October is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. 25% of all pregnancies end in a loss, which means that many, many of us have been through this difficult and painful experience.
Although pregnancy loss is so common, living through it can leave us feeling isolated and alone. People don’t acknowledge our grief or say the wrong thing (“Oh well, you can always try again”) or we may feel that we don’t have the right to be sad because the pregnancy was “so early” or because we had some ambivalence about it. You have a right to grieve no matter the context and timing of your pregnancy. This is a profound event that happens body and soul and however you experience it, however you need to grieve it, you should be given time, space and respect in your journey.
- Some women name the baby they hoped to have even if the miscarriage was very early. That’s one right way to do it.
- Other women may experience an early loss as a loss of possibility, not as a baby. That’s another right way to do it.
- Some women may join groups and become involved in campaigns to increase visibility and understanding. That’s one right way to do it.
- Others may feel more comfortable grieving privately or may attend groups but not speak. That’s another right way to do it.
Healthy grief is hard and it’s a path that meanders; “getting over it” or “moving on” are myths that don’t serve us well. In truth, healthy grieving is about integrating our loss into our personal narrative, it’s about learning how best to tell our story to ourselves so that we can understand it and this takes time and effort.
Healthy grief means good days and bad days, sorrow that comes and goes as we grow and change. Healthy grief means going days without thinking about it and then seeing something that brings it to the forefront of our minds again.
The loss is part of our history and so part of ourselves.
If you have suffered a pregnancy loss and want support, no matter when it happened or in what context, please know that there is help for you.
Locally, Kobaker House offers a wonderful group for both mothers and fathers. It meets the first Tuesday of each month and you can call Sarah Phillips at (614) 533-6060 for more information. They will also be hosting a Tulip Bulb Planting Ceremony at their October meeting on the 6th. From their website:
A time of reflection and remembrance, to come together with those who have lost a baby either during pregnancy or in the first year after birth. Bulbs will be provided. Please bring a small spade or shovel. Families and children are welcome.
If you feel more comfortable reaching out anonymously, you can call Backline, a talkline for all aspects of pregnancy including infertility and loss. Their number is 1-888-493-0092.
If you are grieving the loss of a wanted pregnancy where you needed to terminate for health reasons, you may feel particularly lost. Fortunately, this website, Ending a Wanted Pregnancy, offers parent support and information. They also have a public Facebook page.
Finally, you can seek help from a counselor. There are many of us who have specific training and interest in supporting women who are struggling with pregnancy loss. Please feel free to call me. If I’m not the right person to help you, I will work to help you find them.
I was reading this post by Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, about loneliness and how feeling lonely makes us more negative, less likely to engage with other people, and altogether less likeable. We become “more aggressive, more self-defeating or self-destructive, less cooperative and helpful, and less prone simply to do the hard work of thinking clearly.” (This last bit is a quote from the book Gretchen was referencing in her post, Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection.)
I remember that when I was going through secondary infertility that I was very sad and that this sadness made me very lonely. Going through a personal crisis is like living in a bubble. You can see the people outside and you can hear them, but there’s a barrier between you and everyone else. People’s voices seemed to be coming from a long distance away, someplace where there was happiness and sunshine but I was living in this muted bubble where I could see the sun but not feel it’s warmth. I felt self-conscious in my sadness and found myself withdrawing from friends and family.
This is why I sought counseling. I knew I was in danger of isolating myself in a way that would not be good for me or my son. I could show up for things, sure, but the hard work of being present with other people felt beyond me.
Some people tell me that they are uncomfortable with counseling because it feels weird to pay someone to talk with you. But for me, there was safety in knowing that she could not reject me. The structure of our relationship — that I would hand her a check at the beginning and get 50-minutes of her time — was reassuring. I could be my worst self, my most selfish self, and she would still listen. I could be vulnerable and sad and she wouldn’t try to change the subject. I could ask her to lead the conversation when I was too exhausted by sadness to carry my end and she would.
That safety, that space we built together, helped heal some of my loneliness so I could be with my friends again. And even though I was paying for her time, I know she genuinely cared for me. I know this because I genuinely care for my clients.
I want to write more about that, too, how the boundaries of therapy is what makes the therapeutic relationship possible. Stay tuned for that, same bat time, same bat channel.
Way back when we were trying to have that elusive second baby, I would go for walks while my then 4-year old son was in preschool. His program met in a pretty, suburban neighborhood with big, handsome houses at one end and modest homes with front porches on the other end. I would pick my routes at random, not deciding which way to go until I hit a corner and found something to catch my eye. Halfway through the two-and-a-half hours, I’d turn around and arrive at the playground in time to see my son race around on a tricycle with his friends during the last free play of the day.
