What They Say

Today's post isn't going to be lyrical or beautiful.  It's not going to uplift you or share a new perspective on the terrible tragedy of losing a baby.  And it also contains a fair bit of swearing so be forewarned.  

Today's post is about other people, the ones that have all their kids and don't know one single thing about how to talk to us, how to behave like a true friend, how to navigate in our dark depths and instead say incredibly stupid and insensitive things without using their heart or brain before opening their mouths.  So, let's start with my favorite:

"Well, everything happens for a reason."

What I want to say & do in reply:

Oh really?  It does?  So when I wind up my arm and clench it into a fist and punch that person directly in their disgusting, thoughtless mouth, I can just chalk it up to 'everything happening for a reason?'  What a relief!  I thought the Universe was just random, brutal and unforgiving, but here you are with your deep wisdom born of nothing, telling me I can do whatever the fuck I want because hey!  It all happens for a reason!  And the reason you are flat on your back from my knuckle sandwich is because you're an unthinking, insensitive ass.

What I say instead:

I disagree.  There could never be a good reason for my son dying.  What you are saying is very offensive to me, and I would appreciate it if you would keep those sentiments to yourself.  I know you're just trying to help, but it's not and you aren't and please, please stop. (or else, see above, I say with my eyes)

"Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger."

What I want to say:

Hmmm, let's see, no.  Not true.  Some things that don't kill you make you weak and fragile and bitter and sad.  Some things, like losing your child before they had a chance to make a breath or live a day, make you hollow and desolate and open your eyes to how bad life can get.  The strength I relied upon to live through that terrible experience came from who I was before he died.  His death did nothing but rip the naivety and innocence from my soul and lay the world bare in all its brutal viciousness.

What I say instead:

My son dying didn't make me stronger.  It made me nearly dead myself, and I'm not stronger for his death. I would have been made stronger by getting to be his father. What you are saying is painfully insensitive.  Please stop.

"At least you're young, you can have another."

What I want to say:

Wonderful!  Thank you so much for being a fucking idiot.  Because as you know all kids are replaceable. One breaks or dies, just go out and pick up another one.  How about this?  How about I take one of your four kids and raise it as mine?  After all, you've got plenty!  Spare one for someone who misplaced theirs when they fucking died.  How about it?  Since you're such a dumbass you will probably raise awful children anyway.

What I say instead:

Nothing.  I say nothing to those people.  I just look at them for a moment, shake my head and walk away.

"God works in mysterious ways."

What I want to say:

Fuck you.  Get out of my house.

What I say instead:

That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard.  If this is God's mysterious way of teaching me some kind of lesson, He/She/It can go fuck themselves.

"Is he your first?"

What I want to say:

Why do you want to know?  Or are you just asking things without thinking about it?  Do you really want to know about my first, about how he died?  About how we are still devastated by his absence?  About all our hopes for him and us dashed against the black shards of death?  Or are you just some blissfully ignorant stranger who can't keep their mouth shut and don't really give one fuck about us at all?  Ah, I thought so.

What I say instead:

No, our first son died due to complications during birth.  Then I just look at them while they crumble into despair and I think to myself be careful what you ask people, they just might tell you the truth.


What insane, awful and horrific things have people said to you when they learn that your child died?  Let's rage on this together with the only people that know the truth and feel a little better by getting it all out for once.


The thin (disappearing?) line

I'm sure you're all anxiously awaiting the new edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders V (also known as DSM V, replacing DSM IV). You should be. In now-outdated edition IV there apparently was a footnote of sorts that made grief an exclusion to depression. In the draft edition of V however, the footnote is removed, and grief is essentially enveloped into the definition of depression. Which means, you, me, anyone who experiences a loss that s/he mourns (well, mourns deeply for more than say two weeks), will be thusly classified as suffering from depression. (To reiterate, right now V is in draft stage. The following discussion is on a possible -- but significant -- change in psychiatric diagnosis.)

If you've ever been hit up in a doctor's office by the quicky depression Q&A, you know it asks such things as, Do you have trouble sleeping? Do you have trouble focussing and making decisions? Has your appetite changed recently? And if you check yes to a certain number of these, you go on the doc's radar as being depressed. But if you're grieving the death of your child(ren), many of us probably answer yes to these questions, too. Have you lost joy? Does it take a great effort to do small things? Do you ever think about killing yourself?

So how to tell the difference between grief and depression? Is there a difference or is this a matter of semantics? Does it help or hurt our case when we say things like, "You never really get over it, you get through it and learn to live with it"?

There's an NPR news article on this shift in classification here.  According to this article, there is in fact a difference between bereavement and depression, but according to the doctor quoted therein it seems to be one of time: weeks. Not months, but weeks. If you're not rethinking some of those questions above in the space of 14-21 days, you will now be hit with a diagnosis of depression.


