It’s not envy; it’s absence

Today at Trader Joe’s, I was surrounded by women my age or younger, all of whom had babies strapped to them, or toddlers in the cart, or little hands inside theirs. One mother beside me was picking out bags of nuts from the shelf, just like me, except she had a cheerleader in the cart beside her, a two-year-old boy going: “Yah! Yeah! Yahhh!!!” every time she tossed a bag of nuts into the cart.

“Yah!” the mother cheered back. “Nuts! Yeah! Woo!”

“Yeah!!!” he cried, then threw back his head and roared with laughter.

They went on like this for ages, grinning, absolutely smitten with each other.

I moved away from them, and felt that empty space in the front of my own cart yawning wide.

I adjusted my eyes so that I couldn’t see any details around me—shifted my eyes into “middle distance” mode. I usually do this when I walk into a grocery store, or any place where I know there will be lots of mothers and children. I don’t focus on the details. I don’t look at them head-on. I try to protect myself by looking into the middle distance with a neutral expression, and an inner monologue that goes: “None of this hurts me. Nope. None of it….ahhhhh…. don’t-look-don’t-look-don’t-look!”

I’m not proud.

I wish I could just look at them and smile, laugh along, say hi to the little ones like I used to. But I have somehow lost my ability to do so. I have been protecting myself for so long. So long! I self-protect automatically.

I am protecting myself from something that is difficult to explain to anyone who has not experienced it personally. The feeling is not envy. Not exclusively. I’m not saying that envy is not part of the experience—certainly, it is—but the phenomenon that really hurts and isolates is one I can only describe as absence.

When I spend time with children, babies, I love it. I love children. I love babies. My body craves their touch. Their laughter, their animated voices, make me giddy. What hurts is not the time spent with them but the time spent directly after I’ve been with them, when the distinct sharpness of their absence cleaves into me, and the emptiness crushes me, leaves me breathless.

So often the angst we are experiencing as yearning-to-be mothers is minimized by the pejorative words “jealousy” or “envy.” But it’s just not that simple. We don’t covet children like one would covet a better job or mate or vacation or whatever. We don’t look at mothers and their children and have feelings even remotely like the feelings we might have if we envied her body, or her hair, or the car she drives. We don’t look away simply out of spite; we don’t feel anger and sadness simply because we can’t have something we want. We look away from the mother and child because we are mourning the deaths of the children we never had—and I’m not just talking about children who were miscarried. I’m talking about all of the children who live vividly in our minds and hearts, but not in the physical world.

I walk through the grocery store with my empty cart and feel the color drain from my face, and a shadow pass over me, and then everything I look at is seen through the enormity of my child’s irrefutable, unconquerable, absence.

So when I see the mothers and children in the store, or on Facebook, or wherever, I’m not just some bitter, jealous person who is choosing to not participate in life. I don’t feel bitter. I feel like I am protecting myself from an empty space that has the power to squash the very life-blood out of me.

How to turn this around? I want to! I do!

I want to go home to visit my extended family soon. I want to have the strength to hold my brother’s newborn son in my arms. But just typing those words is difficult. I close my eyes. I can feel the warmth of my nephew’s little body in the crook of my arm. And the cool air against that same arm when he is lifted up, and taken away.

Advertisements
Leave a comment

69 Comments

  1. Yes, yes, so true, every word… a million meditations after reading your post, as I recall my own mom having accused me of simply being “jealous,” as I reflect on how infertility has led to so much isolation and altered my capacity to give of myself to others, sometimes even a smile, and as I look back at a time when I, myself, felt so guilty and selfish for not being able to overcome the pain… Will be sharing this with my partner… Wishing you well as you welcome 2014.

    Reply
    • Coming from your mom, that must have hurt! No, it’s not as simple as jealousy, it’s on a whole other level. After all, the drive to procreate is the most powerful drive in the animal kingdom! I’m glad you can share this with your partner. Good wishes back to you in the new year!

      Reply
  2. I cried while reading this. Even though I’m on the road to resolution, every word of this rings true. I wish I knew exactly what to tell you to help you, but the truth is that getting to a place where the pain won’t exist may not happen. It may simply be a matter of getting to a point where it is less sharp and acute. After all, you (like me) are no longer naive. And that sucks more than anyone can begin to describe to those who haven’t walked this path.

    What I will say is that I can promise you that you will not always feel exactly this way. That though there will be moments where these panga return, they won’t cut as deeply. For now, though, be kind to yourself. And know you’re not alone.

