Grieving parenthood

As I slowly continue to work my way through this article, I keep finding little points, where I’m nodding my head. “Yes, yes.” I say in my head as I read. It’s incredibly validating. One section keeps reverberating through my head. For some of us, we lost our first pregnancies, which in addition to mourning the loss of our child, we are also mourning the loss of transition into parenthood. Into a new stage of life.

 Especially when it is the first pregnancy or when there are multiple pregnancy losses, there may be developmental interference rather than progression. Internal stagnation is common. Women and their partners experiencing pregnancy loss often talk of not getting on with their life goals, plans, and dreams. They feel stuck, off track, as if they are running in place as life is passing them by. Erikson’s landmark delineation of the eight stages of human development emphasizes the crucial role of generativity, serving as mentor to the next generation, which is typically, though not inevitably, realized in parenthoood.104 A qualitative study of the elderly suggested that lingering grief for their pregnancies of decades ago, and perinatal losses, may be related to their not having any grandchildren, failing to take one’s place in the generational hierarchy.

And that grief is real too.

Many of the usual responses to perinatal loss, such as visualizing or hearing a baby, wishing to have another baby as soon as possible, and feeling intense pain and envy when exposed to other babies, may sometimes be based less on grieving the death of their particular child than on confronting the painful frustration of not being able to parent.

This last line especially speaks to me. I don’t have to justify how sad I am about losing Mabel- losing her as a person. But I want to scream that I am also so sad … SO SAD… that I lost the opportunity to parent. Just like the article says, it hurts watching others with babies, not just because the babies make me think of Mabel, but also watching others parent their children in a way I don’t get to do! I’m so angry about the unfairness of that. I don’t get to see if I can comfort my crying baby, if I’ll struggle with breastfeeding, if I’ll be miserable and sleep deprived. I don’t get to see if I even enjoy parenting. I simply want the opportunity to do so and I have such little control over it.

I know I’m still a mother, a parent- I don’t need reassurance with that. I just wish I could have the chance to be a more traditional mother and parent in an active may, not simply tending a grave and making sure my baby’s name is not forgotten. I am not only grieving my daughter, but I am also grieving the loss of parenthood.

Do you feel this loss as well?

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15 thoughts on “Grieving parenthood

  1. Yes, very true, so many losses wrapped up in one. I feel all this motherliness pent up in me that has no target to land on, often times I am ready to burst! It is so frustrating. I am now persuing the short term baby fostering route. See I can glue only so many trinkets on my daughter’s little grave, till there is no space left over. I had readied myself nights of cooing a baby to sleep, heck even changing dirty diapers. My therapist encouraged me to do more things with my young nephews and nieces, and I tried to explain to her that I dont miss being an “auntie”, its a specific “mommy” itch that needs scratching.

    • oh yes- it IS so different being an auntie rather than a mother. i totally get that. In the beginning i felt like I was going to explode with all this love and caregiving that I had no place to put! I didnt want to give it to someone elses child- I wanted to give it to mine! arg! Getting my puppy was helpful- call each other mommy and daddy to our puppy (forgive the crazy puppy mom talk). But it’s in no way the same! I dont breastfeed my puppy. she’ll never say “mamma” I often get up inthe middle of the night for her, but sometimes resent it, because I should be getting up in them iddle of the night for a baby. my itch still needs scratching too!

  2. What a fascinating article. I read a lot of it, then showed it to my developmental psychologist wife, who of course teaches about Erikson’s stages of development. I think that I’m fortunate in that most of my new friends here in Chicago do not have children yet; we would have been the first. It is one blessing of moving from Virginia, where nearly all of my close friends are pregnant or have one or more young children. I think being in an academic environment helps, too, as many females delay having children until after they have finished their PhDs and gotten a job (usually early 30s).

    Like you, though, I mourn the loss of active parenting as much as I miss my child himself, which sounds sacrilegious, but the one relies upon the other, so hopefully you understand what I mean. I am a mother, but I desperately want to be a parent. I have a small taste of it, which makes it worse in some ways but better in others; I know I’m going to be just fine at this parenting thing, now. And I so desperately want a chance to find out if I’m right!

