Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Have You Grieved Enough?

I've been thinking about infertility grief/loss lately. When I first started my infertility journey (after 12 months of TTC), I read as many infertility blogs as possible because I felt mostly crazy or weird or over-the-top. The message I got from non IFers at that time was that, "Just be patient/relax. It's not that you've tried that long anyway. Have you tried finding out what's wrong?" But I was convinced that my feelings of loss/grief were valid and I didn't want to deny them, so I just had to find others who voiced the feelings that I had churning inside me.

At that time I also desperately tried to find as many articles that could help me in my journey. One of them was this: Ambiguous Loss and Disenfranchised Grief.

With the kind of "invisible loss" that we've experienced (we've never been pregnant), I felt the need to "own" the grief and grieve fully, but at the same time I didn't want to "prolong" the process either, but it was hard to find out which is which. However, by joining some forums and reading about how other people have grieved (those who've gone before me, esp. those who don't end up with children), I realize that the grief waves come and go and many times you just don't know when it's gonna hit. The initial wave that I felt on my darkest moment was just so overwhelming. In the beginning I tried to "numb myself" because I felt a bit scared of the height and depth of the grief I felt at that time (Btw, Bren√© Brown has talked about numbing ourselves in Oprah show) . 

I didn't want the wave to engulf me and drown me and "kill" me (or a huge chunk of me) because I was afraid of not being able to pick up all the pieces and carry on after that. After I finally let go and just let the wave wash over me, though, what I found was that it actually cleansed me. I had to start over again, to find myself, my place to belong, a new dream, but it didn't "kill" me (or a chunk of me) per se. And I found out that after the initial wave that felt like a tsunami, other waves did come and go, but they weren't as overwhelming anymore. I suspect that the cleansing also came from the fact that after reaching rock bottom, I sort of got the feeling that I couldn't possibly fall down even deeper than that, so the only way to go after that was up.

When a close friend experienced miscarriage some time ago, I reminded her to grieve fully a few times, but she said that she felt the right to do so, so my reminder wasn't really necessary. I wrongly used my own IF experience to try to "guess" what she may have felt, but that made me realize an important difference between our losses, because when she announced the miscarriage, all of us including a few other friends she had told about it acknowledged her loss in the blink of an eye, but when I shared my "ambiguous" loss, my closest friends were confused about the height and depth of my grief. They basically weren't ready to acknowledge or validate my grief/loss until I told them what I needed. And boy was I really so desperate in getting others to validate my grief back then!

At that time I didn't really understand why I felt so desperate until I read these words:

"An important factor in the resolution of grief is social support from others. The bereaved need support, not only for the reality of the loss, but for the validity of their grief, and of themselves as legitimate grievers. As Fowlkes (1991, p. 532) wrote, "Because loss entails a loss of self-validation, the starting point for recovery is the validation of the loss itself." 

Ambiguous losses receive little or no public recognition, and if members of the social network are unable to recognize the loss as real, they will not be able to validate the grief of the bereaved. Others may find providing support difficult to do, since people are more comfortable with "normal" rather than what is perceived as "abnormal" losses and grief responses. Thus, an ambiguous loss may be experienced as irreconcilable. This may, in turn, lead to disenfranchised grief...

....Because of the lack of social recognition, disenfranchised grief is a hidden grief and this "hiddenness" can paradoxically increase the reaction to loss. There can be an intensify emotional reactions. It can intensify feelings of anger, guilt and/or powerlessness, thus resulting in a more complicated grief response. Rituals may be absent or the grievers may be excluded from rituals. The reduced or absent social support promotes a sense of generalized isolation on the part of the griever.
Disenfranchised grief may lay hidden for years, only to be triggered by later losses. Seeland (1990) proposed that this hidden grief can lead to incomplete resolution of the tasks Worden outlined. There may be delayed grief reactions where new grief may build on or trigger old, unresolved grief responses. This may result in chronic grief reaction where grief is never resolved, life becomes stagnant, and new emotional growth cannot take place. Grief reactions may be masked, and grief may express itself in a variety of physical, psychological, or behavioral manifestations."

Absent rituals? That's spot on. When my friend who experienced miscarriage buried "her baby" in the backyard, it was the first time I'd ever felt the strong need for a ritual. I felt that I needed a more "real" closure. I was again reluctant to grieve, but in the end the need grew stronger and stronger so I let go. Due to a non-existent normal rituals, I had to create my own. And I did feel more healing after creating the ritual.

I find that during my IF journey, I'm taught to let go of SO many different things (not just letting go of the dreams that include children) over and over again. Letting go of control, of "trying to hold it together", of whatever other people may think about my loss and my grief and how I grieve. And I bet there will be many more other lessons in the future, so bring it on! I can't wait for more enlightenment to come!

8 comments:

  1. I read this quote from Laura Bush's autobiography some time ago and I think she puts it well. We have an "invisible grief" if you will:

    "The English language lacks the words to mourn an absence. For the loss of a parent, grandparent, spouse, child or friend, we have all manner of words and phrases, some helpful some not. Still we are conditioned to say something, even if it is only “I’m sorry for your loss.”

    But for an absence, for someone who was never there at all, we are wordless to capture that particular emptiness. For those who deeply want children and are denied them, those missing babies hover like silent ephemeral shadows over their lives.

    Who can describe the feel of a tiny hand that is never held?"- Laura Bush

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    1. Ah, I've read the quote as well once and I like it, too. :-) THANKS for reminding me again!

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  2. Great post, Amel. Yes - I've often thought of it as a lost future, this amorphous loss that no-one really ever acknowledges.

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    1. Oh yeah, another blogger friend once said a similar term as well. A lost future indeed.

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  3. Very well put, and so very true. Our society doesn't deal well with ambiguity of any sort, let alone ambiguous grief. People find it hard enough to relate to my grief over my stillborn daughter (a baby nobody except me, dh & my mother ever saw), let alone my grief over children that never existed.

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    1. Yeah, I find that when people are flustered at these things, they either say too much (say things they shouldn't) or they say too little (not knowing what to say).

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  4. What an amazing post!!!! Do you mind if I share it sometime this week for NIAW?

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    1. Hi! Sure, go ahead and share it. It'd be my pleasure. :-)

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