Editor’s Note: When it comes to matters of the heart, there’s nothing quite so comforting and validating as discovering you’re not alone in teasing out complicated emotions. Whether in the blogosphere or in society as a whole male voices are in the minority on the topic of disenfranchised grief. It’s rare to hear men give voice to their feelings on involuntary childlessness or the finality of infertility.
That’s just one of the reasons why this guest post from Brian Hawker — a self-described teacher, sometimes writer and bad trumpet player is so special. Take it away, Brian…
For several years I have lurked over the shoulder of my wife reading articles and blogs by women dealing with the broken dream of not having children and figuring out how to fill the vacuum with redefinition and reinvention. This has been called “Plan B.” My wife and I walk this path and it is very confusing because there actually is no path.
Until very recently, when infertility altered your course, there was no map or GPS with confident directions cheerily announcing: “You have reached your destination.”Until very recently, when infertility altered your course, there was no map or GPS with confident directions cheerily announcing: “You have reached your destination.” Click To Tweet
It is only within the past few years that the trailblazers have come out of the shadows to make noise, write books and alert the media to the existence of a now not so “silent sorority”.
I struggle with this search for a path because, to me, so far we have been using left brain solutions to solve a right brain problem.
Okay, that’s not entirely true. The emotions attached to the grieving have been very right brained but now that we are trying to re-configure our lives without the family we wanted and prepared for, I feel some anxiety that maybe we are being practical and realistic, not acknowledging the ongoing importance of the emotional nourishment that comes with particular kinds of deep connection.
“Plan B” seems to prescribe more for the head than the heart but they speak different languages.
Responding to an emotion with logic – travel, volunteering, learning Spanish, playing the trumpet, writing a book (which is what I’m doing) is very satisfying but, at least for me, doesn’t address my need for reciprocal kinship and the yearly rituals of seamlessly moving in and out of the lives of people who “get me” with all of my annoying bumps and warts. It’s true that having children isn’t necessary for connection. I have a very deep connection with my wife, a few relatives, some wonderful friends and this personal journey has given me the accidental gift of a more meaningful relationship with myself.
But why do I still have this sense that something is missing? Do I need children to feel like a whole person? Elizabeth Gilbert and the Dalai Lama enjoy very full childless lives.
Five years ago, in the midst of our struggle, a friend came to visit and during a conversation with my wife who was explaining to her our sadness and sense of loss, she asked “Why do you still want to have children at your age?”
She is a thoughtful, educated person but clearly unaware of a gap in her understanding of this solitary, painful journey. Her question suggested that we didn’t need children to have a good life. This is where it gets tricky. I don’t need my eyesight. Lots of people are blind and they function quite well. I don’t need to be able to walk. A wheelchair will get me pretty much anywhere. I don’t need two lungs. If one shuts down, I can still breathe. Can I have a meaningful life without children and the myriad stressful, joyful, difficult, satisfying, funny experiences that come with “full catastrophe living” to quote Jon Kabat Zinn? The answer is . . . I don’t know, so that’s just to let you know where I am on this fuzzy path.
My cognitive ability has been mostly reliable for many decades but my most meaningful experiences have been emotional, not cerebral. Grad school was great. I loved my program and met fabulous people from all over the world but all of this doesn’t answer my need to express what I can only think of as love energy. My wife is a true partner and my closest friend but that’s a lot of emotional eggs in one basket. I’m still trying to figure all of this out but I don’t want to use my prefrontal cortex to do it! Air, water, food, connection. What’s the point of the first three if the last is missing? My head can’t heal my heart.
Let’s just say I’m puzzled (as if that wasn’t obvious). I’m going to give myself a shake, carpe diem and accept that some big questions don’t have answers, that my life is precious and that perhaps there is a new frontier out there where I can learn new ways of getting the connection I need to feel like a whole person.
Perhaps real wisdom lies in not seeking answers at all. Any answer we find will not be true for long. An answer is a place where we can fall asleep as life moves past us to its next question. After all these years I have begun to wonder if the secret of living well is not in having all the answers but in pursuing unanswerable questions in good company. — Rachel Naomi Remen
More about Brian: He remarried at age 50 and hoped to start a family with his younger wife. They discovered after several years of trying to get pregnant that his infertility was the obstacle, although the doctors would often use ambiguous language to describe his condition. Brian’s 20-20 hindsight realizes that he and his wife needed an advocate to help them ‘stickhandle’ through the maze of decisions, treatments and the confusing fallout of facing the prospect of a future without children. He continues to work on reconciling his unexpected reality and credits the strength of his marriage to keep him from completely falling over.
By coincidence, a feature story titled, The Untold Grief of Childless Men, also went live this week in Australia.
As Brian — and the men in the Australian piece — make clear while there has been little social support for those who carry the lasting scars of disenfranchised loss … maybe, just maybe, in sharing our little-heard and little-understood narratives we can help change some hearts, and the world we inhabit, for the better.
Let’s build on the quote Brian shared, “… the secret of living well is not in having all the answers but in pursuing unanswerable questions in good company.” Welcome your thoughts.