    • I feel fortunate too that I have friends without kids. I have friends with kids too- but sadly have really distanced myself from them. Its not only too much to see the kids, its too much to see the parenting. it’s both. I mourn the loss of parenting as much as I mourn my child. They overlap- I dont think it’s sacrilege at all!

  3. Oh Meghan, I hope this doesn’t sound condescending, but I think of you often when I ruminate over my future parenthood. You know that I have a living child, of course. What you may not know is that nearly one year after Max’s death I have almost resigned myself to having only one living child. I then think to babyloss moms such as yourself- who are moms of course but had the shittiest end of the stick. You’ve been so gracious to those of us with living children but damn! I really curse the universe for taking children in situations such as yours. All future pregnancies and births will be forever marred and somewhat sad; it’s just truth. I am so, so, sorry that you lost your precious Mabel. I am so sorry that your future motherhood with living babies will always be filled with a longing for Mabel. She’s beautiful beyond words and should be at your side. Much love to you, mama…

    • you dont sound condescending at all! I was a little worried this post might be alienating to babyloss moms with living children- which is another whole mess of grief to deal with (just one i dont have first hand experience with). But I can relate in this way- I also mourn the family I was supposed to have. If I am lucky enough to bring a baby home, I know I will also mourn the lack of his/her living sibling. If I”m lucky enough to bring one home, there is no guarantee that I’ll be able to have the big family I wanted. Even those with living children mourn the lose of parenting in the ways they had dreamed. I curse the universe for taking children! in my situation and yours! There is no worse off here- just different kinds of bad.

  4. Oh my goodness, yes. That line gets me too. I am a parent, but am frustrated at being unable to parent him because he died. Many of my friends have at least one child; they are all very kind and considerate about the situation, but it doesn’t remove the pain x

  5. You are so right. My daughter was our first and only child. Although we hope to eventually have more, I too feel frustrated not having the opportunity to parent. I know we are, and always will be parents, but we never got to enjoy the duties that are supposed to come with that. Great post as always.

  6. I absolutely feel the same way. Especially because I lost my marriage, I absolutely felt like I was thrown back in terms of development and my life course… Although, now that my values and priorities are clarified in so many new ways (as happens to all new parents), that has made me feel like I’m still rushing forward and growing up, which is reassuring to me — I’ve started to feel like those of us who lose our children still go through many of the psychological and practical transitions that are inherent to parenthood. Even though we have lost the chance to parent our child in life.

    • I’m reading this over again. The intense pain at seeing a child because of frustration over inability to parent. Yesyesyes I feel that. I don’t even feel like it’s quite envy? But it’s so horribly, awfully painful. I avoid being around kids and parents, and sometimes flip out when I am around them. And then I avoid even thinking about that or acknowledging it. It’s just too painful… I used to LOVE other people’s kids, and now I can’t stand to be around them. So I even mourn for the loss of that enjoyment of babies and kids.

  7. Yes. I felt so stuck, unsure if we were taking the right route by trying again so soon, unsure if/how we would survive if things went wrong again. Fortunately most of my friends here don’t have kids, so the painful observation of all the parenting I didn’t get to do was only in passing. However, seeing other parents tell of their kids for something minor at the grocery store was so hard, seemed so unfair. And to be honest I still feels stuck now, it isn’t something remedied easily.

    • yes! those little observation moments of strangers sometimes gets me too! I’ve got friends with kids but sadly I’ve isolated myself. So most of my observation of parenthood is like yours- of strangers or of patients. longing so hard to be in that club. stuck is absolutely the right word.

  8. God, yes. I just found your blog — hello from another grieving mother in Connecticut! Our daughter died in September when I was just over 18 weeks pregnant, and this article (and your excerpts from it) describe exactly how I’ve felt for the past seven months.

    I’m so sorry for your loss. I can’t imagine what it must have been like for you to carry Mabel for so long (twice as long as I carried our daughter), only to lose her just when your lives together should have been beginning. But I’m looking forward to reading more of what you have to say about it — you seem to express these emotions and experiences so well.

    • I’m so sorry to hear of your daughter- it still amazes me that loss happens so close to home. And you are so sweet to think of my journey when you’ve had such a trying one of your own. thank you for reading and for commenting.

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