    Reply
    • That is hard to hear, that getting to a place where the pain doesn’t exist may not happen. But I know you are right. It’s just very, very hard for me to accept. You describe it the way I know it will be—that the best I can hope for is reaching a place where the pain is dulled. Even if I find parenthood, I know that what has been happening is crazy-traumatic and will always be a huge part of who I am, and will—yes, like you say—make naive joy, hope, impossible. Thank you so much for making me feel less alone. But I wish you didn’t know what I’m going through.

      Reply
  3. Wow. This is a great post. We have all been there. I read something once (maybe in an infertility memoir) that said “I don’t want other peoples children. I want my own children to be like their children: here with me.” That really resonated with me. Because I don’t actually want other people to lose their children or give them to me, I just want my children to be here to hold and take care care of. Thanks for sharing this. Helps all of us not feel alone.

    Reply
  4. Oh this is so heartbreakingly true. I love being with kids but that feeling afterwards, the emptiness is to much to take. Hope so much 2014 brings you happiness

    Reply
  5. You have captured this feeling so amazingly well. I like how you say it’s not exclusively envy, it’s that gaping absence. I know it’s not actually true, but sometimes it seems that life just throws as many happy babies and enormously pregnant women in my path as possible, and I have to figure out how to, as you so perfectly put it, find that middle distance in my vision to blur them out. There are days when I can smile and wave at the baby in front of me in line, and there are days where a crying baby will positively rip my heart to pieces and I have to leave the store as quickly as possible. Unfortunately I think this is just part of our condition, a piece of infertility that is unavoidable. I wouldn’t beat yourself up too much for having these moments where even spending time with babies you know and love leaves a horrible void in the hours after, or that blinding sense of empty you feel in the stores where the happy families unwittingly flaunt their prizes. It’s the truth of the experience now. Hopefully there is healing later, but now, now this is just where things lay. Thank you for putting this into words so beautifully. Enjoy your nephew, and may the new year bring peace, healing, and less empty to carry around with you.

    Reply
    • Ah, you are so wise to point that out—it depends on the day, doesn’t it? I tend to have state-dependent memory a lot these days—that is, when I’m sad, I only remember sad times; when I’m happy, I remember happy. So when I’m feeling like a grocery store is an obstacle course of happy motherhood, I’m not remembering those days when I can walk through the grocery store just fine and make eye contact and everything! I’m sorry you can relate to that sight-blurring—as I was doing it at TJ’s I just recognized how unhealthy it felt, and that I’ve been doing it automatically for so long. But you’re right—this is just where things lay right now. Good days, bad days. Thanks as always for chiming in with your words.

      Reply
  6. I’ve been reading your blog for a while but never commented before. I can’t tell you how true those words are. I’ve never been able to explain this feeling in words and your post says it beautifully. My only regret is that someone else knows how it feels. I shared your post with a friend who once accused me of becoming a “hater” of moms and children. I can tell it made an impact because she called and her first words were “I’m sorry I had no idea”. So I had to drop by and say Thank You for your words. My wish is that 2014 brings you an end to this absence.

    Reply
    • Thanks so much for commenting! It’s nice to hear from you. But I too regret that you know how this feels…

      But holy crow, I can’t tell you how wonderful it is that these words had such an effect on your friend that she would call and say that—that really knocks me down. That’s one of the reasons I started this blog, to hopefully create a resource for helping our friends and family understand what we are going through. I’m so happy to hear she called and apologized.

      I wanted to reply to the comments on this post a while ago but I couldn’t bring myself to come back to this post until now—a real indication to me of how potent this topic is.

      Reply
  7. This is one of the most achingly beautiful posts I’ve ever read. And so very, very true.

    Reply
  8. This is absolutely beautifully written, and captures a feeling that I’ve never really been able to put into words. Thank you for writing this.

    Reply
    • You’re welcome! I am so glad to be abel to articulate that hard-to-pinpoint feeling. It has taken me a while to figure out how to do so.

      Reply
  9. Oh honey, I cried. Not that I wasn’t going to anyway, but your words are my feelings.

    Reply
    • Gah. I hear you. So many tears. I bawled while writing this. And it took me 4 days to write replies because didn’t want to cry like that again. Not crying now, but feeling so much empathy for you, for all of these women who understand the absence. It’s so hard.