Allen Frances has emerged as one of the lead critics against this particular change. Frances was the chairman of the group who devised DSM IV, and wrote an op-ed in the New York Times highlighting his concerns. (Op-ed can be found here; sign in may be required.) Among Frances' problems with the proposed change from IV to V are that healthy people who happen to be hit upside the head with a loss will now be labeled as depressed. Which is a problem if you're applying for health care or a job. Frances also worries that drugs will now be willy-nilly doled out to people in mourning, who either won't need them, or will unnecessarily remain on them. Frances writes,

Turning bereavement into major depression would substitute a shallow, Johnny-come-lately medical ritual for the sacred mourning rites that have survived for millenniums. To slap on a diagnosis and prescribe a pill would be to reduce the dignity of the life lost and the broken heart left behind. Psychiatry should instead tread lightly and only when it is on solid footing.


I used anti-depressants, but they were not foisted on me by a doctor in the hospital. They also came later than two-three weeks. On the contrary, I went about a month or six weeks until it hit me one day that I was no longer functioning in a capacity that I needed to for the safety and well-being of my two-and-a-half year old. (I wrote about my decision to use anti-depressants here on Glow; the post can be found here.) I was also in the care of a psychoanalyst, and the decision to go on medication was entirely mine -- as was the decision to go off them in six months. They did not take away my pain or mitigate my grief. They did not put me in a fog, or even make me feel better. They helped me function. I still felt the awful full force, but could now drive and lift myself out of bed and otherwise make sure my toddler didn't play with knives while I hid under the covers.

Perhaps I'm different in that I actually sought help, and I'm wondering if there are babyloss parents out there who should but are caught in that whole "Can't make decisions" and "Small things are difficult" mode and don't pick up the phone to make that appointment. Or maybe I'm the rarity of which Frances speaks who actually needed treatment.

I'm a bit confused about the change from IV to V because it seems that there are already clear markers in place in order to make this distinction, markers that medical professionals are quite comfortable with. When I interviewed a grief counsellor for this site (interview found here) I asked her point blank what the difference was between grief and depression, and she gave a long and nuanced answer involving "normal" and "complicated" mourning, and the ability to "bracket" one's feelings later in the process and keep them somewhat separate from other parts of their lives. She also pointed out that it takes much longer than a few weeks to process loss and go through some of the more severe feelings. It seems to me this makes an enormous amount of sense. Are the people writing version V worried that psychoanalysts won't be able to do their jobs properly and discern these gradations? (Hey wait, aren't psychoanalysts doing the re-writing? Are they saying this is too difficult a job, or they can't be bothered, or what?)

Although I agreed almost entirely with Frances' arguments, I bristled a bit at " the sacred mourning rites that have survived for millenniums." Because I think babyloss is it's own little dark corner of bereavement, and I think we show here and on our blogs on a weekly basis that contemporary society has a ways to go before it wholesale accepts our particular grief as a healthy if not painful and uncomfortable process that people experience. Babyloss parents frequently speak of having no one to turn to or talk to, and in fact, document people turning and running in the other direction when given their news. God bless the internet, because places like this -- here, online -- have become a life-line for many who need to grieve and make sure they're in some bounds of normalcy. As we all showed a month or so ago when I asked for input on funeral services, there aren't as much "rites" as there is "getting through the moment to the best of our abilities." So where does this put us on the analytic scale? Are we difficult to place? So difficult that we might as well just lump us in the larger definition of depressed? I'm not saying because we as a group lack a cohesive and common social experience ergo we need Zoloft; perhaps this is a clarion call to examine babyloss more closely and for society to agree to abide and sympathize with us and give us the support that we so desperately need.


I want to open this to discussion to the people whom it actually affects. You. And find out what you think.


I don't mind anyone here getting defensive about being labeled depressed right out of the gate. Hell, I'm a bit pissed about it all, too. But I think we need to be a bit careful that our arguments against Draft DSM V's line of thinking don't play into any preconceived negative notions of depression, therapy, and anti-depressants. Society may not know how to deal with babyloss parents, but let's face it -- we're also battling a stigma of depression that paints its sufferers as weak. Weak and perhaps suicidal, delusional, or even alcoholic depending on what Lifetime movie you've seen recently. And there are people here, who read here, who have sought out therapy and used anti-depressants to their advantage, who have crossed that line between mourning and depression. Let's not take them down, too.

And what I'd really regret is slamming the new proposed change and taking down anti-depressants with it and then leaving a newly bereaved parent saying, "Well hell, I'm just grieving goddammit." And not wanting to eat his or her words two months later when they get knocked to the ground and are scraping the barrel because sometimes it's hard to make a decision, and sometimes its really hard to make a decision where you have to admit you were wrong about something, publicly. It shouldn't be that tough to ask for help, and to get it.

If I've learned nothing else writing and reading around here over the past few years, it's that everyone grieves differently. So I ask that in the comments, we're mindful of this.

