by Dr. Amanda Zelechoski, co-founder of Pandemic Parenting
When it comes to pandemic parenting, much of the discussion has centered around remote learning struggles, working from home while trying to manage kids, and the constant decisions parents are making to keep their families safe.
I have noticed that the unique challenges for those who are trying to become parents have been largely missing from those conversations. As we near the end of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, it’s important that we also acknowledge and support the countless families who are grieving the new life they anticipated nurturing by now.
- If you experienced a pregnancy loss or miscarriage since March 2020, the increased likelihood of having to miscarry at home due to the closure of many outpatient surgery centers meant added layers of grief and trauma.
- If you were preparing to begin or were in the midst of fertility treatments, national recommendations to postpone such elective reproductive procedures may have altered your plans.
- And, no matter where you were in the adoption process, you have likely experienced significant delays or, worse, an abrupt halt for the indefinite future.
I see you, and I know this is a lot.
Each of these experiences is likely to result in some level of grief, which is our natural reaction to a loss. Grief is not just limited to the loss of a loved one. We can also feel grief about lost opportunities, hopes, dreams – what was supposed to be. The grief process looks different for each of us, but we must allow ourselves to feel the pain of our loss in order to move through it and grow from it.
It’s important to acknowledge that it’s okay to not be okay so that you can seek the care and support you need.
To this end, here are 3 gifts I encourage you to give yourself as you work through these losses:
1. Give yourself space to feel the grief
The depth of pain and vulnerability that comes with such a significant loss often means that you feel the range of emotions more intensely; things may hit you harder, cut deeper, last longer. Sometimes we get blindsided by the grief, it comes out of nowhere that day. So give yourself permission to tap out when you need to, to take a “mental health day” or a “grief day.” Let your partner, loved ones, co-workers – whoever might be expecting something from you – know that you just can’t do all the things today. You just can’t. And that’s ok.
2. Give yourself permission to have moments of joy and gratitude
Giving yourself space to grieve does not mean that you aren’t allowed to feel joy or to forget about your sadness for a bit. Having positive moments does not make the hard not exist, but it does help us survive it. There may even be aspects of having this experience during a pandemic for which you are grateful, such as not having to face society or run into people as often and having to put on a brave face, explain what happened, and deal with others’ pity or avoidance. Our physical isolation has also meant an influx of available virtual support groups, digital resources, and tele-therapy options.
It’s more important than ever to find ways to distract yourself with things you enjoy doing or connecting with friends who are there to talk about anything other than your grief. This may also mean signing off of social media for a while or making intentional efforts to practice gratitude.
3. Give yourself the audacity to hope
Right now, things may feel hopeless and the added stress of this seemingly endless pandemic certainly doesn’t help matters. Your grief over what could have been might make you scared or hesitant to dream of what still could be. This is a natural defense mechanism – our way of protecting ourselves from the risk of future pain. But, it’s important to remind yourself that the pain won’t always feel like this…that you will get through this. And that, as you are ready, it’s okay to allow yourself to continue to see possibilities, not just losses.
One approach to this is to find ways to feel empowered. Traumatic loss is often about not having control over what happened to you; so, finding ways to regain bits of control in your life is a critical part of maintaining a sense of hope for the future and what or “whom” it might bring into your life.
No matter what your situation is, or how the pandemic has impacted your journey to parenthood, please be gentle with yourself and know that you are not alone.
*For more information and free resources, check out our recent webinars on grief and pregnancy support at: https://www.pandemic-parent.org/resources.
Amanda Zelechoski, J.D., Ph.D.
Dr. Amanda Zelechoski is a licensed clinical and forensic psychologist and attorney, specializing in trauma. She is board certified in Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology and has worked clinically with adults, children, and families. As an Associate Professor of Psychology at Valparaiso University, she directs the Psychology, Law, and Trauma Lab, where she conducts research on the impact of childhood trauma. In addition, Dr. Zelechoski provides training and consultation to numerous mental health, legal, educational, and child welfare agencies. More importantly, she is a wife and mom of three young children, mostly just trying to make sure her kids have clothes on when they bust into her virtual meetings.