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Dealing with Infertility Grief: Ambiguous Loss, Disenfranchised Grief

"Infertility grief is one of the rarer and more complicated griefs, in that it features both of these sub-types: ambiguous loss and disenfranchised grief."

A few years ago I came across the title ambiguous and disenfranchised terms while searching for a name for the grief I felt:

Ambiguous grief is the kind that doesn't want to resolve. I suppose in a way no grief totally resolves, as if the loss never happened, there is healing and there's a scar. If you think hard about the loss of a loved one even over a decade ago you might start sobbing like it was yesterday. That's my experience anyway. But that grief process itself is done, I am not breaking down into tears whenever reminded of her. The loss of my grandmother (in 2001) is not effecting my ability to live and thrive. Even the loss of my other grandmother in recent months has markedly healed by each week's end. It's like these losses have their defined place inside and timing, but infertility doesn't have these bounds.

Disenfranchised grief: Essentially, if some human being you'd been familiar with for an extended time hasn't just died, it's "not real grief" in many people's eyes. With illness, divorce, unrequited love, childlessness, miscarriage and still birth et al, perhaps missing persons... even a pet owner losing a beloved companion in a non-pet lovers eyes, are some of the griefs that are "disenfranchised". That those without experience of might think "just get over it!" But those with experience know better, a funeral procession doesn't exclude all other losses.

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Infertility grief is one of the rarer and more complicated griefs, in that it features both of these sub-types. People around you often cannot relate and wonder how on earth you're so sad over "losing" "someone you never even knew". And then on top of that, there isn't a marked mourning period. Not in the traditional sense and timing any way. (Not that mourning death even plays by the "rules" in every case!)

The inevitable a-ha was that perhaps there was some insight on how to deal with ambiguous loss and disenfranchised grief that could be helpful. Was there anything besides the usual - the finding support from those going through the same pain for support and acknowledgement, which is huge (_X_), allowing yourself to feel, cry as needed (_X_), getting further help/counselling if your life is at a standstill (_X_) - anything specific to us?

One frequent tip that stood out was being honest when someone is offensive or makes light of your grief. I've seen this referred to as "educating" others. I know this is not natural for some, especially doing so in the moment. Similarly, educating others without provocation might belong with this tip. An example of this would be sending a kind letter to your pastor, perhaps a link from the web, covering how hard Mother's Day is for many and how painful exclusive traditions like the whole "mothers stand up" or only giving mothers a rose (et al) are. On the other side of this coin, some people are unsympathetic or wholly jerks. And none of us like being kicked while we're down, intentionally or not. There will be people who absolutely won't validate your grief, so this whole line of tips needs strong boundaries (to not let those with less empathy drag us down) and wisdom in choosing who to "educate".

"Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored." Aldous Huxley

A tip that combines advocacy with other typical grief recommendations is to blog. The Stirrup Queen's link to the right (under "Recommended") shows how vast the infertility blogosphere is. It is not difficult to find like-minded bloggers to support and be supported by (hopefully). If I'm anything but your cup of tea, I can 99% guarantee you'll find folks who are via sites like the Stirrup Queen.

I look forward to writing more articles on grief in the coming weeks.

© Anna Infertile


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