Bringing home a baby born after a loss can bring such a mixture of emotions. Among groups of bereaved parents who are parenting infants after loss, it is common to hear concerns about the stress of the newborn stage. Frequently this stress comes with a fear that the parent is not bonding correctly with their baby or a sense of guilt that they should just be grateful their baby is here with them, rather than complaining about their struggles. I can think of countless loss parents who have expressed these sentiments.
It is as if we expect that because we have been through worse, the difficult parts are somehow supposed to be easy.
You finally got what everyone hopes for when they are pregnant or hoping to grow their family. Your wishes have at last come true. Your dreams have finally become a reality. An experience that has been connected with so much pain and sorrow has now also been able to bring you joy.
Because you have been waiting and hoping to finally get to where you are, you may feel like you have no right to complain about any aspect of it.
It was hard to not have a child in your arms, but that doesn’t mean it is easy to be parenting one now.
The reality is that having a child is not easy. Parenting a newborn is so incredibly hard, regardless of the effort and horrible trauma you had to endure to get there. During my daughter’s first year of life, I had friends remind me all the time that just because I was so glad my baby was alive didn’t mean I couldn’t complain. You are so grateful that you finally have a living, breathing baby, in your arms, and that doesn’t make parenting a newborn any easier for you than it is for anyone else. Just because you know it could always be worse doesn’t mean it isn’t hard. It’s still hard, and you have every right to seek support and express your frustration about the hard parts.
If you find yourself in this situation as a loss parent, remember the power of AND instead of BUT.
You can be so grateful for your baby, and you can really need them to sleep. You can know that you wouldn’t trade having your child with you for the alternative that you’ve already experienced, and you can very much need a break, some extra support, or for your baby to just stop crying for a few minutes. This is still really hard, even when you are as grateful and in awe as you are.
All parents get worn out and frustrated. No one enjoys every second of parenting.
You don’t have to qualify it because you are a loss parent. You get to voice your complaints aloud without having to clarify that you are still grateful or that you don’t want anything bad to happen to your child.
Sometimes parents of rainbow babies express worry that they are not bonding enough or not doing something correctly because of the loss(es) they have experienced. The reality is that the normal stress of parenting affects loss parents too. While your grief will always be with you in some form, your parenting struggles and complex emotions are not always loss-related. You get to be stressed just like the parents who are lucky enough to have never experienced the trauma or loss that you have, and you have every right to navigate it in whatever way you need.
You will still feel all of the joy and savor all of the little moments, even if you get frustrated and struggle.
In thinking about the both/and of parenting an infant after loss, I am reminded of artwork by Stephanie Chinn depicting joy and grief lovingly walking hand in hand.
Just as the joy and grief walk hand in hand in pregnancy and parenting after loss, facing whatever comes together, so too does the gratitude and the frustration, irritation, or anger (depending on where you are at in any given moment of a parenting struggle). It is natural for these emotions to coexist. In the moments that we need it most, the gratitude and the frustration can lovingly join hands and together, helping us navigate the struggles of parenting.
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