You know the Kübler-Ross model of grief, don’t you? How a person who has lost someone or even something Hugely Important, could (or, if your psychologist (for psycholgist, substitute random acquaintance who reads Pop-Psych for fun, as appropriate) is a twatweasel, should) go through five stages on the way back to functioning in a new reality? Even Elizabeth Kübler-Ross agreed you needn’t go through all of them, or all of them in that order, or any of them only once (not that this stops said occasional twatweasel from mistaking a model for a road-map and getting all ‘you haven’t been in denial yet! You’re not allowed to be angry until next month!’ on you), but they tend to go Denial (this can’t be happening to me!), Anger (How dare this happen to me!), Bargaining (How can I make this not have happened to me?), Depression (I can’t bear that this has happened to me) and finally Acceptance (OK, that happened to me. And I’m still here).
I thought, though, it made an equally fine ‘model’ for how your (well, my, OK our (Christ on a cracker, what is it with me and parentheses today?)) friends and relations deal with The Presence of The Barren Among Them. Because we’ve all been startled, annoyed, hurt, and occasionally giggle-rama’d by said friends and relations and how they deal with us. Yes? Interested? Got your cocoa? Let me ramble forth in an expository manner forthwith.
Denial – Some of our friends and family (oh, let’s say FaF. Sooo much less typing) get stuck in Denial forever. ‘First stage’ my bottom. And denial is the one where the nicer ones say ‘it’ll be your turn next!’ and ‘I’m sure everything’s fine!’ and ‘It was just bad luck!’ and the infamous ‘Just relax! The nastier ones say ‘You’d better hurry up with that kid-making, you know. You’re not getting any younger,’ and ‘Worse things happen to people, you know. It’s not the end of the world’ and ‘Well, if you weren’t so bloody neurotic about it…’ and ‘Are you sure you and [spouse] are doing it right? Har har har.’ And everyone thinks you really do want to see eight million pictures of the family babies and hear blow-by-blow accounts of your cousin’s pregnancy and knit booties and are completely baffled when you try to tell them all this relentless baby-talk is, well, upsetting, especially after [insert personal horror here]. Denial, usually, fades after a year or two (or three, or if you’re my mother, six (and she still has outbreaks)), as it becomes totally fucking obvious to all except the most clueless hen-witted whistledick that THERE AIN’T NO BABY. Which leads to:-
Anger – Aaaaaaand we’ve all been victims of this, haven’t we? Anger and its best friend Blame. ‘Why won’t you go to Cousin SillySlut’s baby shower? You’re so selfish!’, and ‘Why won’t you give us grandchildren, you selfish person?’ and ‘Why can’t you just be happy for me? So what if my third child is due on the same day as the one you miscarried? So what if I announce twins at Thanksgiving just when you found out your second IVF also failed?’ And ‘It’s because you were such a slapper at college. It’s your comeuppance,’ and ‘Well, you must have done something to cause the miscarriage,’ and ‘I knew you shouldn’t try to have kids,’ and ‘You’d be a crap parent anyway,’ and ‘Well, we don’t really want you to come to Baby Flymo’s Christening because it’s only for parents…’ Of course, not all your FaFs will be such massive turds – at least, I pray not all your FaFs are such massive turds. But alas even the kindest of souls can suffer a sociopathic episode and say something monumentally crass and hurtful out of sheer flap-burble-nervous-mouth. My own mother once asked me if there was anything I could have done to stop a miscarriage. As if it wasn’t perfectly bloody obvious that had there been, I would have done it. And some FaFs genuinely mean to hurt. The situation, your grief, makes them acutely uncomfortable. Sadly, humans do lash out at whatever or whoever is making them acutely uncomfortable. And humans also hate the thought that Crap Happens To Good People. If they entertain said thought seriously, it means, OMG, that Crap could happen to them. And this is too scary to deal with, so they prefer to blame people for their misfortunes. And also lash out, because you and your misfortunes made them think, damn it, and it was really scary and they are so not doing it again so it must be your fault. Eheu.
Bargaining – Bargaining is the ‘why don’t you just adopt’ phase of FaF involvement. The ‘Why don’t you just do that in-vino-test-tube thing?’ stage. Come on, surely if you Do This Thing, the Bad Sad won’t happen, and then it’ll all be OK? Yes? OK? Please? No more sad? So why don’t you eat pineapple/go on vacation/try this doctor/do what [totally unrelated person with different health issues] did? Why won’t doing this simple thing help? Why won’t throwing money at the problem help? Please make this dreadful sad thing stop happening to you, to us, to the family? Here’s a fertility amulet and a cheque and a photocopied article from a magazine and eighteen amateur cod-diagnoses and a bottle of cough-syrup and a cruise brochure and your Granny’s nightie and a website on fostering and Jane-you-went-to-school-with has adopted Chinese twins and please please make this bad thing stop happening. It’s fucking infuriating for infertile peeps, this phase, mostly because your bargaining FaFs are so almighty fucking clueless and clearly don’t listen to a word you say, but, eh, they can’t listen right now. If they did, they’d have to deal with the fact there is eff-all they can do except listen. And nobody wants to feel that powerless. Certainly not us, and, yes, not them, either. Which leads to :-
Depression – This is considerably worse for the infertile person than for his or her FaFs. This is the stage when they give up. They stop asking you to family things. Friends stop calling, and tend not to answer your emails. They don’t want to talk about it, and pushing them can lead to outbreaks of Anger or Denial or Bargaining or, sometimes, in a magnificent display of missing the fucking point of who here is actually the one who needs thoughtfulness the most, all three in one short email. They don’t want to talk to you full-stop, because you might bring ‘it’ up, and they can’t talk about ‘it’, because they feel guilty and powerless and awkward and can’t deal with the fact Crap Happens To Good People and there’s nothing anyone can do. They’re pregnant again, and have no idea how to tell you, especially as they know you’d give your eye-teeth to be in their shoes and all they can think about is haemorrhoids, mortgages, and bloody buggering teething for the third time in four years, and they feel ashamed. Or they’ve never been pregnant in their lives but are happy as Larry that way and simply do not understand why you aren’t. And there it is, the widening pool of silence, loneliness, failure.
Acceptance – Ideally, a FaF would ‘get’ that it’s not about them. That you can be happy for them while being sad for you, and they too can be sad for you while being happy for them. That you won’t talk about ‘it’ incessantly. That you do need to talk about it sometimes and a good friend will listen, pass the kleenex, and pour more tea/whisky/cocoa/merlot. A good friend will know they’re not supposed to fix it, just to cheerlead. That they should respect your decisions and choices. That they should keep asking you to showers/Bris/birthdays, even if you say no half the time, because their love for you is about more than mere apposite social cohesion. A good FaF not in the trenches themselves would be aware that silence from you is a sign you are lonely and overwhelmed and not coping, and not comfort themselves with the lie that ‘oh, s/he’ll get in touch when they’re ready!’. Because they would realise that reaching out to people is hard, and reaching out to those whose lives are already full of babies and toddlers and school runs and milk-teeth is even harder, not least because you – we – have been socialised to Put Parents First. A FaF in acceptance would be able to say, simply, ‘I’m so sorry this has happened to you. I am listening. Have an eclair.’