Tali was counting down the weeks to the “magic” 12th week when she and her husband could “safely ” tell their family and friends they were expecting their first baby. As they were planning when and how to reveal the exciting news, Tali began to see spots of blood. The spotting turned into bleeding, which turned into a loss of the pregnancy, commonly known as a miscarriage. Tali was devastated and confused by the loss of both her baby and dreams of the future, and felt all alone.
Women are often faced with fertility challenges, traumatic births, stillborns, early and late miscarriages, and unexpected birth outcomes. Tali’s story is just one of many such stories of grief that women can experience while going through unfortunate fertility-related life cycle events. And there are those who face a multitude of these challenges. While these are fairly common, people do not often give themselves permission to mourn the loss. Indeed, for each person the term “loss” can have a different meaning; whether it be a baby, the dream of a baby, or the dream of a “perfect” birth/baby.
Many women going through fertility issues are faced with a maze of tests and procedures that they often have to schedule, and at times administer, themselves. This system can add strain to an already emotionally and physically difficult situation. The feeling of isolation and frustration adds to the sequelae of feelings she has encountered as a result of her individual challenges. Support and guidance through her fertility journey is a pathway to ease the stress. Indeed, research has demonstrated that in order to fully move forward and past a traumatic event, we must first stay in the moment and mourn the loss.
We live in a culture that is often referred to as “Grief Illiterate”, meaning that as a society we are told “to pick up your big girl pants and move forward”, and not take the time to process our grief. We often see this messaging in our country when there is a piguya, and within 12-24 hours the area where it occurred is back to routine. As a society and as a people we are very good at moving forward and pushing through. However, women experience feelings of sadness, loss, inadequacy, failure, isolation, anger, confusion, guilt, and despair, among other things, as a result of fertility issues or a negative or traumatic birth experience.
Research shows that the human psyche plays a major role in pregnancy and birth. For example, a woman’s labor can be “stalled” because she is “stuck” as a result of previous pregnancy or birth related trauma. It is important to note not all women define trauma the same, meaning two women can have similar birth stories; one woman can view it as an empowering experience while the other views it as a traumatic event. Below are three more case studies that illustrate how pregnancy can be affected by traumatic and psychological factors:
Chana’s labor was stalled for many hours even with multiple conventional and non conventional interventions. Eventually Chana did a guided meditation with the help of a certified nurse midwife, which allowed her to access memories of a previous birth that had unfortunately ended with the birth of stillborn at 35 weeks. Releasing those memories allowed Chana to acknowledge and begin to process the trauma, allowing her body to relax and dilate to continue the birth process.
Lemor’s first birth was natural, but in delivering her second baby, she had to have an unexpected C-section. Lemor could not make peace with the fact that her birth was not “natural” and felt like she was a “failure”. Although both she and her baby were healthy, she needed validation of the feelings of inadequacy and loss of her “dream birth”.
Sara had been trying to conceive for over two years. After she began fertility treatments, every time she got her period she began to feel as if a piece of her had died. Knowing that others have serious problems like battling cancer and facing death made her feel foolish for feeling this way, but every time Sara saw the red blood of her period, her hopes and dreams of her baby died. In her mind, her “potential baby” died when she saw her monthly flow. She felt foolish grieving over something that never existed, making it difficult for her to voice her feelings to others.This phenomenon is not uncommon. When women belittle their own grief and sadness because of the larger problems they see in the world, acknowledging and processing such grief become nearly impossible.
Many women want and need a safe, nurturing, and supportive environment to understand and navigate the emotional rollercoaster of grief. Often they need validation and acceptance of their feelings, and/or a safe place to recognize and process their grief. In parallel, there are women who intuitively feel the need to grieve their loss but are unsure of where or how to do that. Losing a baby/dream of a baby or experiencing an unexpected birth outcome is the passing of a dream and the end of a particular journey. Research has shown that isolation from family and friends adds to the pain of loss. Society has much to gain from encouraging women to share with their family and friends about the challenges they are facing around fertility, miscarriage or loss of a dream birth/baby.
Jodi Stender is a certified nurse midwife, who has witnessed firsthand the impact of unprocessed grief and the effects it can have on pregnancy and birth. Roz Goldberg is a certified Grief Educator and doula, who supports women physically and emotionally during life cycle events. Together they founded Mercaz Haatzma, a center where women can learn to live with their losses and challenges while moving forward. It offers grief support, midwifery consultation, assessment and planning, comprehensive birth preparation courses, and doula services.
For further information please call Jodi 054-804-1325 or Roz 050-234-3767