So let's hear it. How do you feel about the proposed change that will essentially make grief a mental disorder? Semantics? Do you see a problem that could impact your life directly? Do you feel funny being labeled as such, or relieved that someone is even paying attention? Do you think you ever crossed that line between grief and depression, or think that you could? If you could address the people drafting DSM V, what would you tell them that you think might be helpful in making their decision? I realize many of you have already addressed this issue on your blogs -- please post a link to any posts in the comments.

signs signs everywhere signs

'Is there someone you have who can spot your warning signs?'


'Is there anyone who you talk to. Someone who will notice any signs.'

'Can you give me an example?'

I knew exactly what she was talking about, but I wanted to make her say it out loud. I wanted to hear how she would articulate that the emotions I consider normal cohorts to grief are what she considers 'warning signs'.

I had explained upon arrival at her office that I was finished my prescription and was not planning on refilling it. Her first words?

'Oh. Oh, my.'

Ah. Signs.



'You mentioned your temper before. And crying often.'

In my mind: ‘OH MY GOD Lady. THAT’S what you call signs? Then I’m fucking CERTIFIABLE, with or without the antidepressants.’

In reality: 'My husband and I are close. My mother and I are close. I have a good friend here now.'

‘That’s good. They’ll know you well enough to spot the signs.’

Next I tried in vain to describe the physical side effects I’d been suffering from over the previous 48 hours since stopping because frankly, I was pretty freaked out. I was dismissed, albeit in a very polite manner.


Walking home from my appointment, I realized with a shiver that my bare legs and flops would soon go the way of the closet in order to make room for tights and boots and English wind and rain. Why hadn’t I noticed the temperature two hours earlier? Was it the same reason I forgot to open the window for the dryer exhaust? Or why I left the milk out all day?

I imagined with the seasons changing that I might have an embroidered toque I could pull on, serving the dual purpose of alerting anyone to the difference between these infamous signs and a banal annoyed mood resulting from a hard day at work.

It could be white, with pink letters sewn in. And reversible!

On one side: BAD DAY & BITCHY

And the other: DEAD BABY MAMA

How's that for a sign?


I've had to take two days off from work this week after finishing my last pill over the weekend. I'm dizzy; really fucking emotional. I feel dopey and foggy and have tried unsuccessfully too many times to count to describe the weirdo tracer vibe I've got going on. Every blink feels as though it's taking me three steps further than I'd intended. Does that even make sense? I guess I'm Coming Down.

Is there a rehab for this kind of situation? Cause believe me, I'd love to go. Three weeks would be perfect. Goodbye world: I'm taking a well earned breather.

In the end, Doc's only explanation was 'heightened awareness'. I've been dulled profoundly around the edges for almost a year now, leveled out by a magical chemical concoction that has kept me on a relatively even keel.

Don't get me wrong - as opposed as I was to antidepressants in the beginning - my opinion has changed completely. I was several months into our loss when I saw Christmas on the horizon and started to lose my shit all over again. I couldn't cope. I sought medical intervention. It helped - no question. I just wish I'd known how profoundly and physically I'd be affected by the removal of said chemicals from my system.

So far, I'm hanging in there. Five days in, one tentative step at a time.

I am 100%, honest-to-goodness, wholeheartedly of the Whatever Works for You camp. I can't say with certainty I won't go back to this form of help in the future. But right now, fulfilling the promise to myself of weaning back to my 'natural state' (HA, I know) within a year is important to me. The idea of another pregnancy this year plays a huge role in my decision, of course. But more than anything, right now I just need to follow through on ONE thing. With my most basic self.

I worry minute to minute how my revived and heightened awareness will affect my progress in moving forward. How will I cope, just me?

Only time will tell.


Have you had experience with antidepressant since your loss?  Have they helped you? If so, would you mind sharing what led you to the decision, and whether or not you've decided to continue?

In Your Head: An Interview with Dr. Sara Corse, Ph.D., Clinical Psychologist

Seeking help from a therapist in the aftermath of babyloss often raises conflicting emotions within the bereaved based on their preconception of grief, and of the psych-profession in general. "I'm not depressed, I'm grieving!" babyloss parents scream from their blogs, in defense of their decision to not seek outside help.


Do we really know the difference between the two sets of emotions? And why are we all worked up about seeing a therapist anyway? Does it signal that we're weak? Can't handle it? Need to take our ugly emotions inside, out of public, into an office with a shut door? Or (gulp) maybe we're even a wee bit crazy?

What about those of you who sought help and were confronted with professionals who told you to buck up? Who didn't understand what infertility and babyloss had to do with each other? Who glossed over the loss and focused on something else -- or vice versa, assumed the loss was the be-all-and-end-all to your problems? And you were left wondering: was it them, or me?

In order to try and clarify some of these issues I went directly to the source. Dr. Sara Corse is a psychologist who specializes in grief counseling and the author of Cradled all the While, a memoir of her experience in dealing with her mother's terminal illness. Dr. Corse sees individuals, couples and families at Council for Relationships in Philadelphia. (Disclosure: I, Tash, interviewer, saw a grief therapist regularly, until recently. I consider it on the whole, a positive experience.)

