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Cumulative grief & death of a Parent during infertility, pregnancy & in parenthood

Grief and loss is something I have spoken a bit about before in relation to a fertility journey.

I spoke about the different types of grief and how it is all relative. Grief is not some kind of competition where yours is lessened by the feelings of ‘it could be worse’ or ‘someone has it worse’. Grief is such a personal journey and it ALL matters, your feelings and your journey matter.

· I spoke about feelings of recurrent loss in the cycle of hope and despair as you navigate each monthly cycle.

· I spoke about loss in assisted treatment.

· Loss and grief in miscarriage and baby loss.

· Anticipatory loss and anxiety particularly in pregnancy.

· Loss and grief in loss of a future you hoped for.

· Feelings of loss and grief in secondary infertility (or indeed continued infertility), very often accompanied by feelings of guilt and something we don’t feel we can talk about, especially when we are greeted with comments about how grateful we should be to already have one child.

I am struck this week by how I did not talk about cumulative grief or processing feelings of loss of a parent when TTC or indeed in pregnancy and into parenthood. Especially when it is something that I have lived experience of. I was completely blindsided by the feelings that came up for me.

Christmas week of 1999 my father died and was buried on Christmas Eve. I remember feeling like the bottom fell out of my world. Over the years that followed I did a lot of processing and counseling , YET NOTHING prepared me for what came up for me when TTC, in pregnancy and indeed into parenthood.

I was reminded of it again this week with an assignment as part of my training in pregnancy and baby loss awareness support and again in a recent conversation. This coupled with my dad’s anniversary approaching this week drew me to write this piece.

If I was to reflect back and talk about how it felt, it felt like a bandage had be ripped off a wound that I thought had done a great deal of healing. It was like a giant gaping wound had opened, followed by so much pain and confusion. When you have experienced feelings of recurrent loss or experienced physical loss in miscarriage coupled with either then losing a parent or having previously lost a parent it is a whole new level of complicated grief.

For me my father was my go to, my safe space and his death left a very large hole. When I went on to experience feelings of loss in TTC and fertility and incredible feelings of anxiety in pregnancy and parenthood his absence once again was felt, possibly like it had just happened. Fear of current loss was strengthened by having previously experienced it.

In talking with clients and colleagues who have experienced recurrent or cumulative loss and then experience the death of a parent I am reminded of how complicated grief can be. How cumulative and complicated grief can leave us feeling angry or disconnected, affect our behaviour and in turn our relationships as we very often begin to push those we love away or shut ourselves off. I was also reminded of how it can feel when others close to us can grieve the same loss so very differently. This can sometimes feel like another loss in feeling like our much needed support system is missing. Leaving us wondering who can we turn to when we really need to be held, not just physically but emotionally.

Grief is indeed complicated. Navigating it while also navigating the rollercoaster ride that is infertility, pregnancy and parenthood can be an overwhelming and lonely journey. Know you don’t have to do it alone. That there are people who do understand and are here to listen and hold space for you.

My personal journey was something that will be with me forever (remembering that grief is not linear and does not magically disappear, we instead learn how to live again while acknowledging this and being kind to ourselves, whatever that looks like), having been through it has helped me to go on to support and hold space for others from a deeper place of knowing, self awareness, understanding and compassion.

If you would like support please do feel free to get in touch.

Much love. Dara xxx

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