Non-Validated Reproductive Loss
October 15th marks Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance day. If you have been anywhere near social media, you may have noticed pink and blue ribbons on profile pictures, friends disclosing their loss experiences, and photos of candles lit to mark the lives of babies gone too soon as part of the wave of light. Some babyloss parents embrace October 15th and the entire month of October as a welcomed opportunity to talk about their beloved babies, and a positive move toward ending the silence around losing a child through miscarriage, stillbirth, or ending a wanted pregnancy. Others, however, may feel uncomfortable, or even left out. This post hopes to provide a space to call out the loss mamas who may feel less comfortable stepping forward and naming their grief on October 15th. I hope to validate, honor, and support these challenging experiences.
For the woman going through ART: Every day, there exist women walking the in-between space of infertility and assisted reproductive technology (ART) who may have recently experienced sadness and disappointment after an unsuccessful embryo transfer. Some women may struggle with allowing themselves to feel the despair of the loss of a successful transfer while trying to maintain a positive "game face" of hope and that the next transfer will succeed. These women need to know that feeling sadness and disappointment will not affect whether a subsequent embryo will stick, and that there is no scientific connection between having a positive attitude and a successful implantation. Grieving the loss of a successful transfer and subsequent pregnancy is normal, if you are feeling sad, confused, or hopeless, and this grief does not affect your chances of getting pregnant again. You experienced a loss, and you are allowed to grieve.
For the woman who had an ectopic pregnancy: Sometimes, we don't know we were pregnant until it is too late. In the case of an ectopic, this can be especially shocking given the very urgent nature of an ectopic as an emergency, requiring surgery that sometimes even compromises fertility. Recently, ectopic pregnancies have been a topic of discussion on social media among pro-life proponents who appear not to understand that an ectopic can never result in a healthy pregnancy. The discussion around ectopic pregnancy can be heartbreaking and triggering for those who have gone through one.Women who have had an ectopic need to know that it is normal to struggle with what grief "should" look like after an ectopic; you may still be coping with the psychological and physical shock of the experience. Furthermore, you may feel isolated on October 15th when other talk about pregnancies that were lost farther along during the course of gestation. You may even experience questions about the ability (or desire) to try again, or ambivalence about pregnancy in general. You experienced a loss, and you are allowed to grieve.
For the partner of the woman who experienced pregnancy loss: Those that did not carry the pregnancy and have a physical connection with it may struggle with permission to mourn. Often, partners of the opposite sex may appear more disconnected to the loss or feel that is is less "real" than those who were physically pregnant. Spouses and partners may return to work or tasks that feel predictable, ritualized, and productive. Same-sex partners female that did not carry may struggle with the what ifs of the situation: would the loss have occurred if they had carried the pregnancy instead? Furthermore, partners may not want to add to the grief burden of the partner who carried the pregnancy, creating further silence. These partners need to know that feelings may range from detachment to guilt to sadness, sometimes more for a partner's grief than one's own. There is rarely a safe space for partners to talk about pregnancy loss outside of couple's therapy, as it can be hard to create a dialogue with the grieving partner that carried. Know that your loss experience, whatever it may be, is valid, and you are allowed to grieve.
For the woman who ended a wanted pregnancy: For those who made the painful, heartbreaking decision to end a pregnancy due to fetal anomaly, discussing the loss publicly and openly takes time. Because of the controversial nature of abortion, many mothers who have ended a wanted pregnancy may suffer and grieve in silence. EWP mamas may worry that mothers who have experienced a miscarriage or stillbirth will judge their decision to terminate. Women who have ended a wanted pregnancy need to know that there is no reason to disclose the circumstances of any babyloss, should you want to participate in the wave of life or any form of memorializing your pregnancy. If you feel that you might benefit from support through posting on social media, consider saying that you lost a pregnancy and are thinking about it during this special time. Consult with a therapist, other babyloss mamas, or trusted friends and family about whether you need to specify that you ended a wanted pregnancy. You may be surprised to find that there is more support and empathy for your choice than you imagined, but you may not feel ready to justify, further explain, or narrate more of your loss. The pain of ending a wanted pregnancy is real, and you are allowed to grieve.
Though this article only reviewed a few forms of reproductive losses that may not be acknowledged or validated on October 15th, there are many more that deserve compassion, respect, and permission to grieve. If you feel compelled to light a candle and join the wave of light next year, honor your instinct, and do it. There is no rule book that specifies which forms of babyloss deserve mourning and validation; you are allowed to grieve.