There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you. - Maya Angelou
Friday morning in late July 2016, I flew from Toronto to Los Angeles and took a shuttle ride to Pasadena. The next morning, I was going to meet 14 strangers who, like me, had registered for a two-day workshop - Jody Day's Gateway Women Reignite Weekend that promised, among other things, you will ''explore and express unresolved grief about your childlessness."
The November prior, when my hopes and dreams of being a mother were completely flattened, I had come across Jody's Gateway Women website and online community. Jody's writing helped me realize that my mixed-up feelings - deep, disruptive sadness, anger, wistfulness, disbelief, more anger, more sadness - were grief. And, when I read the stories of other women posting in Jody's online community, I recognized my experiences and feelings. For the first time, my grief felt acknowledged and validated by others who completely got it. When Jody announced her Reignite Weekend workshop was going to be in California, I knew I had to go.
Fast forward back to around 7 p.m. that Friday in July 2016...I phoned my husband to let him know I'd arrived in Pasadena and to say, "Good night." It was 10 p.m. my Toronto time and I was already in bed, tired from travel and nervous about the weekend ahead. The workshop would begin the next morning.
After the call, I checked my email and found a message from Kelly. Kelly lives in Pasadena and was instrumental in organizing Jody's first Reignite Weekend in North America. Kelly, with her kindness and encouragement, was also instrumental in my decision to fly five hours alone across the continent to meet a roomful of strangers.
In her email sent that Friday evening when I was already in bed, I learned that some of the other women in town for the workshop were, at that moment, downstairs in the hotel meeting each other. Though part of me wanted to stay under the covers - literally and metaphorically - I got up, dressed and worked up the courage to join.
Fast forward a couple hours...I felt like I was surfacing. From the moment I joined the table of women in the hotel restaurant, they warmly welcomed me. These three lovely women talked as if they'd known each other for years. I soon felt as though I'd known them for years. They spoke about what had brought them to Pasadena. Then, one of the women turned and gently asked about me, about my experience.
For the first time, I spoke openly about what had brought me to seek out the company of other women affected by involuntary childlessness. I told my story. I described my pain. I didn't feel the need, as I usually did, to carefully consider my words or further explain myself. They understood.
The whole weekend experience, together with a group of women in my shoes, was a turning point in my healing. So many times during that weekend, I felt a sense of surfacing. I was surfacing from grief, isolation, self-blame and so many other longstanding burdens that stemmed from the loss of my parenting hopes and dreams.
Fast forward a couple years to September 2018...After completing an intensive workshop facilitation program with Jody, I arranged and delivered a sold-out Reignite Weekend workshop in Toronto. A lovely group of women gathered and told their stories. As my experience in Pasadena, understanding, support and compassion was expressed throughout the weekend. Late Sunday afternoon, while closing the workshop, each woman described how she felt given her workshop experience. Each expressed her heart-felt and personal response and gratitude. One woman said she felt like she could now exhale.
I'm surfacing. I can exhale.
When we struggle with involuntary childlessness, I believe we hold our breath. While hoping, while waiting, while feeling disappointment, we hold our breath. We tense up and hold that tension for years. When we realize how hard it is to find acknowledgement that our grief is real and valid, we hold it in. With every childbirth story, baby announcement, shower invite, grandchild photo, we hold it in. When we learn that most people can't gently listen to our stories or understand our continued sadness, we go further inward. We feel alone, like we're holding our breath, underwater.
To surface and exhale, to move toward healing, find connection.
Find a community that feels right and comfortable for you. More and more communities of women without children are being created - many online. Helpful hashtags include: #childless, #childlessnotbychoice, #childlessbycircumstance, #lifeafterchildlessness, #GatewayWomen, #CNBC, #childlessness...and more.
Then, share your story. Surface and exhale.
And this - one more thought...in her book It's OK That You're Not OK: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn't Understand, Megan Devine writes "...lengthening your exhale soothes your nervous system, shutting down the stress hormones that trigger anxiety. When you feel anxious, make your exhale longer than your inhale....It doesn't have to be a deep breath, just exhale for a moment longer. Experiment with that. See how it goes."
Inspirations and otherwise, as a woman without children. Welcome to share yours too - please be in touch using the Contact form.