I read a beautiful and very apt comment on a BabyLoss forum on Facebook today, – “….but I am jealous of those who carry ’tissue-paper’ crosses when mine is more like cement.” ~Lori Ennis~
I had already begun writing this post, but it sort of just tied everything together for me, because Lori summed up what most of us are feeling – the burden of private intimate suffering that seems to be heavier than anything anyone else is going through.
It seems to be human nature to classify and categorise things, and then to judge them accordingly. For example, a miscarriage is more serious than a breakup (especially if the relationship is new), and then you take it a step further, and a first trimester miscarriage garners less sympathy than those in the second trimester or further along. People who are unable to fall pregnant sometimes utter the words “well, at least you can fall pregnant”, and the reply is swift “I would rather not fall pregnant than lose my children”.
Where does this leave us as a fertility community? A house divided is weakened. We split up into those who are infertile (and then it’s separated into primary and secondary infertility) and those who have miscarried (categorized by trimester, and number of losses), and those who have had children and those who have not. Each of us compares ourselves to the others in our groups – some gaining comfort from the feeling that there are others out there who have it worse, and some from the fact that they are recognized as having gone through hell and back, even if the acknowledgement only comes from their peers.
The Nature of Grief
With any fertility challenges, outsiders don’t understand the real sources of our grief – they can’t comprehend how deeply the loss of a child, or the loss of the hope of falling pregnant without intervention, can affect us. People who have not been through this cannot understand all the things we are mourning when we grieve over unborn children. We mourn for the loss of hope, of potential, of our own innocence (when we thought it was perfectly natural to have a child). We doubt our femininity and our identities are shaken. Our vulnerabilities and insecurities come to the surface and we question whether we are good enough to be with our partners, or if they will leave us in favour of our fertile counterparts.
The grief is complex – it is about so much more than the actual loss. It’s about how we interpret things. This is why people grieve differently, and for different things. Grief, like tears, is fluid. It changes as we change.
Trying to Classify Grief
The length of time that we are ‘allowed’ by others to grieve seems to depends on a number of things, including how traumatic others deem your situation to be, the understanding that they have regarding your circumstances, how good a friend they are, how ‘dramatic’ people think you are and how bored they are of hearing the same thing over and over.
Sounds harmless enough, doesn’t it? It’s not. We often encounter outside ideas about how long we should grieve the loss of a child/fetus/embryo or the loss of the hope of conceiving without assistance.
There is a palpable feeling that one’s grief is classifiable into levels and the time and intensity of grief should neatly fit within the acceptable frames for that level of grief.
But it doesn’t work that way for the person who has to actually go through it. What it does is try to control a flood of water with a flimsy dam. The more we deny what we feel, the longer it will take us to get past it, and the more powerful our grief becomes. If we suppress the grief for the sake of what others might think, we risk having the grief move ‘underground’ – to the subconscious vs the conscious,which makes it harder to deal with. If we allow someone else to undermine our emotions by trying to have us dismiss the grief before we’re ready, your mind reacts by holding on even tighter to the negative emotions and internalizing them a little more, until it becomes an unhealthy state of mind.
Repression vs Healing
Grief is a necessary and passing stage. It is not something that should be incorporated into your identity – no matter how traumatic your experience. The purpose of grief is to facilitate healing through expression (and release) of negative emotions. The journey of grief needs to be done in your time, so that you can experience it in its fullness. You can reflect on your loss and its consequences and meaning for you. You may decide whether you want to discuss things with others, or hold an internal dialogue (or even journal or scrapbook). It is up to you whether you want to do something to commemorate the loss, or whether you want to let the memory become murky and slip away. No-one else can experience (or even fully understand) what you need to do to heal and, if you keep in mind that eventually the grief will pass, and this is not a betrayal of the memory, or denial of the emotional trauma, simply a release.
So, how long should you be grieving? As long as it takes for you to begin healing.