Hey Fam,

Welcome back to the final installment of our disenfranchised grief series. In my previous two newsletters, I talked about a few examples of ambiguous loss and how isolating it can be to experience grief in a silo. I also talked about what informs our expectations of grief, how long we allow ourselves to grieve, and validating all kinds of loss. So, as you navigate a loss that is not often acknowledged by your community, it’s important to ask yourself, what is the story of grief that you know? What have you been told what it’s supposed to look like? What are the words that come to you? I think we don’t even realize how often we are carrying these external stories of grief. First step in working through disenfranchised grief is acknowledging the feelings and affirming that they are true and deserving of you expressing them fully and authentically. You have the power to decide what you want your grief to look like and what coping strategies help you move through it.

  • Loss of Support– support from significant figures/changes in relationships/friendships, etc.; this type of loss can show up at any point in the family planning journey, from fertility treatments to postpartum. The nature of friendships change, partners separate, family conflict happens. The grief of losing a relationship or a changed relationship in your life during one of the most important times in your life is a valid and heartbreaking loss. Allow yourself the grace and time to honor that feeling.
  • Adoption– Adoption is a beautiful, joyous gift, and it is important to discuss the ways in which grief & loss show up for all involved. One aspect of ambiguous loss is when something or someone is lost physically but still remains ever-present psychologically. So for example, birth parents experience this when they place their baby for adoption, are physically separated from them, and yet the memory of their existence and the experience of birthing them remains. Many people don’t understand that even though some birth parents choose adoption and are confident in that choice, there is still loss involved. Adoptees also experience something similar. Even if placed with the most loving of families, some wonder what life could have been like with their birth family, the psychological presence of their birth parent(s) remain. They experience loss of not knowing pertinent genetic or medical information and there can also be secondary loss of identity when adopted into families of a different culture, race, ethnicity. For adoptive parents, some choose to adopt because they have experienced the heartbreaking journey of infertility, which comes with its many layers of grief and loss. However after adopting, that loss is not often recognized or validated because of the benefits gained from adoption. Joy and pain can co-exist.
  • Traumatic Birth– While people acknowledge how difficult coping from a traumatic birthing experience is, most don’t often recognize that there is a real grief and mourning that occurs following such an experience. One is left with grieving the loss of autonomy and grieving the expectation of a certain labor outcome. Having a traumatic birthing experience comes with very nuanced layers of grief, guilt, shame, anxiety, fear, regret. Folks feel pressured or put pressure on themselves to put a time limit on their grieving period. I want to also acknowledge traumatic births that result in partial or full hysterectomies. The unexpected loss of reproductive organs is something that feels taboo to discuss and seek support for. There are many skilled psychotherapists who specialize in pregnancy related traumas and I encourage you to seek their supportive services. Don’t know where to start? Ask your PCP/OBGYN for recommendations.
  • Returning to work– grieving the loss of family bonding time, time spent with your baby, flexible schedule, and a routine that you worked really hard to create. Take things slow as you reintegrate back to work, create a transition plan with your employer/colleagues, and give yourself the grace to feel the myriad of emotions that come up for you, most importantly I encourage you to talk about it with trusted and supportive people in your life.

This is by no means a complete list of the ways that disenfranchised grief and ambiguous loss show up in the family planning journey. There is so much more to discuss, but hopefully after sharing this information, you can continue those conversations. Acknowledge the loss, validate the grief, give yourself time and permission, and seek support. Wishing you all a beautiful end to Pride Month and Black Music Appreciation Month.

With Love & Gratitude,

Doula Jo

For more information about the lived experiences of adoptees, check out Denise Defoe, LMSW and her book They Chose Me: An Adoption Story, Saara McEachnie’s article on Legacy and Adoption, and resources offered by The Barker Adoption Foundation.