Tash:  Thank you so much for agreeing to this interview. How does one become "a psychologist who specializes in Grief Counseling?" That is, are there special courses or training that you do?

Dr. Corse: There are several professional pathways to working with people who are grieving. A grief counselor may have training as a psychologist, social worker, couple and family therapist or nurse. Grief is a normal life process, and as such is covered in courses on lifespan development. Therapists learn to work with both normal and complicated grieving in courses and supervised experience in counseling. Some programs offer semester-long courses in grief and there are many opportunities to specialize through self-guided readings, advanced supervision, workshops and conferences.

Why did you decide to go into this particular avenue of psychology?

I developed an expertise in grief counseling several years into my career, motivated by my own experience of loss. When I was 36, I cared for my mother as she was dying of cancer. I’d lost my father to a heart attack when I was 18, and I was struck by how different the two losses were for me emotionally. I have always been one to read everything I can get my hands on when I’m trying to process something distressing, so I read widely on death and grief. I also began writing what became “Cradled all the while” a few months after my mother’s death, and found the process of writing to be helpful, both in terms of my own grief and in terms of opening my interest in grief counseling. It is more than a decade since my mother’s death, and I now have a wide and varied clinical practice. About 20% of my clients come specifically for grief counseling and many others have had losses in their life that they have not fully grieved, and this becomes part of their therapeutic work.

I know I felt this early on (I no longer do) and I've seen it expressed by others: how do you answer the grieving parent who responds, "Well what do you know! Have you ever been through this?" What is it exactly that you can offer someone regardless of whether you've been through that particular situation or not?

It is common for people who are grieving to feel very alone with their experience. There is often a deep desire for connection with others who’ve been through the same thing, and at the same time, a wish for acknowledgement or appreciation that their loss is unique. I openly share with clients whether or not I have experienced a loss like theirs personally. In fact it is sometimes more difficult to work with someone who is grieving a loss similar to my own, because I have more of my own experiences to filter out in order to be responsive to the client’s emotions. What I try to offer all clients, however, is an open-minded curiosity and interest in their unique story of loss and a commitment to accompany them in their grieving process.

I know you don't want to start analyzing people who you don't even know, but are there any ground rules for how someone would know perhaps it's time to seek out this particular kind of help? I know a common refrain around here is, "Of course I'm depressed! My baby died!" and some people are just reluctant to seek out this kind of help due to monetary constraints, preconceptions regarding psychotherapy that were in place before their loss, or just not understanding the profession and what it can offer.

To understand when it’s time to seek grief counseling, it might be helpful to first have an idea of what normal grieving looks like. I like Theresa Rando’s model of mourning (grief refers to emotional, behavioral, physical and social reactions to loss; mourning refers to the work of processing and integrating the experience of loss).

She calls the first phase of mourning the Avoidance Phase, during which time the person in grief comes to recognize the loss. This includes acknowledging the death and working to understand the death.

The second phase is the Confrontation Phase, in which the grieving individual experiences the deep emotional pain of the loss. The work of mourning during this phase is reacting to the separation from the loved one through feeling, identifying, accepting, and expressing one’s emotions. It also involves identifying and mourning secondary losses that coincide with or develop as a consequence of the initial loss, such as the loss of the role relationship one had or would have had with that individual. During this phase, mourners recollect and reexperience the deceased and the relationship—reviewing and remembering their life, and reviving and reexperiencing the feelings engendered by that relationship. The person in mourning relinquishes old attachments to the deceased and to previous beliefs about how the world works.

The final phase of mourning is the Accommodation Phase. A new relationship is developed with the deceased, new ways of being in the world are adopted and a new identity is formed…one that incorporates the experience of grief and loss but is not wholly defined by it. And finally there is a reinvestment in life. The process of mourning a specific death can take place over many months and years, and may be revisited and reworked at different points throughout life.

This model of “normal” mourning serves as a backdrop for addressing complicated mourning. (I use quotes because the word normal seems to trivialize the pain of grief. I know that when I have been in mourning, nothing felt normal about it, and I wouldn’t have wanted anyone to suggest that it was). Complicated mourning is associated with several risk factors. These include specific circumstances of the death, such as a sudden, unexpected loss, death from an overly lengthy illness, the loss of a child, or the perception that the death was preventable. Other risk factors are related to the griever’s prior or concurrent condition, such as previous losses that were not fully mourned, high levels of life stress, depression and anxiety or a perceived lack of social support.

Grief counseling can help with both types of mourning, but is particularly useful in complicated mourning (or during complicated periods of normal mourning). So how does one know if it’s time to seek counseling?

