The grief of not getting what you didn’t want anyway

I’ve been re-watching old TV shows lately, and there’s a moment in “How I Met Your Mother” that I keep coming back to. For a show that purports to be comedy, there are some surprisingly deeper levels. And in one of them, we learn that one of the main characters, Robin, doesn’t want to be a mother.

This is so interesting to me! And I think part of it is because it’s seen as uncommon. Women are “supposed to” want families, and if they don’t, we assume they will eventually change their minds. And so it didn’t feel weird to me when we found ourselves watching Robin having a conversation with her future children, the same way we normally watch Ted.

Robin talks to her two children, relating the story of one of the almost-serious-relationships in her life. She tells them about Kevin, and how she was worried when she thought she might be pregnant after cheating on him with Barney. She also tells them about finding out she isn’t pregnant, and then learning the following day she is actually infertile.

And this too, goes back to these assumptions in our modern world. Because while infertility is a complicated subject, there are so many fictional stories of women who “just relaxed” and it was no longer an issue. And I guess when I first saw this episode, I was assuming this was the vector of Robin’s story. And in a way, it made me angry. It felt like a cop-out.

Robin sits with her children, and her story continues. She talks about her conversation with Kevin, and how she had to be honest because they felt differently about having children and so they weren’t going to work out. And I assumed, again, the show was setting us up for a future love interest, who was going to sweep into Robin’s world and show her the magic in changing her mind.

Oh, these pat endings!

But here is where things deviated. Because we had already heard the episode’s finale; we just hadn’t been aware.

Robin sits with her two children, in her big house in the suburbs, and she tells them the story of how they came to be. She tells them about Kevin, and Barney, and her own choices. And she tells them, finally: she’s glad they aren’t real.

And suddenly I’m falling, and it hurts, and it finally makes sense to me. And I watch the tears in Robin’s eyes, and I realize–this is still grief. Robin wanted her life to go a certain way, and then suddenly she was trapped in it. And even if she never changed her mind, she had lost the potentiality.

I watched this episode before I was pregnant. I watched it before I had even started trying. And it touched something in me, and I didn’t know quite how to explain it. I didn’t know, at that point, about these other kinds of grief.

And yes, I say grief. And I say it in memory of the tears in my own eyes. Because Robin’s grief is real, even though her experience isn’t like mine. And while my grief may be more clear cut, and hers is nuanced and complicated, they are both valid, and I think that’s important to recognize.

Life is full of choices, and we aren’t required to all choose the same way. Robin isn’t less of a person simply because she doesn’t want a child. And she certainly isn’t less of a person for being upset when that choice was taken away.

Even if her desire is not “normal”.

Even if she may now feel conflicted.

Even if the situation is what she would have chosen anyway.

It’s still hard. It’s still real. It’s still a difficult part of life.

Miranda Hernandez is a writer and mother to two children: Adrian James, who was stillborn at term, and his living sister, “Peanut”. Miranda writes about stillbirth, mental health, and normalization of grief at