Recently I was listening to Elizabeth Gilbert, author of “Eat, Pray, Love,” talk about her life and her books when she shared information that truly shocked me. I’ve long been fascinated by the Hero’s Journey and even wrote about it in my first book, “Journey into Love, Ten Steps to Wholeness.”
Little did I know that Joseph Campbell – who coined the term, hero’s journey, to describe a story that has been told in many forms through all history and cultures – when asked why it’s always a man, a hero, reportedly said women don’t need to go on a quest because they already know their purpose in life is having babies!
Well, obviously Joseph Campbell knew nothing about missed motherhood. I realized that all of us who have experienced it have been on our own heroine’s journey. The stories for each of us may be unique, but the steps are similar.
The journey begins with a call to action when we are not getting what we want or think we need, to answer the question, “What have I come here to do with my life?” We feel broken and need to find a way to become whole.
My dream to create a family was dashed to the ground when, at 26 years old, I was told that I could never have children of my own. What amazed me is that the impossibility of that part of my life’s vision decimated all my other dreams as well – the career in science, the marriage, any happiness.
The call to action is telling us that we can’t stay where we are, we have to change. Well, I couldn’t image a life without children. I tried, but I couldn’t really accept any of the options. So I did what is commonly done, I refused the call. I became desperate, suicidal, in fact, for about a year. I researched various ways to die. Luckily found them all unacceptable, especially if they were not 100% effective and I ended up still alive, but damaged.
Finally I decided that life on any terms was preferable to death – that was my acceptance of the call to action. Now I was ready to attempt to create a new vision. It’s said that when not changing is worse than stepping out into the unknown – when we might even die if we don’t change – then we are moved to accept the call, and begin the journey.
Acceptance of the call is the beginning of what I believe is termed the road of trials, which includes transformative challenges, obstacles, temptations, and beliefs that trigger our sense of shame, failure, sorrow and generally feeling not good enough that lead to the Dark Night of the Soul.
I had to face my husband and his deeply held beliefs as well as my own fears and sense of inadequacy. I wish I’d had someone in addition to him that I could have talked with about what was happening for me.
During this part of the journey, they say that friends show up who are really enemies, and seeming enemies can become mentors. I had to push aside the demon voices within that told me that I was worthless, it was hopeless, and listen to the seemingly quiet, gentle voice of my own higher self, my spiritual essence. That voice kept telling me that I could do it, that I could create a fulfilling life without children. It was doable, but it wasn’t going to be easy.
I realized that I had to be bold, half measures were not going to work for me – I would always feel less than. I had to find a whole new path that excited me, that I could pursue with a passion, that was impossible or very difficult to travel if I did have children.
Hardest of all was convincing my beloved husband that we had to divorce so I could prosper and he could fulfill his dream of children. Once he finally accepted that fact, and with the burden of infertility lifted from both of our shoulders, we entered a bit of a honeymoon stage.
Before we finally separated, we decided to spend time – almost a year – doing all the things we had promised each other we would do together. That was a lovely time. It could have even tempted us to change our minds, but the hell we had each suffered before our decision remained as a vivid memory within us.
Surprisingly, when we did go our separate ways, I felt exuberant, light, open to adventure for the first time in years. All the sadness and loss had been grieved and I was free to live life with joy. I had faced the battles and had found my own strength. I discovered powers and talents I didn’t know I had. The use of my creativity moved beyond being the mother of a child to being the creator of my own life.
I totally agree with Elizabeth Gilbert when she said, “Failure, disaster, shame, suffering and pain do not necessarily make you a better person unless you participate in turning it into something that is good. Suffering without catharsis is wasted pain.”
My loss was so young and so absolute that I couldn’t spend lots of years hoping. Back then I was horrified by the brutality of it. Now I am thankful that I was forced to face the issue early and dramatically so I didn’t endure decades hoping it would be different.
Infertility is only one of the five categories of what I call missed motherhood. The others are pregnancy loss through miscarriage or abortion, giving a child up for adoption, childless by circumstance, and childfree by choice. I imagine that each of us who have experienced missed motherhood has our own unique heroine’s journey finding our individual answers.
The final step in the hero’s journey is coming back home and sharing what you have learned with others, which I have finally done in my book, “Honoring Missed Motherhood, Loss, Choice and Creativity.” I describe my own healing journey and the journeys of 13 other women as well as offering steps for any women who has missed motherhood to move toward wholeness.
It isn’t only women without children who suffer through the dark night of the soul. There are also women who have children who discover that motherhood is not at all what they expected and asks much more from them then they really want to give. Often they are silenced and alone, reticent to share their feelings after having gotten what they set out to achieve.
I invite you to share your heroine's journey after your own missed motherhood experience so other women can benefit.
Copyright ©Kani Comstock
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You can read more of my story, and the stories of 13 other women as well as the steps I used to create a life I love in my latest book, “Honoring Missed Motherhood: Loss, Choice and Creativity.”
Kani Comstock is the author of two books: Honoring Missed Motherhood, Loss, Choice and Creativity and Journey into Love, Ten Steps to Wholeness. Both of these books describe challenges involved in healing the past, and outline steps to be taken to claim personal authenticity and inner wisdom and find love for self and others. In addition to being Director of Coaching Programs and a Process Teacher for the Hoffman Institute Foundation, Kani speaks and leads workshops to support women, and their partners, in healing the loss and unresolved, often repressed, grief from missed motherhood,which includes infertility, pregnancy loss from miscarriage or abortion, giving a child up for adoption, choosing to be childfree, or never having the right circumstance.