      Reply
  10. So beautiful and so heartbreakingly accurate dear lovely friend, once again you have spoken in ways that strike to the depths of my soul. I’m so so sick of this longing, of the self protection. Will this ever end? xx

    Reply
    • I’m so sick of it, too, Lisette! This morning, I actually had the thought: I’m so sick of this I think I am almost done with this sadness. No way is that even close to true, but I’ve never had a thought quite like that. I’m so glad these words connected with you and expressed something close to your soul—but I wish your pain away with everything in me.

      Reply
  11. Everyone’s comments on this post have touched me so. I’ll write back individual responses in a bit, but wanted to say this for now. This post really cracked open something—I’d been wanting to write about this feeling for so long and doing so was hard and left me sad for a long while. It’s hard for me to even think about this post. Obviously it needed to come out!

    Reply
  12. anon

     /  January 4, 2014

    I can’t explain what this post means to me. I am changed by it.

    Reply
  13. I’m here from Mel’s Roundup. You’ve got it exactly. I always say that it isn’t envy or jealousy, but that it is simply a reminder of what we don’t have, or for many of us, what we will never have. And it’s okay to feel sad about that.

    What I can say (to you, and to others) though is that it does get easier. Once I was able to stop imagining MY baby, the baby that would never be, it was easier to take delight in others, without that terrible sadness. And now, years later, I am able to feel full joy, with only an occasional reminder that I might be missing something or someone. It gets easier.

    Reply
    • Thank you for stopping by and saying this—and I just checked out your blog, what refreshing story! You sound good. Strong. Your life is rich. I need to start following your story. It reminds me that there are countless ways that my own story can progress and what sounds unbearable now might turn out to be a rich life after all.

      I haven’t stopped imagining my baby (babies) via donor egg—but I have started imagining adoption. When I stop and think of all I have managed to adapt to this year, I’m blown away—I’ve adapted to losing my ability to have a biological child forever, and (partially) to the idea that I might not ever be able to have a baby at all. I’ve been letting go a little of each of those things for 3 years now.

      So I believe you when you say that it gets easier. Life goes on…

      Reply
  14. Yes, yes, yes!!!! A priceless post that puts into words what I’ve been feeling for so many years. Thank you!!

    Reply
    • You are most welcome. I can’t tell you how happy I am to have written something so many connect with deeply. I think this myth, that we are just jealous and bitter, needs some serious dispelling.

      Reply
  15. Though I have been a lurker on your blog for a while now, I was led to this post via Stirrup Queen’s blog roundup. This post is amazing and so so true. I’m just nodding my head while reading along, because you’ve articulated so beautifully and so heartbreakingly what I haven’t been able to put into words in the last three and a half years. I especially like what you said about the use of ‘jealousy’ as an explanation being a kind of derogatory attitude, and one that dismisses the very real (and very complex) hurt that comes with IF/loss and coping with other peoples’ children. As an above commenter said, (and probably one of the reasons I still find others’ pregnancies more painful than their living children), I am not envious of your kids in the sense that I wish they were mine. But they make me think of *my* babies and all I’m missing out on with them.
    Thanks for this post. I’d like to send this to numerous people! You’re an amzing writer and a source of support to so many other women.

    Reply
    • I’d like to say back to you that YOU are a gifted writer and a huge support to other women, such an important member of this community (like I mentioned in my other comment I’ve been following you for a while now). I’m so pleased that these words resonated with you. They nearly killed me to write—it had been incubating for a very long time and I couldn’t bring myself to write about it until that one day at the grocery store when I was like: That’s it. Gotta write this *now*. “Jealous,” “bitter”—these words sadden and anger me when used to describe this feeling that is so layered, and unknown to most people. Thanks for checking TUT out. Hope to hear from you again soon.

      Reply
    • P.S. Oh but wait—Stirrup Queen’s blog roundup? I’m in that somewhere? I didn’t know. If you have a moment, can you point me to that? Thanks!

      Reply
  16. I am so happy that you linked this post. It is perfect. As we have trudged down this journey, I feel like the first word that pops up is jealousy. Whether it be with friends or coworkers, or really anyone. I feel like we can hear that word so much that we often can convince ourselves that jealousy and envy is exactly what we are experiencing. But, what we all feel is truly absence, persistently there and bittersweet. I hope that you are able to find that niche of working with kids that used to bring you so much joy.