One indicator that counseling might be helpful is feeling stuck—as with struggling to move from the Avoidance Phase of mourning into the Confrontation Phase. Denial is sometimes a cause of that feeling of stuckness. It is often a feature of the Avoidance Phase, manifesting either as not acknowledging the reality of the death or not acknowledging the feelings associated with it. Denial is not something we do, but something that happens—a natural psychological reaction which provides us with a time-out—a temporary delay of grief until we can gather the psychological resources necessary for experiencing the devastating pain associated with the loss. Although initially adaptive, if denial continues for too long, it becomes maladaptive and delays us coming to terms with the loss. Counseling can offer support in coming to acknowledge and confront the grief.

Another indicator is a persistence of depression or anxiety. Grief and depression share common symptoms, such as sadness, difficulty sleeping, loss of appetite and loss of energy. But in grief, our moods, such as sadness, anger, despair, or hopelessness, are triggered by sights, sounds, memories and thoughts about the loss. In depression, the symptoms are more persistent and pervasive. In grief, moods and symptoms change over time—from acute grief, which may be debilitating and immobilizing, to later stages of mourning when feelings can be bracketed—at least enough to function at work or at home. The feelings may not be any less strong and may still hit powerfully and unexpectedly, but they can be felt and expressed without interfering with overall functioning. In depression, bracketing is far more difficult. Mood and energy are more consistently down.

In terms of how long is too long for feeling depressed during normal grieving, some professionals use two months as a marker. On the one hand, I think 2 months is too short a time to diagnose depression in someone who is grieving the death of a child. On the other hand, if someone is struggling with feeling depressed, and having trouble resuming normal activities two months after the death, therapy can be such a helpful tool that I encourage it even if it is a part of grieving and not depression.

We've all been told at least from within this community that grief is a normal life process, and there is no wrong way to grieve. What benefits are there then to seeing a therapist as opposed to, say, duking it out on your own?

Here are some things clients have shared with me about how therapy has been helpful for them:

* feeling validated, feeling heard, feeling listened to

* feeling not alone: being able to reflect on and express their feelings with another person rather than keeping them inside

* not feeling blamed or judged

* appreciating that they don't have to reciprocate with the therapist--they don't have to take care of or listen to the therapist's feelings. They don't have to prove to the therapist that they will be okay. They don't have to take any responsibility for making the therapist feel like he or she is being helpful.

* being able to talk about the experience as many times in as many ways as they want or need without worrying about being a burden.

* being able to ask questions and get feedback and learn a framework for understanding their experiences that can support them through the phases of mourning.

* being encouraged to explore feelings that they may shy away from with the support of the therapist, and thus learning how to tolerate these emotions as they come and go during mourning.

* having a space to grieve that feels safe and where time and expectations don't (or shouldn't) matter.

* being able to talk about their feelings about or worries about other family members confidentially, and explore in therapy ways to address them.

* with couples, helping partners understand and appreciate the different ways people have of mourning, and learn to support each other and stay connect through the grieving process.

* having a place to explore other issues that are kicked up by the loss and may be important to address at this point in life.

Do you have any suggestions on "finding a good fit?" I feel as though I rather lucked out, although I did look for someone who specialized in "grief." Others in these parts have not been very fortunate in finding doctors that they feel are helpful (some sound downright oblivious to the basic issues surrounding infant death). What should we look for when we go in the first time (or few times)?

* someone who makes you feel comfortable telling your story and sharing your feelings.

* someone who has some experience with working with grief.

* someone who communicates an interest and curiosity in you.

* someone who will answer your questions, even if they come across as challenging, without being defensive or dismissive.

* someone who will engage with you around questions of fit, and doesn't suggest that he or she is the only person who can help you.

* someone you respect.

* someone who respects your boundaries—not imposing their beliefs or experiences on you and not pushing you before you have developed trust.

Along the lines of "there is no wrong way to grieve": It seems to me that, sadly, for some members of society at large there are indeed "right ways." It's not uncommon for us to occasionally get comments to the effect of "hurry it up already," or, strangely, "You need Grief Counseling!" One of our contributors (Bon) recently wrote a hospital to ask them to change the language on their fund-raising literature as she found it offensive to someone who had lost a family member at this institution. The campaign went public, a newspaper picked a line out of Bon's argument, built a story around it, gave it a controversial title, and then posted it on the internet -- and opened the comments. The public comments were stunningly offensive in my mind, one of them though told Bon to "Get Grief Counseling."

I thought that was a rather strange insult; it seemed to be indicating that the commenter was uncomfortable with Bon's emotions and that Bon was better off dealing with these feelings privately (preferably in an office with a doctor present, apparently) -- not publicly. But it also really tiptoes the line as to how the public at large views therapy, and it's worth.

Our society does communicate a strong message of intolerance for the wide range of feelings that grief entails. Tears and sadness, maybe. Anger and advocacy, not so much. And our society follows up the intolerance for the full range of emotions with intolerance for any of those emotions that last longer than a few days or weeks. Bon handled the whole situation, from beginning to end, with grace and balance. She was attuned to the impact the hospital’s fundraising letter had, not just on her but on any parent who’s baby did not survive, and took action to raise the level of awareness and sensitivity of the fund-raising world to this point of view. The public comments suggesting that Bon get grief counseling miss the mark. In fact, a healthy processing of grief often leads to an action such as Bon's. When we have done (or are doing) the work of mourning, we are able to speak out regarding the universal truths of grieving and loss and can advocate for societal change. When we embrace the full range of feelings that loss brings to our lives, and integrate our most painful experiences into a new way of being in the world, we find energy for transforming our experience of loss into something positive for others.

