There is something called Survivors Guilt that happens sometimes in individuals who have gone through a traumatic experience and lost a loved one. It can happen in war with fellow soldiers watching their comrades die and it can happen in purely civilian situations as well. For example I had a friend who had an intense and (as she freely acknowledged) irrational guilt for surviving a car wreck in which her Grandmother was killed.
I am not a psychologist. I have not read any professionally written literature or studies addressing the phenomenon I am about to talk about. And, maybe it’s not a big deal at all. Actually in the grand scheme of things I’m pretty sure it’s not a big deal. But it is something I have personally experienced and it’s something a couple of women have shared with me that they too have struggled with. Writing is a therapeutic way for me to process and hopefully better understand.
Among the many wonderful women I have the honor of calling friends there have been what seems like a longer than it should be list of us who have lost babies and others, who are unable to carry children or in some cases conceive at all. It has been an indescribable blessing to experience the love, listening ears, unconditional and heart-felt empathy, sympathy and encouragement among us as we have each dealt with the struggles and challenges of whatever our particular issue has been. We rejoice with those who are able to rejoice at the end of a long struggle, we grieve with those who are grieving the losses of both the children so tiny they cannot yet be seen to losing a child that they have held and loved.
Sometimes in the midst of one friends grief another one experiences the joy of a healthy, alive baby at the end of their pregnancy. I think it is wonderful that women who are in these active “grief stages” of loss are feeling free to openly share their emotions even to the point of how the very joy their friend is experiencing is a source of pain as it is too sharp of a reminder of what they have just lost. This is normal. It’s honest. It’s healthy. In previous generations I don’t think there was as much of a freedom to express this aspect of grief and there was perhaps some sort of an unspoken code against being anything but unabashedly happy for others even in the midst of your own sharp loss or long standing weary heart-ache.
As a result of this open communication we have learned how to be more sensitive, kind and caring to those who are grieving. Those who are struggling. Those who are trying and tired of trying. To those who long deeper than they have words to say to hold a child and call it their own.
This increased awareness has led to more than *just* a higher level of sensitivity and care to women who are struggling and grieving though. There seems to be something on the rise amongst women who effortlessly have complication free children, as many as they want. It seems like it is something akin to “survivors guilt” I have seen comments along the lines of “I love my kids and I know there are people who would give their right arm to have even one child but I am at the end of my rope today with them and would give just about anything for some peace and alone time” shortly followed by an “I am so sorry, I really am grateful for my kids. I have no right to feel this way.” And there is where the problem lies. it IS Ok for them to feel that way. It’s ok that they find where they are in life bigger and more overwhelming and staggering and hard. It’s Ok that they struggle emotionally through the baby and young child raising days.Yet, increasingly it is becoming something that many Mom’s do not feel the freedom or right to express for fear of not properly appreciating the children they have in light of the knowledge of a friends grief and hearts desires.
Women who are struggling with acute stages of grief may find honesty from exhausted Mom’s in the real life trenches of day in and day out childcare duty hurtful. It is tempting to think (and in some cases actually say) “Oh if only *I* were able to have a child (or another baby) I would be so grateful I wouldn’t get mad over something so stupid as spilled cereal all over the floor. Seriously she has no idea how grateful she should be to just have a child to clean up after” While this reaction is completely understandable I think perhaps there is temptation to not extend a similar grace and understanding to women who are experiencing their own different burdens, trials and acute struggles that we might feel justified and entitled to by our losses or disappointed hopes and expectations. It’s so easy and so tempting to think when struggles and challenges of motherhood are shared “Aren’t you lucky to have that set of problems. I’d give anything for those” The truth is that a struggle is a struggle. Exhaustion is exhaustion and emotional desires whether it be for a child to call your own or for one more ounce of patience to dole out to an excessively challenging offspring are equally challenging.
Having encouragement, grace to give to the exhausted and overwhelmed woman (who may not have planned expected or necessarily wanted 4 children in 4 years but who now may be guilted into feeling as though she is a failure if she doesn’t demonstrate excessive gratefulness for them all the time) is every bit as vital a part of our responsibility to each other in friendship as being sensitive and encouraging is to the women struggling with infertility.
I am so grateful for friends who love through thick and thin and through all the stages of life and journey’s God is bringing us all on. As a woman who has experienced both the sharp pain of repeated losses, the wonderings and pleadings with God to be able to carry a child to term and now also deep in the throes of full time motherhood to young children while trying to juggle a job and business responsibilities I feel as though I have been given the opportunity to see the other side of a coin that I used to long for. I miss the moments of solitude. I am grateful with everything in me for our two beautiful children. There is not one day or one night that I take them for granted. But I get weary. Oh so weary. The challenges are bigger than anticipated and the tangible payoffs (at least in these young stages) less than hoped for. The fact that I find struggles to overcome at this phase of life does not negate my appreciation or joy our children bring to my life.
I just wish I had this perspective back when the pang of envy and thoughts of reproach would encroach upon my thoughts towards friends who were deep in the trenches of motherhood and daring to be honest about it. Now I’m grateful to them for being honest. For helping me not to romanticize what the reality of raising children entails. For not protecting me from their real lives just because I was currently childless.
My hope is that as a culture we can continue to grow and be sensitive to both sides of this “chasm” of different stages and pain points in life. We are all in need of love and encouragement. Thank you to all my friends in all stages of life who have been so unconditionally loving and encouraging to me through the years. It is a luxury many women never get to experience and makes me all the more grateful for you. 🙂
Love Love Love
Along those lines, Stephanie, I have way more than once complained about moms whining that their less-than-one-year-olds are into everything, climbing on the table, hanging from the chandelier, etc., wishing my always-slow-to-gain-strength-and-motor-skills children could’ve done that. Or when other homeschooling moms are asking frantically for more challenging material for their children to use, when my own children (many of them) are still trying to learn to read. Your blog post here is a good reminder for me to be understanding towards those mom’s admittedly exhausting and overwhelming challenges-in-spite-of-their-gifts, too.
So well said. We often don’t know what others lives are like…and will not until we walk in their shoes. Good reminder to us all–thanks for that.