Towards the end of the school year, during a particularly hard time in our course of infertility treatment, I found myself on a street full of smaller houses with detached garages and small front yards. I was walking slowly, admiring the froth of pink and purple flowers spilling out from under porches and the clematis that climbed the wrought iron railings. As I passed one house a woman on the front porch called to me.
“Wait up! Wait up!” she said, waving. “Would you walk with me?”
I stood in the driveway as she made her way down the porch steps. She was an elderly woman wearing a khaki trench coat with a blue gauzy scarf tied over her hair.
“I like to go for a morning walk,” she said. “But I worry about falling. Most mornings my friend comes with me but she’s busy today so I thought I’d wait and see if someone came by.”
She took my arm and we started walking. She had a dedicated route so I let her lead the way and my pace slowed down considerably as we made our way around her block.
We talked about her sons and their children. We talked about their jobs and their wives and their troubles. She told me about her husband who she divorced when her sons were teens. She was matter-of-fact and a little bossy. I’ve always been partial to bossy women so I liked her.
When she asked about my own family, my throat caught when I told her I had an only child and I found myself confessing to her that we were unsuccessfully trying to have another one. I was hoping she’d say something prescient (in those days I was always looking for signs) so my heart skipped when she said, “Oh well, you’ll have another baby” but then she added, “Or not.” She shrugged.
I could barely hear her after the shrug. The shrug hurt. “Or not,” she said, dismissively. I tuned out her chattering as we rounded the corner back towards her house. When we arrived at her driveway and she let my arm go to make her way back inside, I was happy to leave her. I didn’t know her name and I didn’t care to know it.
I picked my pace back up to get to my son’s school before class let out and I fought back tears as I went.
But I was thinking about it. I thought about it while I collected my son and helped him buckle his carseat. I thought about it on the drive home. I thought about it while I fixed the after school snack.
At first I ran her words over in my mind as a way to relive the hurt, like pressing a bruise for no good reason. How dare she! She couldn’t even spare a moment of sympathy? So like the rest of the world! So unfair! So bitter and sad and mean! Everything that infertility already was, tied up in those two dismissive words.
But as the afternoon wore on I started thinking about how things look from an 80-something year perspective. I thought about how many life crises she must have experienced and witnessed happening to her friends and to the people she loved. I realized that at some point in my own life this would be a particular crisis that I would no longer be living. It would be a crisis I had already gone through and I would know the ending. I wouldn’t be here, stuck in the not knowing. Someday, if luck was on my side, I would be eighty-something, too, and I would no longer be an infertile woman. I would have another baby … or not.
And when I thought of that, I was no longer so angry at my walking companion. Instead I realized that this was my first peek — my very first peek — at resolution. I was still knee deep in my experience but when I think back, I see that was my first therapeutic moment towards an end point. That’s when I finally saw a light way, way, way off in the distance.
Heather, whose continued commitment to connecting the open adoption blogosphere inspires me, arranged this blog-wide interview project a couple of weeks ago. I was hoping for a blog that would be new to me and happily I was introduced to the beautiful Heart Cries, by Rebekah who is mom to 9-month old Ty. It was a treat to read and get to know Rebekah whoses values and experiences are in some ways very different from mine but whose love for and commitment to her son and his story certainly resonate with me in many, many ways. I left my first visit feeling like we had a lot more in common than you might think at first glance! I hope that you enjoy meeting her as much as I have and that you go and check out her wonderful blog!
1. How did your struggles with infertility impact your relationship with God? I know you’ve written a lot about this (beautifully, I might add) but I’m wondering if you can look back in hindsight and see how it illuminated some aspect of your personal relationship that you carry with you now in your present day?
Infertility rocked my world. When it came to God, everything I thought I believed was stripped down and challenged. Every emotion I thought I had experienced was intensified. Every unasked question I was, previously, too respectful to ask, I screamed. I pounded the door of heaven and shouted why a million times over. I begged God to remove the desire to mother from my heart. I did everything the church had taught me to do. I wept, I prayed, I repented. Yet, God remained silent.
It was the silence that overhauled my heart to unrecognizable.
Now looking back I see what God was doing. He took me through the process of removal. I had filled my life with pretenses and had inaccurate absolutes about how God functioned in the lives of those that called him Lord. My faith was peeled back to naked and re-cloaked with truth. An intimate understanding of who my Father is emerged and one ringing truth birthed from my months of war-worthy, inner turmoil – God is faithful…even when I lack all faith. It’s such a simple, no-nonsense claim, but it resonates deep in my heart.
