Each day I have a new appreciation for how difficult the concept of infertility is both for those of us living it as well as those who are not but don’t know how to best to respond. Following the bad news on the pet front last week I shared my sadness and frustration with family, friends and colleagues. I received an outpouring of sympathy. It was bad news after all and they wanted to make me feel better. I welcomed and appreciated their caring gestures.
What surprised me though was the depth of condolences from some of my colleagues. Sure they felt a bit invested in the process as I’d been talking up how excited I was about Scout’s arrival for more than a year. At the same time their sympathy far outweighed the circumstances. There was something more there. They lingered in my office longer than necessary some of their faces carrying real sadness. When I took a step back to assess their reactions further something else became clear to me. My loss of Scout had become for them a proxy for my loss of children.
The ability to channel their sadness for me into the pet loss gave them a safe and less intimate way of expressing a larger sadness on my behalf. Their body language told me that the loss of this furry little addition to my family was just one in a series of greater losses that they had not been in a position to address — as much for my holding them at arm’s length as for their discomfort with the larger subject of infertility.
It was a lesson for me. A lot of people truly want to be there for me, but sometimes I won’t let them or they just don’t know how.
May 2, 2007 8:56 am
Oh how well you’ve said it once again. Our pain causes us to act unfairly in some cases where, like you said, people just don’t know how to show their sympathy/empathy or worse: we don’t allow them to come close enough to us because we sometimes feel responsible for their guilt/being uncomfortable in a way.
May 2, 2007 2:59 pm
Oh, I love this post. It is all too true for me.
May 2, 2007 9:49 pm
And that’s the thing — everyone knows how to respond to the loss of a pet. When it’s the loss of a child, or even the loss of the dream of a child, their heads explode.
Sigh. I’m just tired of being the one who has to educate everybody else around me on the appropriate response to infertility: “I know you’re hurting, I’m sorry to see you in pain. The situation sucks and you shouldn’t have to deal with it. I’m here if you need to talk to someone.” That’s all anyone ever has to say.
May 3, 2007 6:37 pm
As a male”>http://maybebaby.ctwfeatures.com”>male dealing with infertility, I’ve tossed open the doors, even the closets where I stuff all my “where does this go?” stuff, and welcomed my entire workplace into the fold. They support me so much, and I find it makes dealing with the work/life balance so much easier.
Here’s hoping your co-workers will provide you the same.
May 3, 2007 11:32 pm
Pamela Jeanne, thanks for stopping by my blog and for your kind comment.
I think your coworkers reactions are typical. People can relate to the loss of a pet (or to not being able to have a pet they really wanted: “Mommmm! Why can’t we get a dog? I promise I’ll feed him!”) so they know the right noises to make, and the right reactions. But many people have no experience with IF–either personally or through friends/family, so, as Sharah wrote “their heads explode.” They don’t know what to say. And, if you’re someone who tends to be self-protective, you don’t want to give them the chance to say something awful, so you close yourself off, and then they say nothing.
May 3, 2007 11:36 pm
What a great post again. I’ve often shut out people in my life because of lack of caring and support. I let a lot of people in the beginning and I found people just didn’t care or didn’t know how to support me and I found that very hurtful. So I learnt to protect. Its hard because I’ve sheltered my pain and only allowed people who I trust and know care for me be there. Everyone else I haven’t let them in or allowed them to. Its so hard isn’t it…
May 9, 2007 8:27 pm
I think this is true for all of us in our grief. A good lesson here in a larger context.