Monday, June 24, 2013

What Does Grief Look Like? (Part 4) Anger, Guilt, Blame, Yearning and Jealousy

“I had a lot of hostility. I felt deprived of my baby and fatherhood. Looking at other people who had what I didn’t have made me wonder, ‘Why can this idiot have a family and children and I can’t?’ This was a question I asked myself a lot.”

Ever feel like this heartbroken father who lost his baby? If so, you’re experiencing the natural reaction of anger. It's a way for us to attempt to justify or make sense out of what we perceive to be a senseless tragedy. And your particular situation may, like mine, fall into the “senseless” category, with my medical group’s poor medical care and the misdiagnosis of my placenta previa condition. You might also want to blame somebody.

You’ll be confronted with stories of neglected children, unfit parents, parents who seem indifferent to their children (or even hostile to them) and oblivious to the blessing and gift they’ve been given. After all, children are a heritage of the LORD. Happy is the man who has filled his quiver with them. (Psalm 127) And you deserve that, don’t you? A heritage and full quiver. It’s just not “fair” is it?

Juxtaposed with these thoughts of anger are likely to be thoughts of guilt: you worry that you are in some way responsible for your baby’s death. Maybe you felt only ambivalence instead of excitement and joy about your pregnancy diagnosis; perhaps you didn’t feel it was “the right time” to have a baby or it was too soon after the last birth, the pregnancy was “unplanned” or you didn’t know how you’d care for another child financially or emotionally, or ____________ (you fill in the blank). The nagging doubts, questions and self-chastisement can go on endlessly. You can, and will, find (or possibly manufacture) any number of faults to berate yourself for having during the pregnancy. If I had a dollar for every “what if” I’ve let rattle through my brain the last twenty years I’d be a wealthy woman. Not happier, just wealthy. The thoughts—if I entertained them too much—sometimes made me sleepless, agitated. They left me exhausted and depressed.

Or you may feel so strongly about being at fault that you convince yourself you need to be punished. Consider this couple’s story, shared by the father:
            “The labor took a long time, even with Pitocin, and Sally was in a lot of pain.
            The doctor said, ‘Don’t be a hero, take something for the pain,’ but she refused.
            Later she told me she felt she had to punish herself. If I had known that, I
            would have demanded she take some medication. It seemed so unfair for her
            to be blaming herself for that.”

If you have feelings of guilt, share them with others and certainly with your doctor. Having your doctor clarify the medical facts—in a gentle, empathetic way—can help you through this part of the grieving process. Just having a counselor or friend listen to your concerns and fears goes a long way in releasing fear and guilt. At least someone else is “sharing” your burden with you.
Sometimes you may have a medical condition you didn’t know about so you and your doctor were unable to prevent the loss by taking steps to prevent it. This was the case with a personal friend who had three children in a row die in utero. Her doctor was finally able to diagnosis the problem and treated her for it during the subsequent pregnancy, which resulted in a full-term pregnancy and birth of her healthy son.

This friend had joyfully experienced three full-term pregnancies prior to her three losses, so anticipating a problem hadn’t even been considered. My first son was born after a relatively “easy” (aside from ghastly morning sickness and a third-term blood pressure elevation) pregnancy, so no one was expecting the incompetent cervix I presented both during Victoria’s and my last pregnancy. After Victoria, my doctor was looking diligently for another placenta previa, but when that was officially ruled out, he—and Chris and I—breathed a collective sigh of relief. Our relief was short-lived, as you’ll read in the rest of my story. An incompetent cervix and premature labor in the next pregnancy shocked and demoralized all three of us.

