Most of all, honour yourself with the same kindness and patience you might give to a friend going through the same process of emergence.
I’d like to take this opportunity to say a really warm and heartfelt thank you to all of you who read, follow, ‘like’ and comment on my blog. You are all amazing people. I am truly touched that you take the time to read my posts and I hope that each of you, whether affected by childlessness or any other form of loss, finds something in the posts that helps.
I wish you all a year ahead full of hope and light and may 2018 bring you many good things.