Embracing Lament: Part 1- Navigating Infertility and Perinatal Loss as Profound Lessons in Grief and Healing

Infertility and perinatal loss are very painful experiences that many women in our world face. Professionally, I have walked with many women who are experiencing deep grief from the inability to carry a child in their body or have encountered loss along their perinatal journey.  My desire with this article is to deliver a message of hope amidst the grieving associated with infertility/perinatal loss, while also being mindful not to reduce your unique journey to less than it deserves. Throughout this series, I’ll explore grief as a powerful teacher within the realm of infertility and perinatal loss, the significance of allowing yourself to mourn, and the potential for growth and healing through the process of lament.

Perinatal Loss and Prevalence 

Before we jump in, let’s look into what classifies perinatal loss and its prevalence. According to Sunita Osborn (3), perinatal loss is “defined as the death of an infant due to miscarriage, stillbirth, or neonatal death” (3). According to the CDC (2), “in the United States, among married women aged 15 to 49 years with no prior births, about 1 in 5 (19%) are unable to get pregnant after one year of trying.” Sunita (3) reports, “1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage and 1 in 100 pregnancies end in stillbirth”(3). Infertility and pregnancy loss are common, yet, the commonality of such events does not negate the grief that is present within the journey, despite many people overlooking this grief and dismissing its impact. It needs space to breathe. Women suffering from this type of loss need space to acknowledge their pain, be present with themselves and heal from the heartbreak they are experiencing.  There is purpose in our grief, and it has true gifts to experience. 

 

Our Reproductive Stories & Trauma 

Do you remember those days when you dreamt of being a mother, perhaps through play when you were younger? Maybe you carried baby dolls around the house or took hold of a stroller of a younger sibling?  Perhaps there were dreams set inside your heart long ago, or you recently accrued hopes of stepping into parenthood. Your dreams feel tender and exciting, vulnerable and expectant. You have hopes for what family could and would be like. This narrative of  “ideas, hopes, expectations, and dreams about having children and becoming parents is known as our reproductive story.” (3)  It encapsulates what we envision and biologically expect as one steps into parenthood, and all of these stories are different. Typically, these reproductive stories do not come with the belief or expectation of complications or loss, but when the reality of such difficulties arise, there is an immense feeling of loss one may encounter. “A reproductive trauma is a type of trauma that includes events such as pregnancy loss and infertility, as both events go beyond the range of usual human experience and can have a significant physical and emotional impact on us” (3).  When these events occur, it can lead us to not only grieve the loss of life, but also the loss of our reproductive story.  

 

 Grief: Disenfranchised & Incomplete 

Wherever a woman finds herself in this journey, grief is a normal part of this process, yet it is often an unwelcome one. It can feel messy, unknown, or gut-wrenching. It is a normal, healthy experience for the heart, and there are incredible gifts this journey can offer.  However, when grief is unwelcomed, there are typically two camps in which you can find yourself: 

 

Camp #1: Disenfranchised Grief

This kind of grief is based upon the belief that the griever’s experience is “not worthy” to be grieved. Oftentimes these beliefs stem from societal perspectives, based upon circumstances, timetables and experiences. For those wrestling with infertility, or secondary infertility (struggling with infertility after already having a child), it is easy to fall into this camp. According to Sunita (3), “this journey caused you to doubt whether or not you are entitled to your grief.” Despite common misconceptions, your grief has purpose. It matters. It has a gift to offer you. Although infertility doesn’t involve loss of life, there’s a distinct sense of loss tied to one’s reproductive narrative, including feelings of diminished health or normalcy, and potential financial constraints resulting from fertility treatments. According to Wright (4), “the worst loss is the one you are experiencing currently. You may question that as you compare your loss with others you’ve heard about” (p. 15). If you find yourself in this camp, I encourage you to take some time to reflect and validate the experience you are walking through. 

 

Camp #2: Incomplete Grief

According to Norman H. Wright (4), “grieving is a disorderly process; you won’t control it, nor can you schedule its expression” (p. 12). Because of this, a common response for others is to avoid the grief process altogether. It’s uncomfortable and unpredictable. Oftentimes, these avoidance patterns can look like filling your schedule to the brim, thus making sure there is no time or space to process the reality of the loss. It could also look like overly focusing on other’s needs which prevents the ability for the sufferer to identify, express, and ask for what you may need in this season. 

 

Permission to Grieve

We all have preconceived notions around “appropriate” grief or how one “should” grieve in specific circumstances. This can be attributed to familial, cultural, peer, or individual beliefs about self and emotions. We are human, and we will have all of these factors pressing on our experience of grief. But today, I encourage you to give yourself permission to grieve. According to Elliott (1), “permission empowers… as we give ourselves permission to be curious about our feelings rather than hiding them, we will become better equipped to meet our needs in healthy ways” (p. 51). Emotional pain that is fully metabolized produces life giving wisdom for the brave soul who faces and processes the experience that caused the pain.  Grief offers the gift of healing, and I believe that healing is available for you and ahead of you as you courageously walk through the valley of pain.

 

References:

  1. Elliott, C., & Elliott, A. (2023). I used to be ___: How to navigate large and small losses in life and Find your path forward. Revell. 
  2. Infertility | CDC. (n.d.). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved April 7, 2024, from https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/infertility/index.htm
  3. PESI, Inc. & Osborn, S. (2021, February 25). Perinatal Loss: An Attachment-Informed Treatment Framework for Helping Clients Process and Heal from Pregnancy Loss. PESI, Inc. Retrieved July 29, 2023, from https://catalog.pesi.com/showtime/23614442?ClassroomTab=courseSchedule_23614402_12_147
  4. Wright, H. N. (2004). Experiencing grief. Broadman & Holman. 

Previous

Next

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.

You have Successfully Subscribed!