Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Pregnancy Loss and Discounted Grief

The grief following a pregnancy loss is unique. Couples often feel uncomfortable sharing information about this loss and acquaintances, many of whom may not even have known of the pregnancy, are unfamiliar with how to respond. Why is this? Typically pregnancy loss can be relatively invisible unless you choose to share this information. There are no rituals to help you mourn this loss. There are no Hallmark cards. Your physician probably relates to this loss in terms of your physical recovery. So what do you do with the feelings that assail you and your partner once you realize that you no longer are "almost parents?"

Each person will experience a pregnancy loss differently, which means that you will need to be clear with relatives and friends about what they can do to be helpful. If you need privacy, say so. If you need people to run errands for you, let them know. If you need emotional shoulders to lean on, patient visitors, good listeners, then choose your loved ones carefully, because people differ in the extent to which they can tolerate your sadness without feeling obliged to cheer you up.

You also need to be prepared for the unexpected: the person who last saw you wearing maternity clothes who expresses surprise that you now have a waistline; the acquaintance who has heard about your loss and seeks to comfort you by suggesting that perhaps this is "for the best," or "you can always try again;" the person who expresses surprise that, weeks later, you are still feeling sad instead of getting back to "normal," whatever that is. And it isn't just people -- how about the advertisements for everything from diaper services to baby gear that continue to crowd your mailbox, your phone calls and your e-mail? It seems as if your pregnancy is on automatic pilot for the retail world.

There is another dimension that also is important to have in the forefront of your awareness. Typically even one's most sensitive relatives and friends will see the person who lost the pregnancy as the one deserving of sympathy and attention. Her partner, on the other hand, tends to be asked "How is she doing?" and "Is there anything I can do to help her?" What's wrong with this picture? Do people not appreciate that the partner also has had life hopes and dreams derailed? Do they not recognize the emotional upset that comes with supporting a formerly pregnant loved one as well as figuring out how to handle one's own grief? Do others really feel that you are not entitled to heart-wrenching sadness unless it was your body that bore the pregnancy?

So, along with sorting out your own emotions when others may be confused or insensitive, you also will want to talk openly with your partner about how each of you is handling this sad time in your lives. And be sure to talk about what you need your partner to do to offer comfort to you. It is important to respect that the two of you may have different ways of working through your sadness, but keeping the channels of communication open is a significant challenge.

And it is important to be aware of sources of support that are probably present in your community: spiritual leaders, professional counselors, support groups (many of which you can learn about from the social worker of your local hospital), as well as books and chat rooms that focus on pregnancy loss. This is a time to indulge yourself in taking time to regain your emotional equilibrium, even if the rest of the world seems to be expecting you to have put this loss behind you. In my book, When You're Not Expecting, I emphasize the opportunity to use pregnancy loss as a time to grow emotionally, to bond more sensitively with loved ones, and to decide how to move forward with life following this poignant jolt to your hopes and dreams. So don't let anyone discount your grief -- you are entitled to it. And, with support, hopefully you will find your own ways of weaving it into a new and more resilient emotional perspective.

No comments:

Post a Comment