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Grieving in Silence

One of the most common struggles I have seen present in therapy over the years is one that is too often swept under the rug or dismissed: pregnancy and infant loss. With October being National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month I thought it appropriate to shed some light on this topic.

Unfortunately, pregnancy loss is something that is not openly acknowledged in our culture, being glossed over and dismissed for the most part. Many pregnancies occur and are lost without friends and family ever being aware. Women and couples silently grieve because there is not a safe space to share their pain and to receive support. When a pregnancy is announced and then suddenly ends, it is not talked about. People do not know how to respond, so they often do not respond at all. This silence is felt like a lack of support, lack of empathy, and lack of validation. Those that suffer this loss are left to feel like their pain is not valid or important, and this further solidifies the silence that their grief is carried in. Others who carry to term and deliver a stillborn, or lose their infant after birth, are also often overlooked, as if their grief is “less than” someone who loses an older child. There are few avenues to receive support and comfort following this loss, leaving women and couples to carry this alone.

In this blog I want to challenge our cultural perspective of this issue. My viewpoint may be seen as controversial, and I am okay with that. I ask, though, that you at least consider the potential validity of it. I also remind you that unless you have personally experienced the loss of a pregnancy or an infant, you cannot truly know what it is like. In this work I have learned that human beings are complex and not easily understood. We are triune beings, consisting of mind, body, and spirit. When a woman conceives, she is connected both physically and spiritually to this newly created being. This connection strengthens and deepens over time, throughout the pregnancy, and then even further after birth. When the pregnancy is lost, several things happen. The physical connection is broken, the pregnancy hormones suddenly shift, causing a depletion of progesterone, and a very similar physical change to the normal postpartum experience occurs. Combined with this physical experience is the experience of being spiritually connected to someone (the fetus/infant) who cannot be seen, touched, held, or experienced within the definition of a normal relationship. This feeling is very much like the feeling of losing a deeply loved family member who passes away suddenly, before their time. There is an intense grieving that takes place on every level, with the physical changes occurring alongside the grief. In addition to this, mothers experience many chemical/physical/emotional biological changes that motivate and incentivize their caregiving actions toward their newborn infants. In the case of loss, those motivating chemicals and experiences are no less present, but are open-ended with no way to fulfill them. As one who has personally experienced this loss, I will say that, for me, this deep multidimensional need to hold, nurture, and care for my infant without any means by which to do so was excruciating. This is compounded with every emotional stage of traditional grief that anyone experiences when losing a loved one. Losing a pregnancy or an infant is tragic, and involves a complex form of grief that does not fit within the norms of our society. I challenge you, though, to find ways to normalize it—to find ways to support those around you who have and will experience it. It is a painful journey to trek and deserves recognition and resources.

If this is something you have experienced, know that your pain is valid and real. Be kind to yourself. Create space for your grief, and your love that goes unexpressed. You love your baby no less in their absence than you would have if they were still present. Honor that. Value that. It matters. There is life after loss, your pain may shift and change over time, but your love will live on. It does not pass away. If you find yourself stuck in this pain, unsure of how to move, therapy may be helpful. There are some support groups out there, perhaps you can find one near you or join a distant one via zoom. Do not be afraid to reach out—pain is easier to carry when others share the weight of it. There are people willing and able to help shoulder your burden. If you need me, I am here.

Some resources that may help:

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