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’ve been talking to some of the wonderful practitioners who serve women who have been through a traumatic birth and hearing lots of people talking about the possible need for a group to serve this specific population. I’ve also heard that there are some other therapists interested in creating that group but I haven’t heard much about where that’s going.
There are already two wonderful resources for women exploring specific challenges of birth experiences, POEM: Perinatal Outreach and Encouragement (for women who are struggling with postpartum depression) and ICAN (for women who have had a cesarean birth) and I think perhaps a traumatic birth might be redundant but I don’t know. I wanted to talk to people in the know and also find out more about the doctors, midwives and therapists who have expertise and a commitment to working with women who have a traumatic birth history. I have a small list of people whose contact information I can confidently share with my clients but I am always happy to add to that list. This includes other therapists because, as I’ve said, good therapy comes down to a good match between client and counselor. If I’m not the right person for a potential client, I want to help her find that right person.
To that end, I’ve set up a meeting and put it on Facebook. (It’s also on the Event Calendar.) On March 13th I’m hosting a casual networking meeting at the Old Worthington Library at 7:30pm. I’m encouraging those interested practitioners to bring their business cards/brochures so that we can all see what’s already out there and discuss what the needs might be (if there are needs not being met).
If you are someone who works with women and is interested in sharing information, learning about who’s out there doing the work or in giving feedback about the needs of this community, please come on by. You can RSVP on the Facebook page but it’s not necessary. If you have questions, please contact me.
That was the thing about our conception: there were too many players to be jealous of any one. And once we made the decision to have children this way, and put away regret, I felt happier embracing it than just tolerating it. There was even something I liked about the idea of a family created by many hands, like one of those community quilt projects, pietra dura, or a mosaic whose beauty arises from broken shards. If it takes a village to raise a child, why not begin with conception? When I tried to think about why I don’t want to have donor-and-surrogacy amnesia, it isn’t that it seems unfair to them (although it is), but that it erases our own experience of how our children came to be. At a basic level, the fact that our children originated through the good will of strangers feels like an auspicious beginning.
If you consider third-party reproduction to be simply a production detail in the creation of a conventional nuclear family — a service performed and forgotten — then acknowledging the importance of outsiders could make it all seem like a house of cards. But if you conceive of the experience as creating a kind of extended family, in which you have chosen to be related to these people through your children, it feels very rich.
via Meet the Twiblings – NYTimes.com.
I really like what the author says about feeling “happier embracing it than just tolerating it.”
Creating our families is a journey that starts with the idea of what (and who) makes up a family and continues for the rest of our lives.
Some of us create family more consciously — when we choose friendships that we elevate to family, when we face unexpected challenges in our reproductive efforts, when we contemplate our choices in a crisis pregnancy.
When we step into a greater consciousness of creating family, we may need to mourn the family of origin we wish we had or the children we hoped to have or the partner we dreamed of having that with.
On the other side of grief is hope and joy and love. It may look different than what we expect, but when we have room to honor our losses, we create space to celebrate those differences rather than deny them.
This post originally appeared on this woman’s work, my now defunct personal blog.
You are invited to join the Ohio Birthparent Group when they present Ann Fessler hosting a showing of her documentary, A Girl Like Her. In honor of OBG’s second anniversary and National Adoption Month, director Ann Fessler (a graduate of The Ohio State University) introduces this screening and signs copies of her related book, The Girls Who Went Away, at a reception afterward. You can reserve your tickets here.
The powerful film reveals the hidden history of over a million women who became pregnant in the 1950s and 60s and were banished to maternity homes where they would ultimately give up their children in forced adoptions. At a time when sex education was minimal, single women were often ostracized into enduring their pregnancies in shame-filled institutional isolation. The film allows us to hear heartbreaking stories directly from the women who lived them, combined with footage from educational films and newsreels from the time that reinforce the era’s perceptions of sex, “illegitimate” pregnancy, and adoption. (48 mins., video)
The program starts with a screening of Fessler’s short Cliff & Hazel (25 mins., video), a humorous and poignant portrait of her adoptive parents that was supported through the Wexner Center’s Film/Video Studio Program.
