I was cleaning off the front of my refrigerator last year – taking down photos of young children who are now nearly adults and came across a newspaper clipping that had turned brown with age. The clipping was a letter in a Dear Abby column written by Emily Perl Kingsley, entitled, “Welcome to Holland”. In the letter she describes her experience raising a child with a disability. I had put that clipping up there during a difficult time in my life. I decided to share this with you as it seems like a nice follow-up to the Second Arrow post. Although you may have different experiences, with loss, I am hoping this post will provide some ideas and support.
At the time, I had recently experienced two, early, miscarriages and was grappling with the realization that it wasn’t going to work out for me to have biological children. It seemed impossible to take in that reality. I was overwhelmed with shock and grief. I couldn’t believe what was happening and had trouble accepting it. Kingsley’s description of a plane landing in a different location than she expected seemed to describe, so well, what I was feeling. She describes her experience, of having a special needs child, as having planned for an exciting trip (Italy) and then arriving, unexpectedly, in a different destination (Holland).
“The flight attendant comes on and says, ‘Welcome to Holland’. ‘Holland?!’, you say. ‘What do you mean, Holland? I signed up for Italy. All of my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.’ But there’s been a change in the flight plan. They’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay.”
I felt understood at that moment – even though she was describing a very different life event. My “plane” had landed and it wasn’t where I thought it would be landing. There was no way to leave. Realizing that I would never have a biological child felt shocking and so unfair. I couldn’t imagine that my life would ever be happy in this “different place”. I fought against it – “no, this can’t be happening” – “it can’t be possible that I will never have the experience of giving birth” – “I can’t stand this”, etc, etc. I couldn’t totally take in what Kingsley wrote next and it did, at least for a moment, bring me back to balance.
“The important thing is that they haven’t taken you to a horrible place…… It is just a different place.”
To make things worse, I couldn’t seem to go anywhere without someone telling me about their children. I was happy for them and inside I was also seething. In the letter Kingsley shared her experience with this.
“But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy, and they’re all bragging about what a wonderful time they have had there.”
I was really happy for all of those people coming and going from the place where I wanted to be and I was, also, sad and angry. I shot myself with so many “second arrows” during this time! I wish my skills would have been stronger, at this time in my life, and maybe that was all part of my process of getting to what I would describe as “tolerance”. I think Kingsley described it so well.
“And the pain of that will never, ever, ever go away, because the loss of that dream is a very significant loss.”
I say tolerance because I am better at tolerating the pain now. That pain still does resurface (there are now the grandchildren) and now it is much more familiar and far less frightening. I may “tip” out of emotional balance and I am quicker to “right myself”. I am much better at feeling the pain, honoring my feelings – without getting stuck in all the unfairness – and coming back to the present. I remember, at the time, feeling struck by Kingsley’s final words in her letter.
“But if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the…. very lovely things about Holland.”
Isn’t this so true? When we hold onto how we think things “should be” we miss the beauty of what is? I do not mean, in any way, to minimize the pain of pregnancy loss or infertility. That pain is real and the loss is “significant”. And when we hold onto the “shoulds”, we add to the pain that is already there and sometimes in a way that makes it feel intolerable.
By getting caught up in the “unfairness” we can also miss the joy that is there for us in this different place, where our plane has landed.
As I reflect on my experience of “landing” in this destination that I hadn’t dreamed of, there has been much joy and beauty – much of which I wouldn’t have experienced if my plane had landed in the land of having had children.
I wonder, has the plane of your life landed at a different destination than you had hoped? If so, be sure honor your feelings – of course, there is pain in this change of course! Watch out for those unreasonable expectations or “shoulds” and finally, be sure not to miss the beauty of the place where you have arrived!
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I went on-line and found a copy of Kingsley’s “Welcome to Holland” in case you would like to read it. Just follow the link.