Monthly Archives: September 2014

Anger Angst

Anger Projection by Richard Easterling 2014

“Anger Projection” by Richard Easterling, 2014

“I just kind of hate people right now.”

“I’m mad at God.”

“My doctor/nurse/midwife/doula/hospital did something that made things worse and I can’t forgive them.”

Anger is an emotion that can make us squirm with discomfort.  We worry about being rude, mean or just appearing less than “nice.”  Many women, in particular, don’t get a lot of practice acknowledging or expressing anger.  Whether or not we feel comfortable speaking about our anger after a loss, however, it’s likely to be a part of our experience.

After my first loss, I remember my own anger feeling like balls of fire inside me that I sometimes wanted to hold and sometimes wanted to throw- at the one insensitive doctor I encountered during my hospital stay, at my husband who wasn’t sharing my reactions, and sometimes at anyone who was acting like the world was still an OK place.

One of my favorite descriptions of anger after loss is from the novel “Luscious Lemon” by Heather Swain.  In this excerpt, the narrator, who has just experienced a miscarriage, reluctantly attends a baby shower for a relative:

From the living room, I can hear the squeal of women’s voices cooing over rubber nipples and car seats.  As I peek in on the scene of my slavering aunts and cousins gathered around Trina in full bloom, I wish that I had the technical knowledge to construct a bomb out of a Diaper Genie, Enfamil and tiny plush toys.  I imagine the whole place exploding in one giant poof of confectioner’s sugar and me escaping through an open window, shimmying down the drainpipe to freedom.

Sometimes we find ways to express our anger outside of words.  One night when I was facilitating a pregnancy loss group, I recall the group members describing various ways of coping with their anger including screaming, breaking things, and for one woman, going to the rifle range and shooting until exhausted.  They all expressed relief from their actions.  Although a bit embarrassed at the beginning of the discussion, they gathered steam and disclosed more throughout the session.  Through their disclosure, they had normalized each other’s feelings.  They expressed comfort knowing they were not alone in their bouts of fury.

This is not a time when you have to decide if your anger is justified.  A good start might be to just notice your feelings.  We often treat anger as a “hot potato” and worry that the expression of it will hurt us or others.  As long as we are not lashing out or otherwise doing injury to ourselves or others, anger isn’t necessarily something that has to be lassoed and managed.  It may be the one emotion that makes you feel alive and active right now.

It can be challenging to feel anger without knowing where or at whom to direct it.  Maybe you’re mad at someone in the medical field for either their actions or their attitude related to caring for you.  Maybe you’re mad at your higher power or the universe at large.  Maybe you’re mad at your partner for not grieving the same way as you.  Maybe you’re mad at your family and friends, for doing too much or too little to help you during this time.  Maybe you’re mad at yourself for not having the power to keep your loss from happening.  Maybe it all feels rational and maybe it doesn’t.

If your anger is focused on the behavior of another, forgiveness may be useful.  This is not in order to be some kind of superior being or do-gooder, but for your own sense of peace.  Fred Luskin is a psychologist who writes on the concept of forgiveness and how doing so decreases stress and increases happiness.  If your anger at another is taking away from what you want in your life, it may help to look at the work of Luskin and others to work through steps to forgiveness.

Anger is only a feeling.  Like any other feeling, it’s just looking for a way to be expressed.  Experiment with not feeding or starving anger, but just acknowledging it.  Find a way to express your anger that works for you.  You may want to verbalize your feelings to people or write a journal entry, letter or blog.  Your anger can be expressed through art, hitting a pillow, exercising (as appropriate to your physical condition), or ripping something up.  

If you are behaving in a way that is hurting yourself or another with your anger, find some support to learn to work through it in another way.  If your anger involves feeling hurt by another, consider whether you want to help yourself through working on forgiveness.

Further Reading:  Forgive for Good:  A Proven Prescription for Health and Happiness by Fred Luskin, PhD


When Loss is Ambiguous

fields-in-the-fog Rostislav Kralik

“I went through labor and delivery and I saw my baby.  People seem to think that since I lost a baby during pregnancy, it was no big deal physically or emotionally.  What do they think happened?”

“I’m prochoice and after my miscarriage, I feel like I’m grieving a baby.  Is that wrong?”

“There is no Hallmark card for this occasion.”


Losing someone who was not known to the world at large can make the loss ambiguous and confusing.  This might be especially profound if you have experienced a miscarriage, stillbirth or other loss during pregnancy.  It may be unclear to others in your life if the loss was a death, or even an event of great significance.