And now the difficult consideration: Certainly there are behaviors that may lead to the death of a child in utero or premature delivery, and your feelings of guilt may be justifiable. Your self-accusations may have some ring of truth to them. (As in my case, one of my self-accusations was: Why didn’t I change doctors when I had the chance?) In that case, do what you can to correct the situation in any subsequent pregnancy and go through the process of seeking forgiveness from the Lord and forgiving yourself. This is really another topic all together, but let me say that sometimes we return to the Lord over and over again to ask Him to forgive us for the same sin because we haven’t really forgiven ourselves for it, or we’re still suffering the ramifications of it, or because spiritual forces or other people repeatedly beat us up over it. (I think I could have a blog dedicated solely to this issue alone!) We let these situations rob us of our joy and our future! Don’t let that happen. Seek the counsel of a wise and godly friend; seek therapy from a trusted biblical counselor or pastor. Confront the issue, repent, let it go and move forward. (Did I say let it go? And don’t return to pick it up again!)

If someone else has contributed to your loss then you will eventually need to forgive them so you aren’t allowing theme to rob you of your joy and future!

The bottom line is that you must fight against letting your guilt paralyze you emotionally and block your grieving. (Yes, it is a battle.)

Then there is the searching and yearning for your baby that is so common. Hilary had this to say about her twins who died due to a premature delivery:
            “For a long time I would fantasize about the babies, putting them into
            situations. I would go into a grocery store and think, ‘I couldn’t fit a double
            stroller in here.’ When driving I could think the twins should be in the backseat.

            “Once on a business trip I told a fellow passenger I had twins. I’m really
            embarrassed about this. I engaged in this fantasy and pretended they had
            lived. It was so nice. The man was kind and I knew I would never see him

Sound familiar? Honestly, I don’t know if these feelings ever truly disappear. I still walk by the baby sections in department stores and wonder what Victoria might look like dressed in the flouncy, girly dresses and hats; I sometimes allow myself to “guess” what she’d look like or be doing at this stage of her life. What boyfriends she’d be bringing home for her dad to assess, what she’d be pursuing in college. How I would have raised her differently from my boys. How they would have interacted with or protected her.

And yearning for your baby can cause you to desperately crave becoming pregnant again, right away. This was Chris’s immediate reaction in the hospital, before he thought about it and realized that wasn’t a good idea. He recognized that he really just ached to replace Victoria. Yearning is a natural response to the void you’re feeling, or the feeling of having failed and wanting to try again to make it right the next time. To fix it. But doing so will severely hamper your ability to grieve the baby you lost. As the authors of A Silent Sorrow state: “…mourning your loss and bonding with a new pregnancy are demanding and opposite emotional tasks, difficult to do at the same time.”

Giving yourself time will help you understand that you'll never be able to replace this special, unique baby you lost. Another baby will be just as unique and new. (In my subsequent pregnancy and birth of my son, this was a tremendous issue for both Chris and me, one we struggled with, and one I was shocked to discover had not really resolved even after I spent a year grieving Victoria’s death and seventh months struggling physically and emotionally through another pregnancy.)  

Finally, don’t be surprised if you're assailed with jealousy, even if this feeling is normally anathema to you and your personality. Following your loss, pregnant women and new babies will appear to be everywhere. You’ll feel overwhelmed with jealousy and hurt. It is a normal aspect of your loss and the grieving process. Experts say it is temporary, but I’m not convinced of that. I’m ashamed to admit that I’m still sometimes assailed with jealousy at the vision of a new, pink baby girl. (Not a boy, just a girl.) But that could just be a vestige of my competitive nature kicking in. Thankfully, these events are now rare, but they do happen and render me internally embarrassed and disgusted at my abhorred character weakness.

If it’s all too much for you to process, don’t feel guilty about explaining to your friends and relatives, who may be oozing a pregnant tummy or gushing over their new arrivals, that you’re unable to see them or their new offspring at this time because of your loss. If they are truly friends, they’ll deal well with it and open their arms wide to socialize with you again, when you’re ready.   

NEXT WEEK: How Mothers Grieve the Loss of Their Baby. I’ll also include a short discussion on the type of grief one might experience when choosing to undergo an abortion following prenatal testing revealing a congenital problem.

Until next week.

Thanks for joining me!



(Reference: A Silent Sorrow: Pregnancy Loss by Kohn, Moffitt and Wilkins, 1992.)