Hey Fam!

This is the second installment of our Disenfranchised Grief series, so let’s do a recap. I talked about how grief shows up when parents mourn their ease of pre-parenthood lifestyle, grief after a first trimester pregnancy loss, and the ambiguous loss experienced by the non gestational parent. Disenfranchised grief is so hard to recognize and validate, partly because we don’t allow ourselves to fully grieve major losses. We carry stories of what grief looks like, sometimes based on the grief that we’ve already experienced. If we have never been through grief, we base our perception on movies we’ve seen, books we’ve read, or from witnessing someone else going through grief.

We internalize so many messages from our culture about how long we are allowed to grieve. Think of the 2-5 day bereavement policies in our workplaces, which is in itself a message on how long we get to grieve. And even with those policies there are stipulations on what a legitimate loss is. Any loss other than the death of an immediate family member doesn’t qualify most of us for bereavement leave. And that is not realistic for most of us. So there are these implicit and explicit things that inform a story of what grief should look like. Below are a few more examples of how disenfranchised grief and ambiguous loss show up in the family planning journey.

  • Complications after birth– anything that causes one to be separated from baby and family: NICU stay, postpartum pre-eclampsia, postpartum hemorrhage, even difficulty with breastfeeding. That ambiguous loss of time, grieving the bonding experience, the expectations of returning home, and the expectations of the ease in feeding your baby.
  • Abortion– I want to acknowledge that terminating a pregnancy may bring relief, safety, and opportunity for some. However, there are folks who grieve the conscious decision to terminate a pregnancy, for many reasons. Because of the polarized and politicized conversations about abortion, many do not feel free to express their grief. There are few spaces where people can go to seek support for their grief after a pregnancy termination. Full spectrum doulas are an excellent source of support and can help to link you to resources in your community. Your medical provider may also have recommendations.
  • Difficult Pregnancy– celebrities make pregnancy look easy don’t they? This is, of course, not everyone’s experience. Some people just don’t enjoy their pregnancy. As a pregnant person, it is stigmatized to express regret or disdain for your pregnancy experience. Whether it’s hyperemesis gravidarum, persistent and debilitating swelling and joint pain, frequent monitoring and tests, feeling disconnected from one’s body, it’s okay to grieve the experience that you wanted or thought you’d have.
  • Gender Disappointment & Disability Diagnosis- I wasn’t sure about including these two experiences of disenfranchised grief because while one’s feelings are valid, these instances of grief and loss are rooted in ableism, sexism, and the chokehold that gender constructs have on us. I think talking about it provides us the opportunity to assess what we value as a society and why. And if you’re thinking “Pfffff eye roll!”, that’s exactly why I included it under disenfranchised grief. Now, when I talk about a disability diagnosis, I’m not talking about a life limiting or terminal diagnosis. I’m talking about a chronic condition that may affect the baby’s care, appearance, functioning, and quality of life. There’s an emotional suffering that happens when some parents learn that their baby has a disability. They feel grief for themselves, the loss of the parenting journey they expected, grief for their child, for their siblings, because of how hard life will be in this ableist and unaccommodating society. There’s not really a safe space to have these discussions and process these feelings. Some people have a deep expectation for their baby’s biological sex and go through a grieving period, thinking of all the future losses when they find out their baby’s sex is not what they wanted. The pressure we put on ourselves and our children based on their sex and gender expression is something to further investigate, and processing those feelings may help to release the deep sadness associated with the loss.

Our last newsletter in this series comes out in two weeks! And as always, I love hearing your feedback. I’m so glad that this resonates for so many of you.

With love,

Doula Jo