All this week those lovely folk at Fertility Network UK are running their #YouAreNotAlone Fertility Week. They are organising talks, webinars and events to raise awareness of fertility issues and childlessness and to try to break through some of those myths and taboos many of us face every day.
In the spirit of this special week, I thought I would post seven ‘Daily Ways’ in which I describe, amongst other things, the pursuits, thoughts, books, music and people that helped me on the long road to a place of acceptance regarding my own childlessness. I’m going to write these ‘off the cuff’ and they will be fresh off the press each day. (That means they may come a bit later in the day than my usual posts!)
Of course, there is no ‘one way suits all’ and often there is no one thing that can help heal the grief and loss associated with never having the children you wanted. But I hope that some of these daily musings will shine a little bit of light on some of the darker corners of this daily struggle.
Here is day one, thought one:
The ‘Happy Ending’ Myth
I am signed up to receive by email a word and definition for each day. When I opened up my emails this morning today’s word was ‘eucatastrophe’. According to Word a Day eucatastrophe was coined by J.R.R. Tolkien about 75 years ago to describe the opposite of ‘catastrophe’ or to provide another word for ‘a happy ending’.
This got me thinking about how I have often described my not having children as a ‘personal catastrophe’ and, in those early years of grief, I believed that having children would have been my eucatastrophe. But would it have been?
Both my own personal experience and my work as a fertility counsellor brought me to understand that giving up the part of our grief narrative that involves the ‘children=happy-ending’ ending can be as painful as realising that we will never have children. I know that for a long time I held on to the ‘if only I’d had children’ and began to internalise it as part of my own life story.
I realise now that part of my own emergence from grief came when I dared to believe that maybe, just maybe, there is more than one eucatastrophe for me. In fact, maybe we limit ourselves with the ‘happy ending’ myth. Life throws at us many endings and beginnings that run along a kind of continuum. Recognising that my body, my heart and my soul are so much more than vessels for the children I never had, took a huge leap of faith. (And I would like to say here that I laid my dream of having children to rest with love and respect). But that recognition arrived the way many stories are conceived – with a ‘what if?’
What if I have more than one destiny?
What if I can change my story?
What if I have more than one ending to that story?
Just like there are endless potential storylines, there are endless possibilities to a life without children. Have you ever read a book or watched a film and thought the ending was a bit too neat…even, dare I say it, a bit disappointing? Often the best endings are the ones that are not endings at all, where that last sentence is pregnant – and I use that word with no irony – with a multitude of possibilities.
I heard once heard Louis de Bernières talking about his book, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. He said that he’d written several endings and that he had tried each one in turn and still didn’t know which one he preferred. I really like the idea that Bernières’ readers experienced one of many possible endings and that somewhere in the ether hang myriad others.
I now know that having children was only one of my possible ‘happy endings’. It took time to let go of that one eucatastrophe but when I did, I believe I created the space into which other possibilities could pour.
Until tomorrow, my friends.