What do you see as the biggest hindrance to grieving?

I don’t think there is one big single hindrance, but there are several roadblocks, some internal to the person who is grieving and some external. Earlier I mentioned denial. It is the persistence of denial, not its early existence, which proves problematic. If we cannot sustain knowledge of the fact of the death and the irreversibility of the death, we cannot mourn. Another hindrance to grieving is the inability to gain necessary information to answer questions about how and why the death occurred. We often hold off on feelings of loss until there is greater understanding.

External hindrances include the impact of commonly held myths about mourning, such as the notion that grief follows a set path or sequence of stages, resolves in a matter of months or comes to complete resolution. Another external hindrance for parents grieving the loss of a baby is society’s tendency to minimize the loss. In fact, grieving the death of a child means not only experiencing the loss of the brief relationship, but also the loss of potential, about which they are continually reminded. The perpetuation of societal attitudes about grief makes it hard for people in mourning to acknowledge their feelings, both to themselves and to others, to be patient with themselves and to seek and gain support from others.

What then do you see as the most helpful thing (or things!) one can do to process grief?

In terms of denial, there are various experiences early on that can help grievers acknowledge the death and begin to experience and express their feelings. These include having the opportunity to hold or touch or view the body of the deceased, and to participate in rituals that acknowledge the death, such as a funeral.

As the process of grieving continues, it helps to talk about the death and any feelings, and to find people who are willing to listen and ask questions.

Participating in a support group with people who are experiencing or have experienced a similar loss can be helpful for exploring and validating feelings. This includes on-line support groups.

It helps to create rituals or memorials that are meaningful. Some people plant a tree or garden, donate to a cause, or launch an initiative in their loved one’s memory, enacting love and the pain of loss in a way that benefits others.

And as we’ve discussed, grief counseling is helpful, particularly when we feel stuck or alone, when we are experiencing a complicated period of grieving or when we have an inner sense that in processing this loss, we are provided an opportunity for making other important life changes in therapy.

How do you feel about online support -- like this site -- or blogging as a means of self-help?

I think it is a fantastic medium for several important processes of grieving: The work that people do in writing about their experiences, whether blogging or commenting on other people’s posts, is transformative. The writer must engage her or his emotions in the crafting of a post, which then offers both an expressive outlet and a mode of working through the experience that deepens personal understanding and connection to the experience. In posting on the internet, writers have an immediate outlet for sharing their experiences with others. Because there is an intended audience, the emotional, intellectual and creative work of blogging is different from personal journal writing—in considering what one wants to share publicly, the writer’s perspective is lifted to the universal (or at least in that direction). This process of moving from the personal to the universal is something that gradually happens during the process of mourning, and writing for an audience facilitates it.

Blogging also offers a wonderful way to network with others who have experienced something similar. Particularly for those who are new to grief, being able to read and comment on posts by people who are further along in their mourning can be very validating. For parents grieving the loss of an infant, being part of a blogging community is a way to create a set of loving relationships around oneself and one’s lost baby. Sharing grief this way brings meaning to the baby’s short life, and when others in the blogging community respond to or even anticipate one’s own grief reaction, the grieving parent feels far less lonely.

The one caveat I would mention about on-line communication is that it is different from face to face communication in terms of how people filter emotions, opinions and reactions. On the one hand, people may hide certain reactions and reveal other reactions in order to gain social acceptance or approval. On the other hand, sometimes people are inappropriately unfiltered in their reactions, such that they say things and say them in certain ways that they never would if they were face to face (internet bullying, perpetuating conflict and misunderstanding, etc.). So I would encourage people to continue to nurture supportive face-to-face relationships for grieving as well.

Have you sought out therapy in the aftermath of your babyloss?  Why or why not?  Did you find it useful/helpful?  


when mama cries


I do remember my mother crying. I don’t know whether she cried more than most women. She just seemed more comfortable doing it, less reserved, unapologetic. I do remember her crying, and I never really thought there was anything wrong with it. I think it is my mother I have to thank for the ease I have always had releasing my own tears.

I do remember worrying, though, especially when her melancholy would carry on for a while. When she felt blue. When she would spend quiet time with herself, caring for the plants in our garden, rather than engaging with my sister and me as we played nearby. In those moments, I wanted her to cheer up. I wanted to be able to make her feel better. Sometimes I could, but not always.

One day, maybe it just got to be too much for her. And she left, to take care of just herself.

