top of page
Search
  • Writer's pictureMegan Furman, LPC, LCPC

Perinatal Grief: New Parents' Hidden Losses

Grief is a normal, yet painful, part of the human experience. Grief in the perinatal period, or even from preconception to well after a year postpartum, can carry with it an extra layer of heartache during this already tender time. 

 

I always hope to avoid sounding too clinical here, but I do think this simple yet effective definition of grief is better than what I could come up with on my own. (Believe me, I tried.) Defined by the American Psychological Association, grief is “the anguish experienced after significant loss”. The APA clarifies that grief is most often associated with the death of a loved one. While death is one type of loss, there are many other types of loss that I want to address while exploring this topic.


In our society, we universally grieve the deaths of grandparents and pets, as well as the losses of jobs and homes. In the perinatal period we grieve the loss of a pregnancy or the death of a baby. We grieve negative pregnancy tests, low egg count, and infertility. We grieve miscarriages, stillbirths, and terminations.  

 

Beyond the loss of life or potential for new life, grief in the perinatal period can be felt around loss of a different sort: loss of identity, of routine, of connection in relationships, or of time. These losses can also be met with grief and distress.

 

We all go into preconception, pregnancy, and parenthood with expectations and hopes. We have in our heads an idea of how pregnancy will progress, what our relationships will look like, how parenthood will feel, who our supports will be, and how our child will develop. Even with a healthy pregnancy and baby, it’s never the case that all of your expectations of this new phase of life are met.

 

Most people enter parenthood with excitement (and, of course, many other emotions). Because grief is traditionally associated with death, many presume sadness to be the primary emotion felt. But just as grief over death does not operate in a vacuum, neither does grief over these other types of loss. You may feel a sense of sadness over the felt lack of connection with your partner while you’re both solely focused on taking care of your newborn, but it’s usually intermingled with joy and awe over that newborn.

 

Our brains seem to be confused by these seemingly conflicted emotions. “How can I feel such love and delight to have this new little person in my life, yet emptiness in grieving some of the things I lost when this child came into my world?” Some may even feel regret around becoming a parent due to such loss. My, oh my, the emotional world of a human is complex!

 

I’m here to say that all of this is common. But just because so many people experience these thoughts and emotions, doesn’t mean we should just overlook them or pretend they’re not there. These complicated feelings need to be processed. As with any kind of grief, ignoring the emotions related to loss is not going to serve you. They’re not going to simply – poof! – disappear. It’s helpful (and often necessary) to find space to process this sense of loss you feel.

 

Many people feel guilt and don’t want to talk to anyone about all of this. “I shouldn’t feel this way,” or “I’m ashamed to have these thoughts.” I hope you can be encouraged to bravely and vulnerably share or otherwise express your feelings of grief somewhere or with someone.

 

Therapy, of course, is also a place where you can process your losses. If you have a good therapist, they’ll be non-judgmental, supportive, and knowledgeable about helping you through your grief. Yes, even grief over loss of identity, loss of free time, and loss of the way things used to be.

 

Your identity is an important aspect of your sense of self. So certainly adding new identities, and thereby feeling like less of the self you’ve known for so long, is going to be an adjustment. The same goes for your time. With less free time, you’ll have to settle for fewer (or different) hobbies and self-care activities that have helped you “fill your cup” and maintain your emotional wellbeing. Well, clearly these losses and their associated grief are going to impact you and your mental wellness!

 

Coping with grief and loss is not about “getting back to the way life used to be.” Life will never be the same. Even if there’s positive change, the losses can still be hard to accept or to move through. I have no magic potion to help heal loss. But I do offer a space to work through all of the complex emotions that come along with grief.

 

So, whether you find that space in therapy, a support group, your family and friends, nature, spirituality, art, or any combination thereof, please take care of yourself by honoring and processing your grief. Even grief over losses that are not concrete or that others can’t see - these hidden losses that new parents often experience.


Perinatal grief undoubtedly includes pregnancy loss; I take nothing away from the pain of that form of loss. But I do want to highlight that for new parents, perinatal grief also includes all the losses you sustained in the process of gaining something new and wonderful. And those are losses worth grieving as well.





The content on this blog is for informational and educational purposes only, and is not intended to be a substitute for professional mental health or psychological advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you are in a mental health crisis, please call 988 or the Maternal Mental Health Hotline at 1-833-852-6262.

If you are seeking resources specifically for Pregnancy & Infant Loss, you can find them here.


2 views

Comentarios


bottom of page