Event support provided by The Living Culture Initiative in the Department of Art and the OSU GLBT Alumni Society. Cosponsored by the Ohio Birthparent Group; Arts and Humanities and the Department of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies in Ohio State’s College of Arts and Sciences; and the Women and Gender History Workshop.
A discussion over at a little pregnant made me think about something. Having a baby, unfortunately, is not a cure for infertility.
I think it’s a myth that parenthood resolves infertility. I’ve been hanging with formerly infertile people who are now parents for some time and I always ask them (as some of you know, because I’ve talked to you on the phone) whether or not having a child cures their infertility. It’s interesting because not everyone has the same answer. I’ve met women who went on to have unplanned pregnancies after conceiving via treatment and they say that they still feel infertile. I’ve met others who have never given birth and they say that they no longer feel infertile.
I think that for many of us, the drive to get a baby cancels out so much of our self-care. We get tunnel vision and baby achievement eats up every little bit of energy we have and then when the baby arrives, we’re depleted. We haven’t taken care of the emotional resolution of our infertility.
Infertile women are at greater risk of post-partum depression because of this. We know, of course, that having a baby doesn’t solve all of our problems but it can come as a surprise that having a baby doesn’t heal all of our wounds. In fact, parenthood illuminates fissures in the relationships we have with ourselves and others.
Those of us who went to great lengths to achieve parenthood are more apt to feel guilty if we’re not enamored with our babies or being mommies right away because how can we justify the time and expense if we’re not now perfectly happy? How do we dare tell people that sometimes we wonder if we should have had our babies when those babies took so much effort?
I met a woman the other day who has a daughter via adoption and a son via a surprise pregnancy. She said that mother’s day is still the worst day of the year for her. She hates mother’s day with a passion. It reminds her of her years and years of sorrow and anger and she can’t erase that — no matter how many messy little handprint paperweights and crayoned cards she receives. She is still bitter at baby showers, still has days where seeing pregnant women at the mall is too much. She told me that she realizes now that during treatment and then during the adoption process, she was so focused on achieving parenthood that she forgot to process what was happening to her. She feels (and please note that I’m not trying to put words in her mouth, those words were there already) that she didn’t take the opportunity to grow through her infertility and instead fought it as hard as she could.
When I interviewed women this past spring (thanks again to many of you who volunteered!), I realized that we don’t get a lot of support in working through infertility outside of the specific realm of treatment. We talk a lot about treatment options and we offer each other sympathy when that annoying neighbor gets knocked up again but it’s very hard to help each other be ok with our own unique form of resolution.
Part of this, I think, is that we are blinded by our own infertility stories. It’s difficult to understand women who make choices that would not be our choices. I think we all do a very good job of saying, “I support that decision” even when it’s a decision we don’t quite comprehend but it can be hard for us to help each other process.
Sooner or later for our own emotional health, we have to learn to accept our infertility. That doesn’t mean we stop struggling for parenthood (unless that’s the path that makes the most sense for us) but it does mean that we need to resolve our rage and grief. I know how difficult this is to do because it comes up in new ways in all sorts of unexpected situations. But if we don’t, then even when we have a baby in-arms, we will find ourselves still hurting and we don’t deserve to hurt for the rest of our lives.
Surrendering to infertility sounds so terrible — it sounds like giving in — but in surrendering, we accept ourselves.
Wonderful, beautiful Julie said something so profound to me during our interview. She said, “I think what we’re doing now is both a means and an end … it’s a stepping stone that we have to walk over to get to where we’re going.”
Her perspective is such a wise one. We don’t have to love the journey to love ourselves on the journey or to appreciate what we gain.
I think this perspective, too, helps us when we’re making treatment decisions. It’s easier to honor our limits when we remember that the means are just as important as the ends.