What You Should Know About Reproductive Loss
A Brief Explanation of Reproductive Loss
Reproductive loss is an inclusive spectrum of loss that ranges from the ambiguous loss experienced in infertility, to miscarriage (loss of a pregnancy before 20 weeks), stillbirth (loss of a pregnancy after 20 weeks), as well as elective adoptions and abortions.
Consider that most people are unconsciously writing their reproductive story from the time they are young – think about how old you might have been when you first started to think about someday having children… or thinking you didn’t want to have children. It typically doesn’t cross young minds that it might be difficult to conceive, that we might not find a partner we want to have children with, or that we might lose a pregnancy.
Reproductive Loss is Common
Reproductive loss is much more common than most people are aware:
As many as 1 in every 4 known pregnancies will end in miscarriage and 1 in 80 pregnancies will result in a stillbirth.
1 in 6 couples will experience problems with infertility and about 1 in 4 women will have an elective abortion by the time they are 45yrs old.
It is very likely that you have experienced a reproductive loss or know someone close to you who has… you simply may not be aware of it.
Why Reproductive Loss is Different
The loss experienced related to reproduction is different than other grief you may have experienced. At this time, there isn’t language attributed this type of loss as there is if you lose a partner (widow) or a parent (orphan).
Grief of a reproductive loss is not frequently openly acknowledged and is rarely publicly mourned. You are grieving someone you never met but likely held hopes and dreams for. Women, couples, and families are often left to grieve alone.
There is no legislation offering time off to grieve a miscarriage despite being offered time to grieve an aunt or grandparent. The grief experienced is typically disenfranchised grief – grief that someone has difficulty resolving and integrating into their story.
As a result of their grief, women and men are at a higher risk of developing symptoms of depression, anxiety, substance abuse, eating disorders, or complicated grief. Women/gestational partners are more likely to exhibit symptoms of depression and anxiety immediately following the loss but research shows that many men are also developing these symptoms, and may experience a delay in the onset of the symptoms.
Culturally, it has been assumed that women, or the gestational partners, are most likely to experience grief and mental health difficulties related to loss but research is beginning to show that men are just as likely to experience grief and mental health difficulties following a reproductive loss.
What We Know About Resolving Grief of a Reproductive Loss
As a helping professional, it is important to know whether a reproductive loss has occurred – whether you’re working with women, or men. During an intake, consider asking not only about who is living in the home or how many children an individual has, but also how many pregnancies have they experienced.
It is not necessary to unpack initially, but it can be helpful to know if a reproductive loss has occurred. It can also be helpful to be aware of past difficulties with infertility. If your helping professional isn’t asking these questions, it can be helpful to offer this information up-front. Many times, people can get stuck in therapy without being aware of why – resolving loss (even when you’re not aware that it is affecting you) can be a key to moving forward.
The goals of grief counseling are typically to help an individual grieve and restore a sense of self. Resolution of grief typically refers to the restoration of the sense of self without behaviors, beliefs, or grief interfering with daily functioning or physical, emotional, and relational well being.
Many therapeutic modalities can facilitate the grieving process (EMDR, Internal Family Systems, Emotionally Focused Therapy, Interpersonal Neurobiology and grief+trauma informed psychoeducation are our preferred methodologies but there are many that support this goal). As as part of therapy, it can be helpful to learn how to navigate your reproductive story and fluidly re-write that story as it changes. We learn to amend and adjust while also creating meaning within it.
As a society, we have a long way to go in terms of recognizing and giving voice to reproductive loss and those that have suffered the grief of such a loss. That being said, there are numerous organizations and individual providers that are available to support you and your loved ones.
Consider connecting with an individual therapist that works specifically with perinatal mental health and reproductive loss or joining a reproductive loss support group specific to your needs (ex. Miscarriage. Stillbirth, Infertility, Post Abortion support groups).
Also consider resources available below:
If You Know Someone Who Has Experienced a Reproductive Loss…
- Listen to their story… without interrupting or making sense of it for them.
- Acknowledge their emotions, even when it feels uncomfortable.
- Honor their requests for confidentiality.
- Support them in finding resources if needed.
- I’m so sorry for your loss.
- That must be so hard.
- How can I help?
- I’m here for you.
Wherever you are in the pursuit of parenthood, our team is here to support you. It is possible to hold anticipation, fear, joy, and pain at the same time. It is possible to find relief from the peripartum or postpartum symptoms you may be experiencing.
You were made to thrive in this journey you are on.
Thanks for reading. The more feel understood around these issue, the less have to suffer in silence.
With gratitude –
Holly Kelley, LMFT