For the last three years, I have been co-facilitating a monthly infertility support group in my home. My colleague and I volunteer our time to help other men, women and couples that are struggling to start their family. The group is free of charge, and the group space allows for the opportunity to share resources, information, pain, and offer support to those who need it.
Back in 1999, when I began trying to start my family, there were no such intimate groups available in the city of Toronto.
It was a resource that was significantly lacking for a population of ‘fertility-challenged’ couples. By starting this group, it was my hope that couples could feel comfortable attending and expressing anything that was on their mind in a confidential, highly supportive environment among others who were also struggling.
As expected, there is often talk about the fertility process. Is it time to move on to invitro fertilization? Is it time to look into surrogates? What can I expect in terms of pain when my eggs are removed? In fact, no topic is off limits and there is very little we do not discuss.
The recurring theme, however, is that of loss. Miscarriage. Chemical pregnancies. Clients express that they are not sure how to feel. They often do not feel they have the right to mourn a pregnancy that they lost at 6 or 8 weeks, when they never felt the baby move or heard a heartbeat. The clients come to me confused and sad. They often do not know how to ask for, nor do they often feel they deserve, support from their loved ones.
The truth is, family and friends are often at a loss as to what to say or how to behave around someone who has miscarried.
Supporting Someone through a Miscarriage:
1) Accept that the pain is real, even when a miscarriage occurs early on. The pain and loss of losing a baby early on should never be diminished. In fact, minimizing this loss to the intended parents has been shown to have even more detrimental affects on their level of coping.
2) If you are not sure what to say, it is best to keep your wishes simple. “I am sorry for your loss” or “please let me know if there is anything I can do for you” are both lovely sentiments. Saying “I guess the baby was not strong enough” or “I guess it was not meant to be” are not appropriate. They are hurtful sentiments, even if made with the best of intentions.
3) Unless you have been through such a loss, please do not pretend to assume that you know what someone is feeling. The truth is, no matter how badly others want to empathize, unless they have been through this pain themselves, they cannot understand.
4) Allow the intended parents time to grieve. Do not tell them it’s time to move on. Only those experiencing the grief know when it is the right time to move on or try again.
5) Please do not pretend that nothing has happened. If there is an elephant in the room, acknowledge it. Do not try to avoid the subject, or ignore that something awful happened. Validate your loved one’s feelings by showing care and concern, not by pretending everything is just fine.
6) Know that the pain does ease over time, but couples will always struggle with their loss. Studies have shown that even years after a miscarriage, even after other children are born, talking about the loss brings couples right back to the pain and emotional space they were in when it first happened.
As someone who has experienced more than my share of miscarriages, I can attest that the emotional pain is real and raw. It makes us question what we have done wrong to deserve it, and why we feel we are being punished. Some people even start to question their faith in God.
Although miscarriages are often inevitable and most often not preventable, it is my hope that by educating others on how to help and respond to our grief, we will be able to ask for help, rely on our loved ones and navigate through our grief with a little more ease.
As my children get older, they are obviously learning to become more self-sufficient. For the most part, I am no longer needed for the basic every day mundane things such as bathing, grooming, brushing teeth, getting dressed, etc.
Although these things sound so trivial, to me, this is an enormous accomplishment. Not only does it mean that my children are learning and have continued to learn to do these things for themselves, but their ability to be more self-sufficient has freed up time for me. This new-found free time lets me choose how I spend my time.
Wow, free time. What does one do with these tidbits of free time anyway?
Having just come back from holidays with my family, I recently learned something very interesting about parenting – the importance of having one-on-one time with each of my children.
To be honest, despite its importance and our level of enjoyment, this time alone does not happen too often. Life still gets in the way. Three children, three different sets of friends, social commitments, school commitments, extra curricular activities. Not to mention the fact that I work, run the home, and plan just about everything.
Until now, having some time alone with each of my children is something that has been difficult to achieve.
Children most certainly behave very differently one-on-one than in a group setting. This is especially true within a family unit, where one child might be more extroverted than another…causing the quieter child to somehow fade into the background…. It’s amazing how a personality emerges when there is no one else around.
Benefits of One-on-One Time:
Time alone builds CONFIDENCE. Within a family unit, it is often difficult to devote individual time to the needs and interests of one specific child. Children thrive when they feel that they matter, when they feel heard, and when they feel special and important. By spending time alone, we can embrace their interests, learn what makes them ‘tick’, and get to now them on a more intimate level.
Time alone builds SPECIAL MEMORIES. Memories that are shared between two people. Memories that only two people can laugh about. It is a wonderful way to bond.
Time alone builds CONNECTION. Children learn to feel connected when they realize that they are getting 100% of a parent’s attention. Children are more likely to open up and share their thoughts, feeling and fears with their parents when they are alone with them. What better way is there for a parent to engage with a child than when there are no other distractions?
Time alone DECREASES ATTENTION-SEEKING BEHAVIOUR. Children ‘act out’ when they feel they are not being heard, or being given sufficient attention. Although I am not condoning rewarding this type of behaviour, having time alone with our children will help alleviate the need to seek out validation by acting out or through other means.
Let’s face it, life is busy. And schedules and commitments get in the way. Despite our good intentions, for most parents, spending a whole day alone with one child is not always feasible or realistic. However, parents can learn to maximize their opportunities and take advantage, as much as possible, of the time they do have. Even if this means asking one child to join us on our errands, or having them help us cook dinner.
As the Reverend Jesse Jackson has said most eloquently, “Your children need your presence more than your presents.”.
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