Question Submitted: Thank you for your blog. I usually read several entries at once every few months when my barrenness comes to the forefront again. Thank you especially for the Bible verses, prayers, and hymns. Recently I’ve seen a lot of miscarriage awareness Facebook posts. I’ve never gone through a miscarriage and its grief. My husband and I are just infertile. I’m pretty sure it’s ok for us to grieve, but obviously not with the same grief of those who lose a child. So how should/can an infertile couple grieve?
I asked my friend Diane Lamberson, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in Texas who does psychotherapy from a Christian perspective with people struggling with complicated grief and loss, to help us with this post. Not only is Diane one of the wisest and most compassionate sisters in Christ I have ever met, but she has the education to properly address this question for all of us:
As a psychotherapist who specializes in grief and loss, I am often asked this question in one form or another. Actually, it is two questions:
1. Is the grief I feel legitimate?
2. Am I grieving correctly?
The simple answer to both questions is YES.
Bearing the cross of infertility, even in the comforting shadow of Christ’s cross, is a difficult road that is full of uncertainty, frustration, and most certainly grief. Is it the same grief a couple who experiences a miscarriage has? No. Does that make the grief of not conceiving (and possibly never conceiving) any less intense or legitimate? No. One is not less than the other. Instead, they are different, yet overlapping, experiences.
In fact, one parent feels her grief after six miscarriages and one full-term birth of a child (after the third miscarriage) is less painful than the grief suffered by those who have never conceived. “I am aware that the pain of other women who never carry a child must be greater than mine,” she writes. She calls miscarriage the “loneliest grief of all.” I think barrenness and miscarriage are both lonely kinds of grief, and I am grateful to the hosts of this forum for giving it a voice and providing a much needed source of Christ-centered comfort to all who are grieving as they carry this cross and follow Christ.
While having experienced neither infertility nor miscarriage personally, I have been called upon in both my clinical work and personal life to bear witness to and assist with the grief that comes with both. For the couple who has never conceived a child, news from a medical professional that it will not be possible can feel as if a person has died because their dream of a person has died. Indeed, in some ways, this news is a more complicated kind of grief. When we lose people we love to death, we have memories of our interactions and can share them with others. Society acknowledges it. There is a specific date of death and mourning (a public expression of grief).
When grieving the loss of a person for which we hope and dream but who does not yet exist, there are no memories in which to share or take comfort. There may not be a specific date when the dream died, only ongoing uncertainty. Society doesn’t acknowledge it in any public or formal way. There is no funeral. There are no flowers or casseroles in the refrigerator. There is no gravesite to visit. Many who suffer miscarriages don’t have all of these outward signs either, depending on when the pregnancy ended. Instead, what couples bearing the cross of barrenness largely get instead of compassion is suggestions about IVF, surrogacy, sperm banks, adoption, or other ways to “fix the problem” that don’t in any way acknowledge the very real grief and loss that the barren are feeling.
Some feel they are grieving too much and others worry they don’t feel enough and wonder what is wrong. The truth is neither is wrong. It just happens to be your feelings about what you’ve been through. They are colored by your personality, how you view being barren, and your faith/theology, among many other factors. Your grief may be more intense at one time than another. Many think grief is a linear process when it is more like a spiral lying on its side. While you may be moving forward, there are many emotions you may revisit along the way. This is not a sign of regression but a revisiting of feelings that have come around again in your movement through the spiral.
The truth is, God is present to comfort us through all our times of grief, whether it is the loss of a specific child, the loss of one’s womb/reproductive organs, or the loss felt every time an unwanted menstrual cycle comes along with the knowledge that once again a child is not growing within the womb. All are painful and difficult to endure, but in Christ we are never alone. With the support we provide each other God works through us. We may not know what the future holds, but we know Who holds the future.
Diane Lamberson, LCSW