More and Less than Hope

Some of the time the future comes right ‘round to haunt me

Some of the time the future comes ‘round just to see

That all is as it could be

Like it’s there to remind me

We’ve got to wait and see. –Beth Orton, “Conceived”


dahlia-dahlia-174239_640“No one knows anything.”

That’s something I thought and said over and over after my first loss.  No one had known that anything was going wrong in my pregnancy, no one knew afterward exactly what had happened (some of the medical evidence was conflicting) and I was very sure no one knew what would happen next in my life.  My general understanding of how the world worked felt extremely challenged.

I also started having an ambivalent relationship with the word hope.

Merriam Webster gives us the following definition of this four letter word:

HOPE -Noun:  the feeling of wanting something to happen and thinking that it could happen : a feeling that something good will happen or be true

Hope is something others usually want us to feel after our loss.  It’s an understandable and generally well-meaning desire.  We, however, may struggle with the concept.  It’s not like we want to feel hopeless.  It’s just that what we are hoping for- to stop feeling so sad, to have another pregnancy or baby, or to back up to some pre-loss point in our lives- may feel outside our grasp.  We desperately want to feel better but don’t know how or if we’ll get there.  Statements of hope may feel like someone telling us to go swim across the ocean- unreasonable and frustrating.

In my office, I’ve heard of many well-intended statements said to grieving people and their internal responses to the comments:

“Everything happens for a reason.”

Really?  Do you know the reason my baby is dead?  Because there can’t be a good enough reason.”

“You’ll have more kids.”

How could you possibly know that?  And even if you are omniscient, do you think this loss will ever be erased or become a non-event in my life?”

“Time heals all wounds.”

What kind of time are we talking here?  Because I don’t know how long I can stand this.”

Rather than hopeful, thoughts after a loss are often along the lines of the following:

-Everything has gone wrong and it’s hard to imagine things changing for the better.

-Even if statistics show a likelihood for something good to happen in the future, it’s hard to forget being on the bad side of statistics in the past.

-Hope feels like a set-up for being sucker punched again.

-Superstitious beliefs make as much sense as anything else, and hope might bring about something bad.

-Positive feelings seem like a betrayal of the baby.

-The big good thing can’t happen.  The loved and lost baby can’t come back,  and therefore nothing else can really be OK.


So how can we possibly feel that something good will happen in the future?

Maybe the obstacle is seeing the “something good in the future” as an outside thing or event that we need to have happen.  The quick physical recovery, a different reaction from our family or friends, another pregnancy, etc. all may or may not  happen.  Additionally,  all of these ideas are likely to be pretty emotionally loaded.   Hope within that framework becomes a tricky proposition.

There is another possibility, however, that is easy to overlook while grieving and waiting to feel hopeful.  It’s that the positive, wished for thing that’s coming is you.  And you’ll show up when you’re good and ready.

Most of us are just not wired to sustain misery indefinitely.  I also don’t think we can (or should try) to snap back out of a loss of someone to whom we were deeply attached.  For myself, I know that I couldn’t feel better until I had thoroughly explored feeling terrible.  It was too big of a loss for me to not feel deeply about.

But I do remember one day driving a familiar route and wondering how a mountain suddenly appeared in the distance.  It hadn’t been noticeable to me for the past few weeks when I had been driving on that same highway in the same direction.  Suddenly, it was impossible to miss and I couldn’t figure out how something so beautiful could have ever been invisible.

Elizabeth McCracken speaks to this concept in An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination, a memoir of her life carrying and grieving her stillborn son:

“Your friends may say, Time heals all wounds.  No it doesn’t, but eventually you’ll feel better.  You’ll be yourself again.  Your child will still be dead.  The frivolous parts of your personality, stubborner than you’d imagined, will grow up through the cracks in your soul.”

As I look back, I think there was something that would have been worth betting on in those early, dark days.  There was reason to think something positive would happen.  The good, wonderful thing that I could have hung my hat on was that I would eventually be able to see things differently and feel happy again.  Not because I have psychological training or because I’m so wonderfully resilient, but because, like most people, I am especially human.  And humans are quite adept at waiting out the pain and eventually attaching to other, good parts of their lives.

So maybe you’re ambivalent or resentful about hope and maybe that’s fine.  You might just want to experiment with the possibility that there is something waiting in you that is stronger than your fears and respectful of your pain.  It won’t come as fast as you would like, and I am truly sorry for that.  But if you can begin to consider that something in you can and will shift, there may come a day when you find yourself with a glimpse of something brighter again.  Anyway, it could be worth hoping for.

9 thoughts on “More and Less than Hope

  1. SecondVoice

    Great post. Hope is a really difficult word for me as well as I struggle with infertility. If I allow hope then the ensuing disappointment when I get yet another period will be much worse, but if I don’t then I just feel negative and unhappy all the time. Who is to say what’s better?

    Anyway, you’ve given me something to think about.

    1. Donna Rothert, PhD Post author

      Thank you very much for the comment. It’s so hard, isn’t it, to walk the two worlds of wanting with all of your heart for something to happen and looking for peace in the present. Wishing you all the best on your journey.

  2. Becky

    “We desperately want to feel better but don’t know how or if we’ll get there. Statements of hope may feel like someone telling us to go swim across the ocean- unreasonable and frustrating.”

    I like this sentiment and can completely relate to this notion. While I have not suffered pregnancy loss, I have long dealt with infertility and depression. Those outside of the grief do not truly understand. They are well meaning and they want the best for us, but they don’t know what they are asking of us. I , too, have a strained relationship with hope. I’m afraid to hope and afraid not to hope. Anyway, I just wanted to say you definitely are not alone. My best to you.

    1. Donna Rothert, PhD Post author

      Thank you so much. I think there is overlap in much of the pregnancy loss and infertility experience. It sounds like you have lived some challenging times with experiencing both the infertility and depression and I can see why hope sometimes doesn’t feel like a friend. I wish you well with whatever lies ahead for you.

  3. Megan

    I think one of the struggles with hope is that one wants to prepare themselves for the worst. I know with my first IVF cycle I was absolutely sure it was going to work, and was so excited, and when it didn’t I crashed and burned from way up high. The second cycle I pushed all hope away from my mind so that I could try to protect myself from that fall. In the end, though, I’m so happy that hope comes back – it would be a dark life indeed to live without it.

  4. Justine

    I wrote about this once, too … about hope being something that widens our hearts. Wanting the same thing we’ve always wanted isn’t hope; that’s obsession. But being open to possibility, even if it’s not quite the same possibility we’d imagined before … that’s hope. That’s when we decide to live anyway.

    Thanks for this post … and for stopping by!

    1. Donna Rothert, PhD Post author

      Thanks so much for visiting here. I appreciate your distinction between a linear path of wanting what we have always wanted and the broader view of being open to previously unseen possibilities. What a shift from trying to direct hope vs.letting hope change and open us.


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