    Reply
    • Thank you—I hope so too! And that is exactly how I feel, that we use those words to describe ourselves because that’s the word everyone else uses. We beging to speak a language not our own, invented by people who have never gone through what we’ve gone through. People assume so much it’s absolutely nuts. I had a friend who lectured me as I was in the throes of loss, saying “keeping yourself away from kids sounds a lot like *choice* to me, and you have no one to blame but yourself” etc….there is this idea that we are being un-evolved, bitter, and a host of other negative inaccurate things. I had another friend who lectured: “Life is short! You shouldn’t keep yourself away from babies…” this while I literally had my “products of conception” in a jar in the freezer, for possible later testing. Talk about adding insult to injury. We have to go through all of this while people fling derogatory adjectives at us. I’m glad this resonated with you.

      Reply
  17. AndiePants

     /  January 7, 2014

    Reblogged this on The Gayby Project: Making the Next Generation of Fabulous and commented:
    This . . .is heartwrenching and so accurate and needs to be read.

    Reply
    • Thank you! Am so glad it spoke to you, and I appreciate the reblogging so much. Just started following your story…

      Reply
      • AndiePants

         /  January 7, 2014

        I have really appreciated your writing since I found your blog. While your story is certainly quite different from mine, I think you are able to capture the heartbreak and misery of all of this without dwelling in it – its been a gift to feel like I am having my feelings echoed without also feeling like I’m over indulging them. So, thanks.

        Reply
        • Thank you for saying so, it makes me feel really good to know that this blog is reaching you and helping in any way! It’s not easy to know when it is “okay” to feel sadness, even despair, and when to push yourself into a different mind-space. An honor to echo your feelings—thanks for reflecting back.

          Reply
  18. I have read this entry several times, and cried through every reading. This entry made me feel so much better about myself. I think one of the hardest things about infertility has been feeling guilty about all of the feelings you talked about in your entry. I don’t want to feel this way, i just do, and I especially don’t want to feel guilty about it. Once again– thank you.

    Reply
    • Your comment made my day. I’m so glad it made you feel better about yourself. I know it—I’ve felt that guilt. And then that frustration at the guilt and a sense that the pejorative adjectives were not accurate. We get doubly slammed. We can’t have babies, and then we are told we are all sorts of awful things because we have isolating pain that keeps us apart. Thank you for reading.

      Reply
  19. Reblogged this on Infertile Girl in a Fertile World and commented:
    Found this through the blog round up at Stirrup Queens http://www.stirrup-queens.com/2014/01/476th-friday-blog-roundup/ and loved it. So amazingly well written and the perfect, eloquent explanation of an unexplainable feeling.

    Reply
  20. Beautiful. Such an amazing explanation of how it feels to long for a baby- your baby.

    Reply
  21. I am now sobbing!!! Not just because of sadness so much but because you just explained what I have been unable to for years!! I wish my friends and family could read this, they might have a better understanding! A better understanding of why I have had to excuse myself early from all of the recent baby showers, birthdays…etc. Or leaving the grocery cart in the middle of the isle because I haven’t mastered the art of “middle distance” mode, will be practicing that from now on tho! Thank you so much for putting into words what I haven’t been able to! Sending virtual hugs a good thoughts your way.

    Reply
    • Aw, hon, I’m glad it helped you feel so validated, and also just sorry you know so well what I’m writing about. You could always print it out and share it with friends and family—one reader did that and her friend called her to apologize for not understanding her. Middle distance is complicated—necessary sometimes, but also isolating. I’m trying to move into a new phase, I’m so tired of the isolation and of feeling like kids are my kryptonite. We’ll see what happens…

      It’s totally understandable that you have to excuse yourself from baby showers. I have not gone to ONE baby shower in 3 years! I don’t even try it.

      Wishing you so much peace.

      Reply
  22. Reblogged this on My Dink-ish Life and commented:
    Please read this VERY well written blog. I hope it speaks to you as it did to me.

    Reply
  23. I read this post twice.. I’ve read so many blog posts and this post is one of the most beautifully written pieces I have ever read. You seemed to capture the emotions through words that I am unable to do. I can whole-heartly relate to your every word. Thank you for taking the time to share this. I know these feelings are not easy to deal with. Thank you.

    Reply
    • You are welcome, with full, full heart. I can’t thank you enough for the compliments, and for letting me know how much it touched you. It’s why I’m writing this blog. xo

      Reply
  24. This is a beautiful, raw, powerful post, perfectly capturing that exquisite pain of the absence. The emptiness. Thank you for expressing so beautifully how so many women feel and have no words for. This must have been very painful for you.

