Cookie Cutter Grief Support

May 13, 2013 | Articles, Opinion

Our grief is not necessarily alike.

By Grace O.

We all feel exactly this.

I was scooting around on the Internet the other day when I spotted this bit of well-intentioned but less-than-helpful advice in group for those who’ve aborted wanted pregnancies for medical reasons: “We all go through this grief. We all feel exactly the same way, each and every one of us, with the same progress and the same setbacks, and none of us ever get over it.”

Oh really?

If you’ve been subjected to this cookie cutter brand of “grief support,” I’m sorry. There is no identical process that we all go through. There are no specific feelings or emotions that every single one of us will experience when ending a wanted pregnancy. There just aren’t. And a good support group will respect this.

And many of us do indeed “get over it.”

Rest assured, there is no “right” way to feel about all this. You might feel mortified. You might feel relieved. You might feel devastated. You might feel guilty. You might feel heroic. You might feel embarrassed. You might feel defeated. You might feel empowered. You might feel furious. You might feel numb. Chances are, you’ll feel several different, and even conflicting, things. Sometimes, you may many feel different things all at once.

And that’s okay.

We’re individuals. Our circumstances vary. Our feelings vary. Our beliefs vary. The only common denominator is that we welcomed this pregnancy, and we had to make a choice to end it. That’s it. Whether you never imagined in a million years that you’d seek an abortion for any pregnancy, or for this particular pregnancy, or whether you were certain you’d abort for one or more possible prenatal diagnoses, whether this pregnancy was planned down to the finest detail or a happy accident, there is just one thing most all of us have in common: we got prenatal news that made abortion the least horrific of some very horrible, no good, crappy options.

I don’t understand what’s behind a cooking-cutter approach to “support” that assumes everyone feels the same way, and goes through the same grief process. Is it arrogance? Laziness? Indifference? Lack of imagination?

I would not even assume we all feel grief. It seems many of us do, deeply. But our grief is not necessarily alike, and our grief process, if there is a process, is not always the same. To mete out cookie cutter advice or copy-n-paste support is to look right past the unique individuals who need real help for their genuine feelings.

I hope we never do cookie-cutter support here. And if we do, I hope you’ll call us out on it.

We may grieve a baby we felt very attached to. We may grieve the healthy child we believed we were having. We may feel we’re grieving two babies: the healthy one we thought we were having and the compromised baby we’ve lost. We may literally be grieving two babies if we’ve lost twins, or previous pregnancies. We may grieve our sense of innocence. We may grieve because this was our first pregnancy and our trust in pregnancy is now gone, or we may grieve because this was to be our last pregnancy and we will never try again. We may grieve because we spent a fortune not just in money, but in time and emotion going through infertility only to end up having to end the pregnancy early. We may grieve earlier abortions we had, in which we assume the fetus was normal. We may grieve having waited until we were older and settled to have kids, only to discover that our chances for birth defects has spiked over the years. We may grieve after learning we are carriers of a hereditary disorder.

We may grieve for weeks or months or years.

We may not grieve at all. And that’s okay, too.

Way back when I first came to this grief community in early 2000, there was one outspoken mom in our support group who stayed with us only a short time because she felt she did not fit in. She didn’t name her baby, and was put off by a perceived expectation that she should. And she was absolutely right. She didn’t learn the sex of her baby and didn’t wish to. Again, that felt right for her, so it was right. And she believed the group shied away from the word abortion too much, and again, she was right.

She made some public criticisms of our old support group, and those criticisms stung because she was absolutely right.

I thought of her bold, critical, but oh-so-wise words from over a decade ago when I saw different individuals being subjected to identical, unhelpful assertions about how we all feel exactly this and we all feel exactly that. I wish that way back when this outspoken mom graced us with her unique spirit, that we’d listened more and defended ourselves less. She may have seemed like the odd one out, but I have to wonder how many others have happened along to our community and decided not to get involved because they didn’t feel the way we seemed to be saying they ought to.

So we have learned and evolved. Be open to your own feelings, and be open to the feelings of others. We promise to do our best to be open to everyone’s feelings no matter what they may be, and remember that we really are not all the same.

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