Have you ever read the book or seen the movie, The Hours? About how women throughout time have carried their sorrows? That story just gets me from such a knowing place. After watching it in the theater, my sister and I clung to each other, cathartic tears streaming down our cheeks until the credits had unwound and the lights had come back up in the theater. I looked at my sister stunned and eventually got up to wobble home on spaghetti legs.


The blues

Feeling down


Mental illness

We are so frightened of these, aren’t we? So stunned by them. I find it irritating when depression is referred to as something surprising…

You’re depressed?! How baffling! How mysterious! How could you possibly be depressed when your life is so good? Look at all the blessings around you! Cheer up! You can do it if you just choose to!

As something that has to be cured, overcome...

We must address this right away! You can feel better with the right help. You have to feel better! We must absolutely help you to feel happy again!

As something that has to be medicated, conquered, eradicated…

There is just so much depression in our society today. But now we know how to treat it! Now we know how to beat it! Now we can free you from its hold with the right combination of science and counseling.


Trust me, I am a big fan of therapy… It has saved me many times from sinking to a place from which I might never return. Zoloft helped me once too, when I just couldn't get my head above water no matter how hard I tried.

But can we look at depression, maybe, in a different way? See it. Recognize it. Say hello to it rather than shoving it down?

Hello melancholy feelings! Hello unexplainable sorrow that won’t go away in an appropriate amount of time! Here you are again! Welcome. I see you. I hear you. I feel you. I befriend you. Tell me what you need to share with me.

As someone who comes from a long line of people who – egads! – have experienced great depression (they called it melancholia back then) for a number of reasons (they were Holocaust survivors, they lost everything and saw horrible things), and some who have felt it without any apparent cause, it just annoys me the way we approach it in our larger culture.

As a woman who has struggled with my own depression, my own melancholia, my own sorrow and loss and grief and misery – several times, even before losing my child – I have a bone to pick with the way we approach our difficult emotions, how we hold them… or rather how intensely we try to shake them off and as far away from us as possible.


Shortly after Tikva died, an old friend sent me Miriam Greenspan’s book, Healing Through the Dark EmotionsFinally, I thought after reading the introduction, somebody who gets it! Somebody who understands that the way to get through the hard stuff is to go through it. To be with it. To listen to what it has to teach.

Greenspan lost her own first child, who died just weeks after he was born. Her second child was born healthy. Her third child was born with a serious physical disability. It is clear that her children have been her greatest teachers. But it is not a book about losing a child, nor one about parenting a child with special needs.

As a mother, as a human being, and as a psychotherapist with years of experience in private practice, Greenspan writes about three primary emotions, which she calls the dark emotions – grief, fear and despair. She writes about the alchemy possible when we can really feel them, really experience them, go deeply into the darkness that usually scares us away. And she writes of coming through to the other side, the “transformational process by which grief becomes gratitude, fear turns to joy, and despair opens a doorway to a more resilient faith in life.”

Greenspan writes about compassion, about how it is almost impossible to live in our time, in our day, in our society, with so much sorrow and struggle all around us – and not feel dark emotions. Why, then, do we feel there is something wrong with us when we feel depressed? Why are we told so automatically that it is something that should and can be fixed?

I had so many ah-hah! moments when reading her book. Not because it was something I didn’t already know, but because it just resonated with me as truth, and it was a reminder that came at just the right time…

That there is no way I am going to truly survive – and by survive here, I really mean to thrive after (because we are allowed to thrive again, we are!) – the death of my child if I don’t go first to those dark places in my soul, look them in the eye, and ask them what they have to teach me.

It’s that hindsight is 20-20 thing: I have learned enough from my less successful attempts at pushing down my grief in the past to know that this won’t get me far for very long. I have learned that I certainly won’t get anywhere remotely close to growth by ignoring what needs attention in the dark places in my soul. I tried that in high school, shortly after my mother left, and I found myself two years later with 65 extra pounds of weight on my body and an anger shoved so deep inside that I found myself too depressed to get out of bed.


Here I am now, ten and a half months since my sweet girl died. More than a year since she was born so fragile. Almost a year and a half since her ultrasound, when my world as I knew it imploded and my life changed forever in ways I am only now beginning to understand.

“Grief becomes gratitude, fear turns to joy, and despair opens a doorway to a more resilient faith in life.”

I’ll tell you something that isn’t easy to admit, especially here…

I do feel gratitude.

I do feel joy.

I do still have faith.

Something is being transformed deep inside me since – because – I lost my Tikva. I don’t think it would have happened if she hadn’t been who she was. If she hadn’t come and gone so quickly. I consider it her gift, what I get instead of my second child here in my arms, healthy and well. It is a gift of compassion. True compassion, which starts with compassion towards myself. Begins with patience and understanding towards myself as I go through the messiness of the ups and downs of each day.

When I read about the possibility for gratitude, joy and faith months ago, I opened up to the possibility that I could get there as I went through this dark passage. It’s true. They’re there – the gratitude for Tikva, the joy I feel when I see a hawk flying above or feel Dahlia climbing my body as if I were a jungle gym, the faith I have in good things ahead. They’re there – even when I only feel them in glimmers every once in a while, balanced by their darker counterparts.