    Reply
    • It really was! I had no idea how it would affect me. It made me go through this whole unexpected catharsis/metamorphosis. I went to TJ’s yesterday and didn’t feel any of that pain. BUT there are good days and bad days…

      Reply
  25. Thank you for writing this. I know and understand exactly how you feel, but you painted the words beautifully in a way I haven’t been able to express. Good luck to you!

    Reply
  26. Reblogged this on NewtoIVF and commented:
    THIS is the great post I’ve been looking for – thank you all for your suggestions which have also lead me to a lot of great resources xx

    Reply
  27. Reblogged this on Adventures in Baby Making and commented:
    Could not have explained this any better. I read it over and over and over, simply because it is so on point.

    Reply
  28. Reblogged this on Life, Love and my version of motherhood and commented:
    I am crying as I read this. Each and every word is so very true. It is just just how one feels out and about. The pretending nothing is there so that you can just make it through the store for the loaf of bread and milk to get out before shedding a tear. The void. You are so excited on the inside to hear and see that child and it’s mother. To see the relationship they have and the joy. Hear the laughter in their voice. But then there is a void.
    It has been nearly 2 years since I touched or held a child. That child was my own. I am not able to hold another one. I cannot replace the last memory I have of my child with another. That space is his and his alone. I am not strong enough. I just do not have the inner strength to change it.
    Thank you for these words. I could never have expressed my feelings any better.

    Reply
  29. Well said. Rarely do I read something and feel as if it’s coming from my own heart. Thank you for expressing, what I am incapable of.

    Reply
  30. Thank you for writing this post. It’s so spot on. And the imagery you employ is very powerful. I went to the grocery store yesterday morning (the day after I found out I would miscarry) and the first thing I saw was a display for diapers. I wanted to turn around and run out of the store. Oh, the absence. It’s so difficult.

    Reply
  31. FaithHope&Love

     /  March 9, 2014

    I just read this linked through a PCOS support message board and wanted to thank the author from the bottom of my heart. Shortly after my first ever ovulation and brief chemical pregnancy, a friend announced her surprise pregnancy and I was genuinely happy for her and shocked and dismayed to find myself fighting tears. I was already feeling bad and beating myself up for being unable to be as supportive as I’d like when I later received an email from her attacking me for being to selfish and petty and competitive to really be happy for her. Luckily, I have great friends who supported me and told me it was normal to have mixed feelings when someone else accidentally gets the thing you want– but people (even supportive ones) who have never stared down infertility are very quick to lump this in with envy and jealousy that we absorb it and further use it to shame and punish ourselves. I think what most of us feel is this absence you describe and also brokenness– “what is it about me that can’t do this thing that seems to come naturally to everybody else?” I don’t think anybody who has walked this path would ever wish it on others, but I would like people to understand that sometimes interacting with people who are celebrating the lives of their children remind us of our children who may never be and absence (even grief) summarizes this feeling so much better than envy. Thank you, reading your words have been healing and will help me be kinder to myself from this point forward.

    Reply
    • It means so much to me to hear from you, to know that these words were helpful to you—I’m so glad! And so sorry for what you experienced. Oh, honey. I have been there. I once received a phone call from a friend shortly after our failed OE IVF…I thought she was calling to offer me support, but what she said, almost immediately, was: “I’m pregnant.” What exactly she was expecting me to say or do after spending thirty thousand dollars on a traumatic experience, I don’t know, but for the first time, I allowed myself to express my true feelings, the hurt, her lack of sensitivity. And she wrote me such an assumptive and punishing email it took my breath away. I still can’t believe what she said. No—part of me did believe parts of it and, yes, took on her language, punished myself in wondering if anything she accused me of was true. It took me a while, but I wrote this post in part in response to that experience, and other experiences like it, to explain once and for all that what is happening inside us is not so base and simple as jealousy. Many of those who have never experienced this particular feeling of absence just cannot fathom it.

      Makes me smile to hear that you will be being kinder to yourself now.

      Reply
  32. So well articulated! You’ve put into words what we’ve all felt. Each time I used the word “jealous” it just seemed wrong and didn’t quite capture what I felt.

    Reply
  1. I want to work with children | the unexpected trip
  2. Underestimated | NewtoIVF
  3. March 2014 Highlights and Best Reads | Unfinished Lisa
  4. NIAW Wrap Up | Conception's Bitch

Leave a reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: