18 March, 2016

Life Without Baby - Claiming Your Right to Grieve Motherhood

In my very first month of blogging about my No Kidding life, back in November 2010, I was inspired to write a post after reading Lisa Manterfield, from Life Without Baby. That wasn't the first post she inspired me to write (to date, I count at least eleven!) and it certainly won't be the last. Today though, she has inspired a really important post. In fact, I am very honoured that Lisa has written a guest post for No Kidding in NZ, on claiming your right to grieve motherhood.

I never really encountered grief until I was in my late 30s and lost my first pregnancy. It was a shock. A year later, when I lost my second pregnancy, I thought that I had this grief thing figured out, and that I would get through it easily. I was so wrong! Further loss, including of motherhood, brought the realisation grieving was going to be different every time. Since then my father has died, and just recently, as you know, my mother. My emotional reaction to my mother's death - which has been different to the loss of my father, and that of my fertility and my babies - has once again been different than I expected.  Lisa's post therefore, is a timely reminder that we all need to grieve, and that we will all grieve differently, and at different times. This is, as she points out, normal and necessary.

Today's post is just a taste of what you'll find in Lisa's latest book, Life Without Baby: Surviving and Thriving When Motherhood Doesn't Happen.  In her book (you can get it here) she offers advice and presents exercises to help you work through grief and the issues raised when we are coming to terms with our lives without baby. Or go to her blog, and see her series of guest posts and interviews (a virtual book tour) all over the internet this month.

Besides sharing a love of travel and cats, Lisa also very much follows my approach (or did I follow her?) of blogging after infertility, with a strong focus on community and healing. We also have very similar views on life after infertility. She too acknowledges what she's lost, but embraces what she has now. The last sentence of her guest post (below) really says it all. Life is good for Lisa now - she's not kidding.


Claiming Your Right to Grieve Motherhood

Have you ever been to an event, sat through a movie, or even taken an innocent trip to the mall to shop for socks, only to end up huddled in the bathroom in floods of tears? Or perhaps a stranger’s casual “Happy Mother’s Day!” or “Do you have kids?” has made you want to scream expletives as your face burns with rage at the insensitivity of people.  Or maybe you’re experiencing a kind of low-level sadness that you can’t seem to shake off—a feeling that nothing in your life is ever going to feel right again. This, I’ve come to learn, is grief rearing its ugly head.
When I was coming to the end of my quest for motherhood, I had no understanding about grief.  I felt sad, angry, and frustrated that I wouldn’t get to be a mother. Some days I felt so irrational and crazy, I wondered if I was losing my mind. Other days I believed my my life would be meaningless without children. On those days, I wanted to crawl into bed and stay there for the rest of the year. I felt numb, absolutely wrung out, and physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted. And yet I still didn’t register that this was grief. For me, grief is what we experience when we lose a loved one, but it turns out we mourn all kinds of losses, including the loss of motherhood.
When we lose a loved one, that loss is often sudden. Even if it’s expected after a long illness, someone’s passing is usually a significant single event that marks the end of a life and serves as a catalyst for our grief. Death offers us a permission slip to mourn, and those around us understand and (usually) make allowances for our grief. We might be permitted time off work and excused from social events, and most people will sympathize when we don’t seem quite ourselves.
This is seldom the case when it comes to the end of the journey to motherhood. Quite often our grief comes from an escalating series of losses, such as miscarriages, failed treatments, a failed relationship that we’d hoped would result in children, or any number of disappointments we endure. Even the arrival of a period every month can be one more reminder of what we’ve lost—a reminder whose regularity can feel like a cruel taunt. And these losses often don’t come to a forced conclusion—there always seems to be one more thing or one more time you could try—and so our grief builds until we are left to force an ending and draw a line in the sand that says “Enough!”
To make matters worse, we often experience these losses alone and in private. We can feel shame at being unable to conceive, and we encounter people who suggest we’ve brought our childlessness on ourselves by the “choices” we’ve made—as if deciding not to procreate with an ill-suited partner or electing to call a halt to expensive and painful treatments puts the blame on our own shoulders. And when we do confide in others, we’re met with unhelpful and unsolicited advice, such as “Why don’t you just adopt?”, or flippant comments, like “You can have my kids.” Even the most understanding friend or relative can’t really grasp the enormity of the loss of motherhood. And how could she, when we often don’t fully understand the extent of the loss ourselves?
Motherhood means something different to each of us, and it’s worth taking some time to dig into what the loss means to you, and to give yourself permission to grieve. People around you will have ideas about how you should go about grieving and how long it ought to take. You may even have your own expectations and impatience about “getting over it”. But, we’re all different. We each have different coping mechanisms and different ways in which we express our grief. It takes time—months, and sometimes years—to get through grief and to start healing.
Working through grief takes time. It’s not as simple as booking a week off work, taking care of your grief business, and then going back to normal. It’s doesn’t work that way. But you do have to create time and space in your life to allow yourself to grieve.
Many cultures and religions include an official period of mourning in their grief rituals. It’s a time for people to acknowledge their losses and feel permitted to be fully absorbed in grief. If you are able to take some time away from your normal life, even if it’s a day or two, do it. Take that time for yourself to just be with your grief. Maybe take a long walk, write in your journal, or just sleep. One couple I know booked a long weekend in a secluded cabin with the sole purpose of being miserable. They spent time together, talked about their loss, cried a lot, and ultimately came home feeling spent but united, and ready to face the future.
 Some companies offer bereavement leave because it’s understood that people need time off to deal with grief. While that usually only extends to the death of an immediate family member, consider creating your own bereavement leave if you’re able to get some personal time off. Even a weekend of zero obligations or a “mental health day” during which you just stay home and feel sad will give you that much-needed space for grief. Give yourself permission to be miserable, but give it boundaries. Create a limited safe time and space to open up that box of emotions and fully explore what’s inside. At the end of your period of mourning, plan to take one small, positive step toward moving forward. It could be as simple as taking a shower and getting dressed, or perhaps the first step toward a bigger goal, such as going to the gym or researching a class you’ve been wanting to take. You’re not going to push your grief aside forever, but you do need to pick yourself up and step out into the world so you can start living again.
Grief is unpleasant and exhausting, but it’s also an essential part of the healing process. It helps us to keep moving forward, to keep living. And it enables us to come to terms with a new kind of life and find meaning again. It doesn’t force us to get over our loss, but it does help us to get through it. The biggest travesty of all would be to allow the life you didn’t get to take over the life you still have.

Lisa Manterfield is the creator of LifeWithoutBaby.com, the online community that provides resources, community, compassion, and support to women facing a life without children. She is the author of Life Without Baby: Surviving and Thriving When Motherhood Doesn’t Happen and the award-winning memoir I’m Taking My Eggs and Going Home: How One Woman Dared to Say No to Motherhood. She lives in Southern California, with her wonderful husband (“Mr. Fab”) and overindulged cat, where she is working on her latest novel.


  1. Mali,
    Thank you for that lovely introduction.
    There must have been something in the air around 2010 as so many of us seem to have started writing about this around the same time. And we still continue to follow one another.
    Thank you for being such a gracious host and for creating this community here.
    ~Lisa -x-

    1. Thanks so much for visiting us here, Lisa!

  2. Such an important message in this post. Sometimes it feels like you don't have time to give space to the heaviness of grief, and giving yourself permission to take a day or two to really process grief and loss is vital. I love Lisa's perspective.

  3. Excellent post, and thank you, Lisa, for writing it. The last sentence was powerfully awesome.

  4. Great post on an important topic from Lisa, and a great intro from you, Mali. :) So glad to have you both around to inspire ME! :)