I’ll keep going there, through the darkness, towards the light. And as I do, I’ll continue to cry as much as I need. Cry at the sorrow and at the joy. These days I wonder if one can truly exist without the other. Maybe that’s what Tikva came through to teach me.


How do you experience your dark and your light emotions? What are the ways in which you go there, deep into the shadows or leaping towards joy? Do you sometimes avoid your more difficult emotions? What works for you in navigating all the places in your soul?

I will not follow you into the dark

Anonymity allows us to explore the monologue that we can sometimes barely acknowledge to ourselves. This can open doors, help us knock down what's blocking better days. One way to do this is the exercise of namelessness. Please welcome Anonymous 1—for the sake of response, let's call her Ann.

There's a gulf in my living room, a black hole that houses me, and it's been this way since my daughter died.

You'll have to hold your hands out in front of you at first, feel around for the edges, but then light will seep in and you'll see: I have almost everything I need down here. Sustenance. Diversions, books, songs, writing. Places to curl up and rest, accustomed now to the fitfulness.

Far above me my husband sits on the couch. He watches basketball, draws breath in through teeth and groans at every missed pass. His hand digs in a bowl of chips. I stare at his oblivious chewing. How can he just sit there, eating chips? How can he not know that we are failing?

I know what you're thinking. You cannot expect him to be psychic. You need to tell him what you need.

A reasonable response. As I've heard said before: be the love that you want. A bomb of a sentiment that forces all of us to quit assessing the hits or misses of our spouses and consider what we offer. And what do I offer? I sit at the bottom of this hole. I have made it comfortable and liveable, this inner solitude. This place is not one of pure misery, or consant depression. It is just differentness. Since our daughter, I am compelled to embrace it. In contrast, my husband is compelled to insist that he is unchanged.

Still, the hole is self-imposed exile. I no longer expect accompaniment. What feels to me like acceptance must appear to anyone else as giving up on him, on us.

But you know what else makes sense?

I shouldn't have to tell my husband how to love me.


For the first months after our daughter's death my grief was a spectacle. I needed those around me to acknowledge my loss, dammit, and so for a while I made it impossible to ignore. I needed to confront friends and family with it, to make them hear. They asked me how are you and I answered them entirely without sugar.

She needs to get it together.

My husband almost instantly crossed the line that divided Us and Them. This left Me and Them, of which my husband was a part. He stared back from the other side, arms folded across his chest with a crowd at his back.

I don't think of it anymore. You shouldn't either.


Some time passed: weeks, months. I took steps towards him holding abbreviated memories at arm's length, thinking that calm, measured attempts at sharing her memory were necessary to keep us connected.

Over toast I'd say casually I dreamed about her last night. I was composed, outwardly fine. His cereal would hit the bowl with a clatter, his back to me, and he would say Oh. Then it was Pass the jam and Is there any more coffee in the pot and I can't find my keys.

In my head it was different. Oh, what did you see? and I like that and It's okay to dream or maybe just I love you.

But he was closed, gone elsewhere. It was an inescapable heaviness as heartbreaking as the loss of our daughter. It was the loss of us.


We are still unfound. We are roommates. We tend to life together, me from down here.

That's not to say I'm continually depressed. Our lives are full and blessed. My husband is a good man, ethical and straightforward. But the death of our daughter served to highlight that perhaps the unit of he and I were not strong enough to sustain this. His crossing of that line prolonged the spectacle by way of isolation. I am forever changed, and not for the worse, now that time has passed. He is unaffected, or rather, his facade of unaffectedness is more important to him than bearing a crack in it through which to talk to me.

We speak of very little beyond shared bills and shared space. I see continued silence as failure. He sees it as relief. Is this the rest of my life? A life with someone who will only care for the parts of me that are tidy, presentable? This is not marriage. This is claustrophobia, for both of us.

I see others mention here It made us stronger and I couldn't have gone through this without my husband and I stare at the screen, mystified and envious.

The death of our baby caused us to fail one another completely. I failed him by being a spectacle, as he and his family defined me. He failed me by refusing to remember our daughter. I made it impossible for him to forget her, as was his instinct. He didn't come for me, to either sit with me or yank me from that place, to demand that I be with him because he needs me, these days the definition of passionate love. I no longer share my occasional dark with him, these days the definition of inauthenticity. He shakes his head at me, as he always has, and I retreat. He digs through chips, chewing, drawing breath in through teeth at a flickering screen.

Some people reference high divorce rates among babylost parents. Others insist that's a myth. Most agree that men and women tend to grieve differently. How do we cross that gulf to one another? How did your marriage sustain the loss of your baby/babies?

Remember that you're welcome to post here either anonymously, under another identity or as yourself. If you've commented as yourself before and would like to comment anonymously, simply click 'remove stored information' in the comment box, clear your blog URL and email address, and use 'anonymous' as your name.