In this sixth and final article in our series on Postpartum Grief, our focus in on “Postpartum Grief in Those Who Do Not Have the Emotional Support of a Parent.”
The lack of parental support for new parents may be a choice made by the parents themselves or by the grandparents for varying reasons. It may be that the new parents choose not to inform their parents of the pregnancy or the new grandparents choose not to get involved. In other situations, the lack of support is the result of a death of one or both parents of either the mother or father of the baby. These new parents are not only experiencing the many emotions involved in having a new baby but they are also reminded of the death(s) and the missed opportunity to share their experience with their parent(s).
Ashley shares her story
Both my husband and I experienced the grief of not having our fathers there to experience my pregnancy and birth of our son. Although we are both emotionally complete with our fathers and we have processed our grief surrounding their deaths, we still felt the sadness and loss of the hopes and dreams of them becoming grandpas to our child. We shared our grief openly as a couple and talked about what it would have been like to have them here to experience this incredible transition. We know how amazing they would have been with our son and how involved they would have been in his life. Just because the physical relationship ended with our fathers, emotionally the relationships will always continue. There were many tears shared between us, tears of sadness and tears of happiness. It has become an important practice in our marriage to continually take the actions of the Grief Recovery Method to remain complete for our fathers. A large part of this involves sharing our thoughts and feelings openly and honestly with each other whenever we are reminded of them or a missed opportunity to share an experience with them. Expressing our feelings and telling the truth about ourselves has allowed us to process our feelings in the moment and say goodbye to that hope or dream instead of bottling our feelings up inside. This practice has allowed us to stay fully present with our son, in our new roles as parents, and in our marriage.
The birth of a child brings forth tremendous changes and responsibilities into a person’s life. Most of us turn to our parents for emotional support, advice, and general help during this massive transition. Being able to talk to someone close to you who has been through this experience can be positive and reassuring.
Another mother’s story -
Another story we would like to share with you is about a new mother who had lost her mother before she had her child. It illustrates the new aspects of grief that can surface, even after becoming emotionally complete in the relationship.
Dear Grief Recovery Institute
I've recently become a parent (9 months ago).
I have done your Grief Recovery Handbook in 2014 regarding the loss of my Mother in 2003. It was a very healing process for which I'm still so very thankful for!
My (first) question is: is it normal that I am reliving some very painful emotions in regards to my Mothers absence now that I am Mother myself? I think I'm experiencing what you describe in your book as 'New discoveries' about unfinished emotional business. Would you advise me to do this in dealing with these emotions?
My second question is regarding parenthood in general and the fact that I am experiencing a lot of similarities in the type of feelings in regards to the feelings of grief. Like your chapter on '”common responses” on page 13 for example. I'm experiencing all of those things all over again.
There are so many conflicting feelings and intense emotions involved in parenthood. All very normal in being a parent. It brings a lot of insecurity, pressure, demands and changes with it. All of this has caused me to strongly feel the need to use the grief recovery method in dealing with this big change in my life, with my new identity as a mother. Somehow it is a loss of the type of relationship I had with my life before becoming a mother.
So my remaining questions are: have you heard it before that parenthood can be experienced (partially) as a 'loss experience' by people? Would you advise me to apply the method of grief in order for me to process these emotions and feel more complete and acceptant of my role as a mother? If so, how would you advise me to apply the method for this purpose? I’m not sure if going through every step is relevant. I think it would benefit me to the most if I would write down what I experience as a loss/change and then reading them out loud to a partner.
Your time and effort to read and respond to this email is very much appreciated by me!
It is understandable that you are feeling a whole new set of emotions regarding your mother with the birth of your child. Most women look to their mothers for advice and support during their pregnancies. I am sure that you thought of a thousand questions or things you wanted to talk with her about before the birth of your child and just as many or more since. That is entirely normal! As your life continues, you will undoubtedly think of more things regarding this relationship.
That does not mean that you have to start back at the beginning to do this additional “completion work” on your relationship with your mother. Chapter 13 talks about what to do when this happens – it is very much like adding an additional note, or PS, at the bottom of a letter. You need to sit down and graph out the new experiences and emotional thoughts you have had about your mother since you did your initial completion letter. Then make a list of additional apologies, forgives and significant emotional statements related to that graph and any other feelings you can think of that may not be related to a specific line on that graph. These could be things that you better understand about what your mother may have said to you that you now see in a different light, as a mother yourself. Then you start with something like, “Mother, I have been reviewing our relationship some more and have thought of additional things that I need to say…” and then write your apologies, forgives and significant emotional statements like you did in the original letter. Last, but not least, you will need to find someone you trust to listen as your read this additional communication out loud.
