Involving another stranger in your life following a miscarriage or stillbirth can seem counterintuitive. After such a dramatic change of plans and all the physical and emotional hardship of a pregnancy loss, a peaceful retreat into privacy and solitude and a change of focus can seem like the healthiest option. After enduring a loss at home or in the hospital, why would anyone go to therapy with yet another professional stranger about the ordeal?
The only way out is through. Whether I meet people in grief just after a loss or years later, their desire to avoid or minimize grief is absolutely understandable. Yet experience tells me that grief doesn’t disappear when we try to ignore it. We are social animals and despite our modernity and our rational minds, grief demands some narration with a receptive listener and the expression of unpleasant emotions before it will fully concede the mind’s spotlight to other matters.
Listeners can be few, and their responses can pain rather than comfort you. Pregnancy loss frequently results in a type of disenfranchised grief, a grief in which others do not feel the bereaved parent’s grief is healthy or socially permissible. Many parents report feeling dismissed or avoided a short time after an infant or pregnancy loss. Many do not disclose the pregnancy to their social networks. Many parents report that family members from older generations dismiss the emotional bond parents forge with fetuses and babies or rely on optimism and momentum to limit the grief. For these reasons, an impartial and expert stranger may offer more effective support than the griever’s usual support figures.
Dwelling in grief without learning from it and refining its management can deplete and depress the griever. Without receiving supportive reflection and scaffolding around our interpretation of our losses, damaging assumptions, thought patterns, and behaviors can form after a loss. A good grief therapist will help the bereaved person accept and integrate the loss without dismissing its significance or leaving the griever in isolating cycles of sadness and anger.
Pregnancy loss occurs in the timeframe of finite fertility. Couples often differ on whether they will try to conceive again and when that conception should occur. Conceiving before one is emotionally prepared or without full partner support can lead to an emotionally complex and strenuous pregnancy subsequent to loss. When parents disagree about trying again, therapy can clarify and support the discernment and reconciliation process for each parent and the couple as a whole.
Miscarriage and stillbirth profoundly and permanently impact our most important relationships. Our culture assumes that parents will share very similar grief when the person lost is a shared child. Yet each family member responds differently when a baby or fetus dies. But by design, we can respond very differently to loss. These differences in coping can lead to isolation and misunderstanding and hopelessness or conflict around the future of the relationship. Bereavement therapy can help parents and families understand and support each other even when their most authentic, organic response to this loss looks different from the grief of their partners or relatives.
Losing a baby or a pregnancy can alter a parent’s identity. Partnering with a therapist after a loss can help mothers and father interpret the medical reasons behind a loss without being overwhelmed by judgment or guilt. When miscarriages or stillbirths occur without scientific explanation, therapy helps parents reach a level of acceptance that allows them to function in life and in other relationships. Some mothers cope with loss by hating or distrusting their bodies. Therapy helps women reconcile the imperfections and vulnerability of pregnancy with survival and health so that women can rediscover the sense of safety and trust for ease and perspective in daily life.