Navigating the unique path of being a Black therapist supporting other parents through their journey of perinatal loss is profoundly rewarding. This role carries a complexity that can be difficult at times, especially for someone who has also experienced perinatal loss. The opportunity to step into the sacred spaces of grief and to accompany parents as they navigate through their deepest sorrows is undeniably transformative, not only for the families I support but for myself as well. In celebration of Black History Month, I would like to share my reflections on what it means to be a therapist to Black parents who have experienced perinatal loss. Additionally, I will offer strategies that can steer the healing journey of Black parents toward a more positive and empowering direction.

Dorienna Alfred - Reflections of a Black Therapist Who has Experienced Perinatal Loss

Author’s Personal Collection/Dorienna Alfred

The Unacknowledged Journey of Grief

Parents experiencing perinatal loss often suffer from disenfranchised grief, which occurs when their losses remain unacknowledged or unsupported[1]Doka, K. J. (1989). Disenfranchised grief. In K. J. Doka (Ed.), Disenfranchised grief: Recognizing hidden sorrow (pp. 3–11). Lexington Books/D. C. Heath and Com.. Black parents are more likely than other parents to experience inequities in grief support and education, as well as with health care in general. I do not take it for granted that some parents who enter my office have not felt supported along their journey. As such, I see each interaction with a grieving parent as an opportunity to shift the narrative of grief care positively. This is something we can all do by acknowledging their losses and helping them to honor the lives of their babies.

Creating Spaces for Healing and Hope

From my personal and professional experiences, I have learned that many Black parents want and need a safe space to talk about their grief with someone who can hold their pain and renew hope. While sitting with many Black parents, I notice eyes of relief when we connect around shared cultural experiences of loss. I notice silent thanks when they are allowed to cry in comfortable silence. I see a shift in posture when the shame they feel about questioning their faith is met without judgment. They begin to let go of the idea that they are not a “good Christian” or person of a particular faith because they are struggling to understand how something so devastating could happen to them. As therapists, we can offer this to all our clients.

Reflections of a Black Therapist Who has Experienced Perinatal Loss

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The Essential Role of Holding

Karen Kleiman[2]Kleiman, K. (2017). The art of holding in therapy: An essential intervention for postpartum depression and anxiety (pp. 4). Routledge: New York. has written extensively about the art of holding, which is a “loss-informed, strength-based approach that enables the therapist to contain high levels of distress and do so in a way that cultivates the early stages of connectedness.” Although grounded in the treatment of perinatal depression and anxiety, the approach has applications for grief therapy. Our ability as therapists to hold our client’s pain and not rush them past it is essential to their healing. It aligns with the basics of ensuring our clients feel seen, heard, and have a sense of agency. These foundational skills are critical for all those healing from perinatal loss, but are especially important to utilize with Black parents, who often report feeling unheard and uncared for by providers and sometimes family members. Holding space and active listening are crucial steps each of us can take to better support Black parents who are grieving.

Education and Understanding in Grief

Having knowledge about the processes or stages of grief can be invaluable to grieving families. Some parents have not had the basic stages of grief explained to them, even in settings where this should be the norm. Perhaps there are assumptions that parents already know this information, or that it is irrelevant to them. Offering education about the grieving process to all parents, but especially to Black parents, can help resolve feelings that perpetuate shame and guilt. What a gift it is for parents to realize that they are not alone and that what they are experiencing is likely a norm. We can offer that gift.

Cultural Awareness and Support

Inquiring about cultural and faith practices that may be relevant to the grief process is also important when collaborating with Black parents who have experienced loss. Therapists must explore the importance of faith for each parent given the various religious and spiritual beliefs found in the Black community. We are not required to know the details of every religion or spiritual practice to be able to listen and better understand how faith can be a resource or an area of challenge. Additionally, having knowledge of rituals or practices that are important to those we support can be helpful. It can give us insight into resources that may aid them in their journey.

Empowering Black Families Through Resources

Finally, sharing resources that uplift Black perinatal loss can be beneficial to Black families during their time of loss. Sisters in Loss is an organization that is Black woman-led and offers groups, a podcast, and a virtual community of support to Black moms and birthing people who have experienced perinatal loss. Lucinda’s House is another Black-led organization that offers support groups for Black families who have experienced perinatal loss. Other organizations, including PALS, Return to Zero HOPE, and Postpartum Support International, also offer blogs for loss parents to share their stories, as well as support groups, including some that are specifically for Black, Indigenous, and Parents of Color.

Conclusion: A Call to Elevate Care

Concerning our support of Black parents who have experienced perinatal loss, small changes can have a significant impact. I hope this post inspires you to do something new to elevate the care and support you offer to Black parents, not just this month but throughout the year.

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