Not everyone who loses a pregnancy feels she has lost a baby.  Not everyone who loses a pregnancy finds it to even be a big deal.  But for most of us, it is an enormously big deal.  It can feel like the invisible giant of losses, that earthquake that only happened to us.  And understanding what it means to us- what was lost- may be a challenge to ourselves and to others.

Some of the specifics may be clear:

“My baby died.”

“I’m not pregnant anymore- I won’t be having a baby soon.”

“I lost my dream of having this baby”

However, the specifics and scope of the loss may be quite confusing:

“Will I ever have a baby?”

“I lost a person!  Is it OK to name my baby and to say I had a daughter?”

“Sometimes I feel like it was just part of me that I lost.”

The confusing and amorphous nature of losing a baby before it is born are displayed in the titles of two books:  “About What Was Lost:  20 Writers on Miscarriage, Healing and Hope” (Jessica Berger Gross, Ed.) and the memoir of carrying and losing a stillborn baby, “An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination” by Elizabeth McCracken.  Just the one line titles speak to an experience of losing someone who is both so precious and ephemeral.  These qualities contribute to make these losses such a bewildering experience.

Pregnancy is a complicated mix of physical and psychological changes.  Identity transitions (e.g. starting to see oneself as a mother) and deepening attachment to the baby are normal reactions for an expecting woman as well as her partner.  The timelines for these experiences in pregnancy vary from person to person.  If a particular pregnancy ends with a loss, the truck carrying all of the wishes, attachment and expectations of that individual can’t just back up to some earlier, pre-pregnancy place.  The woman will still be left carrying feelings from the pregnancy, whatever they  may be.  That’s why an early miscarriage may feel to one person like a unrealized dream while to another it feels like the loss of a specific, loved baby.

Legal definitions of personhood, medical procedures based on gestational age, and beliefs about when life begins don’t start or stop attachments of the heart. No one else has the right or ability to decide what your perinatal loss means to you.  You don’t have to adopt the words or explanations of others when deciding if you feel like you experienced the death of a person or death of a dream.  Your pregnancy or baby was part of you, and you have the right to acknowledge (or discover) what the loss means to you.  

Unauthorized Grief

When I was in my early 20’s, one of my best friends lost her second child.  She was full term with a baby boy and found out just before delivery that he had passed away.  I had recently moved from the Midwest to California and learned all of this from a distance.  As the details came in, I was sad, horrified, and uncomfortably helpless.  I was also, unfortunately, full of judgments.

As a young, single woman who had no experience with pregnancy or parenting, I could only try to imagine what she had been through.  It seemed surreal, like something that happened to people I wouldn’t know.  My heart ached for her and I repeatedly made brief, awkward statements over the phone to express my sympathy.

As I heard that my friend had named her son, visited his grave daily, and spent much of her day crying, I felt sympathetic and then, within weeks, a bit uncomfortable.  When the weeks turned into months, I continued my brief, awkward statements while my internal judgments got louder. It seemed strange to me that she would grieve so intensely for someone (as I judged) who was never really in the world.  She didn’t really know him, right?  She already had one living child and certainly could expect to have more.  Could she be making too much of her loss?  Was she somehow making it worse?  Might she be committing the crime (as we Midwesterners tend to see it) of being raw and open about intense feelings?

Kenneth Doka coined the phrase “disenfranchised grief” to refer to certain types of grief  that are commonly unrecognized or minimized by society (Disenfranchised Grief:  A Hidden Sorrow, 1989).  Examples include those losses that society views negatively, such as loss of a loved one through suicide, and those that are somehow hidden, such as a miscarriage or other losses during pregnancy.

People grieving these types of losses without societal support can feel the added burden of isolation in their grief, and possibly shame related to their strong feelings in the absence of validation.  They are, in a sense, grieving without permission and without social acceptance that their loss warrants a full experience of mourning.

A disenfranchised grief experience may be especially challenging for the bereaved.   If support to those grieving a perinatal loss is lacking or inauthentic, it may add to their pain and suffering. To my knowledge, no one has ever felt helped by hearing (or sensing from their friend’s unspoken communication) that she is overreacting to the loss of her baby.  Grief is not a choice and therefore not something one can be talked out of.

It may help you to know that your grief experience may not be well understood by others and that lack of understanding can lead to unhelpful responses, including minimizing your pain.  It may also be important for you to know that societal and cultural awareness of perinatal loss is growing and that whether or not you have met them yet, there are people on your planet who understand you.  If you don’t see them immediately, look for books, websites, blogs or support groups.  Your loss is understandably devastating, and it may be taking up much of your energy.  You are having your own experience of grief, and you don’t have to spend extra energy worrying that you are doing it right in the eyes of others.