2. How did being witness to your son’s first mom’s loss change you as a mother and as a Christian? (If it did?)
There aren’t enough words to express the bleeding my heart has felt through this process. I thought I knew what Rebekah would feel the day she handed me her son. I thought I had prepared myself for the pain. I had bathed our relationship in prayer and knew that God had woven our lives together for a unique purpose, but that was not bulwark enough. Rebekah and I were both ill prepared for what we experienced. Those first few days were horrendously difficult. My arms held another woman’s baby; another woman’s son. His eyes searched for hers, not mine. I could not separate my heart from hers and when I looked at Tyrus, I could only see Rebekah’s pain. I was not prepared for the crimes I felt. I was a fake and a thief. Knowing that my dream came at the expense of Rebekah was almost too much to bear. I remember asking her at one point, “Are you sure this is what you want?”
Our wide-open relationship made the transition harder, but I would never change it. Looking back, I know how important it was for me to see, hear, and read Rebekah’s loss. I needed to experience the reality of adoption for me and for Tyrus. In the coming years, I will be able to answer many of his questions with heartfelt conviction.
Those early days of ache have taught me two lasting principles: Rebekah and I equally share the blessing of being Ty’s mother and our children truly do not belong to us, they are the Lord’s.
3. What has surprised you most about mothering?
The ease of it. For me, motherhood has not been forced or fabricated in an unnatural fashion. It came with a gentle confidence I did not know I possessed.
4. What has surprised you most about adoption?
I can’t think of any surprises when it comes to Ty, specifically, but the process of adopting Ty was horribly unpredictable. Just when we thought we were approved or “all set,” another shocker was thrown our way. From agency to insurance issues, we have had many obstacles to tackle. It feels good to have the process behind us.
5. What has surprised you most about open adoption?
We originally embraced open adoption out of duty. We felt we owed it to our baby and his mother. What I have discovered in the process, however, is that Rebekah is not just an extension of Ty…she’s an extension of me…and our family. I didn’t realize how deeply I would fall in love with her, while falling in love with my son. There is something so uniquely incredible about two mothers loving the same boy. Apart from Ben, there is no one else on this planet that would sit through hours of boring video in effort to catch a small smile or faint hiccup. She revels in Ty’s new discoveries and phases of change. I love that we laugh, cry, and dream of Ty’s future, together.
6. How has writing your blog shaped your perception of your experiences? (This is something I’m interested in — how writing our stories helps us make sense of them.)
I’m a writer. Pounding out my thoughts, fears, and frustrations during this process has helped me navigate the highs and lows of adoption. Blogging kept me accountable to the rawness of what I was feeling. If I simply kept a bed-side journal, I wouldn’t have explored the depths of darkness that I walked or questioned the hidden stirrings. Knowing that my inner wrestling was public, made me dig past the surface and really illuminate the fullness of what I was experiencing. Working through the questions and concerns in a methodical manner gave me an inner, real life, confidence. I only wish I had started writing sooner, it would have made my infertility struggle more bearable.
7. How has reading other people’s blogs changed you or inspired you?
I stumbled across my first adoption blog when I did a web search of agencies. I’ll never forget the experience. My heart wept as I read one barren blog after another. For the first time in my life, I felt completely understood. I had found a community of women just like me. It was exhilarating and liberating at the same time. So many of the bloggers here have become my sisters; my friends. They challenge me to look outside my box of understanding and encourage me to love more. I find great value in reading through every facet of adoption. I drink in other perspectives and covet input from adoptees and first moms. My world view has expanded in so many ways. From Kenyan orphanages to faithful foster families, God is using fellow bloggers to stir my heart.
8. Can you share more of your writing goals with us?
Earlier this year, our pastor was talking about vision and he said something that hasn’t left my memory. He said, “If the goals you have laid out for yourself are easily accomplished on your own, your vision isn’t large enough.” That day, I began praying for God to widen my view and set dreams afire in my heart. When I dream, I dream big. More than anything, I want God to use me for his kingdom, in whatever way he deems best. I hope his best includes writing. I am first interested in writing Ty’s story, but would also like to write Rebekah’s. My interests are not exclusive to adoption. One of my lifetime dreams has always been to write children’s books. When I look at interracial families, like my sister’s, I know there’s a place for the stories I want to tell.
“Whenever the employment rate is down, we get more calls,” says Robin von Halle, president of Alternative Reproductive Resources, an agency in Chicago where inquiries from would-be egg donors are up 30% in recent weeks — to about 60 calls a day. “We’re even getting men offering up their wives. It’s pretty scary.”
from Ova Time: Women Line Up to Donate Eggs for Money
Gamete donation lives in its own ethical morass.
The discussions about adult-kids’ right to know since it in many ways mirrors the discussion in adoption; basically it comes down to whether we have the right to know our own histories. And if we do, how much of that history should belong to us — how many details ought we to have.
There’s a Donor Sibling Registry (this links to a video). Fertility docs think the registry is a good idea but it might cause a shortage of donors like has happened in Britain.
Here’s an interesting essay that talks about some of the unique challenges for donor kids, including the idea that they need access to other donor kids as they grow up so that they don’t feel weird or out-of-place. And another article that talks about the importance of half siblings.