For goodness sake, do not reread your original letter to your mother as a part of this process, if you still have it. The communication in that letter is complete, and it should never be read again. Reading it over again simply reminds you of things that were unfinished for you before you wrote that letter, and stirs them all up again. After you have shared this additional communication, tear it up and throw it away as well, because it has helped you complete the additional unfinished business you have discovered and is there for unnecessary to save. Then, from now on, when you think of something else you wished might have been different, better or more in that relationship, deal with it in the moment, rather than letting more things accumulate. (This is also covered in Chapter 13.)
You are certainly not alone in discovering more things you need to say. Many grievers are so relieved with what they have accomplished in completing a relationship that they forget that life goes on and new things will continue to happen that need to be addressed. Your question on what to do is one of the most common ones we receive! As I said before, you are very normal!
Regarding that sense of “grief” that you are experiencing as a new mother, that is normal as well. Now, whether you realize it or not, every action you take revolves around not just you, but also on how it will impact your baby. That is an entirely new experience for you! Remember, grief is the normal and natural reaction to every change we experience in life. Having a baby and someone else that is totally dependent on you is certainly a major change in your life! Every first time parent tends to find the experience more overwhelming than they imagined. That does not mean that your baby is a source of grief, but rather that the change in your role as a person is bringing elements of grief into your life. This is additionally impacted by the fact that you cannot sit down and discuss these feeling with your mother as you undoubtedly wish was possible.
You may find that many of these grief related feelings are addressed when you write that additional grief recovery communication to your mother. If you still find that there are additional such feelings that persist after writing that letter, you might consider writing a completion letter about your relationship to your old self as a non-parent, versus who you are now as a mother. Most women would never consider taking this action, because they have not had the experience of using the Grief Recovery Method to deal with another relationship in the past. They simply ride that roller coaster of emotions that come with motherhood and are at a loss in dealing with the conflicting feelings they discover. The fact that you have realized that you could benefit from taking recovery action shows that you know that, rather than living with these feelings, you have to option work through them in a positive way. You should be very proud of yourself for seeing that!
I am so glad that you thought to contact us with these questions. I truly believe that your ability to look for assistance in dealing with these feelings of loss shows that you are going to be an amazing mother!
Take care – Steve Moeller
Her Reply –
I did it! I managed to do the additional completion work. It's been a hard three weeks, but I’m feeling proud and fulfilled in having completed what was unfinished in my relationship with my mother. A space for moving forward has been created again in my life. I was so relieved to read that my question about doing additional work was so normal! I'm very happy I decided to contact you about it and that I managed to do the completion work.
I feel that the additional feelings regarding my new role as a mother were also addressed in my letter. I'm more able to accept and allow feelings of hardship (like extreme fatigue and feelings of isolation) regarding my role as a fulltime mother to arise and live through them instead of fighting them and stressing over them. I'm proud that I made a step in the right direction with this additional completion work and will continue to deal with the emotions regarding motherhood and the absence of my own mother in the moment when they arise so that I don't get stuck on the past.
The Grief Recovery Handbook has taught me so much. It has served (and will continue to serve) as a huge support in my life and I'm very grateful for its existence. I truly hope more people realize that there is way to deal with the losses in their lives using this method.
Thank you very much Steve for you guidance and support!
Taking Action for a More Positive Future
No matter the circumstances that have caused you to be missing the support of a parent during pregnancy, childbirth and/or the postpartum period, you can use the same approach to dealing with your emotional pain. In those situations where that new grandparent is still living, but not emotionally available to provide support, it can be valuable to take Grief Recovery action to deal with the issues in that relationship. By doing so, you can avoid allowing those elements of grief from impacting your relationship with your new child.
Many of us look back at our own upbringing and think of things that we want to avoid repeating with our own children. Sometimes these are little things. For those who grew up in an abusive environment, they are often major things that these new parents wish to do differently. Taking Grief Recovery Action is a valuable and positive action that can be done to help fulfill this wish to be a better parent.
Throughout this series we have talked about the value of The Grief Recovery Method in helping new mothers and fathers in dealing with the many changes that come with childbirth. In this article, Ashley shared her own personal story and Steve shared the story of a woman he had the privilege of supporting through a parallel situation. Both stories illustrated the power of the Method in helping both mothers remain complete in their relationship with their parent and with their new baby.
We sincerely hope that if you are dealing with any issues related to postpartum grief, or any other grief in your life, that you will look into The Grief Recovery Method as a way to both survive and thrive. We offer programs, books, and training to not only deal with loss related to past relationships and situations, but also concerning the loss of pets and in helping parents assist their children with grieving experiences. Our goal isn’t to just assist you at the time of loss, but to give you the necessary tools to better approach ongoing relationships as well.
From Our Hearts to Yours,
Steve Moeller and Ashley Mielke
A Special Note About The Authors
This series is being co-authored by Steve Moeller and Ashley Mielke, both of whom are Certified Grief Recovery Specialists & Trainers for the Grief Recovery Institute; both authors have a profound passion for helping others heal their broken hearts. Steve's biography is included below for this article. Ashley's biography can be viewed at https://www.griefrecoverymethod.com/about-us/ashley-mielke