PLEASE NOTE: THIS POST CONTAINS DETAILS OF POSTNATAL DEPRESSION, ANXIETY & A DISCUSSION OF GRIEF
Motherhood... A Grief Process
I know that the Kübler-Ross theory (2014) has more facets that anger, isolation and depression. But for my journey, and my experience of motherhood, I feel that it’s been predominately an interplay between those three aspects of the stages of grief. I didn’t find that I followed any particular flow, but that the feelings I’ve personally associated with motherhood can translate into the grief model. But maybe that’s because I wish to find an explanation for the emotions I had for some years?
With the ‘final stage’ of grief, I can’t say that I feel I’ve reached a point of acceptance about motherhood, as I think it’s still a work in progress. My life is much calmer as I can see the gains that have come from my losses. Without the loss of my own identity, I don’t think I’d appreciate the opportunities for personal growth it’s provided me with. My work towards acceptance has created a deeper level of love for my children, strength and determination to be their role model where my own mother couldn’t be. I aim for unconditional love towards them but know that I often fail, “sometimes we catch ourselves mistreating our children the way that we were mistreated” (Viorst, 2002. Pg. 214) and no longer hold myself accountable to the expectations from the ‘child-centered’ communities or those of my husband.
“Many counsellors are unaware of the way in which negative experiences from the past are also re-lived in the relationship between themselves and the clients, and so do not make as constructive a re-learning from them as they might otherwise do.”
(Jacobs, 1996. Pg. 11)
Prior to becoming a psychotherapist, I worked on the assumption that grief was a linear process, when one stage of grieving ends then there’s space for the next stage or to begin processing a different loss. In reality, I feel loss and grief could be multi-variant in nature. That one loss process feeds into another regardless of the ‘stage’ reached or whether a theory suggests the finality of the process. Having read the ‘Dual Process Theory’ of grief and bereavement (Strobe & Schut, 2010), I still don’t believe that all my losses to motherhood fit into that model neatly either; unless I only look at one aspect of my grief rather than the interrelatedness that I feel is there. Does each loss I experienced (independence, sexual, physical) have an entitlement to its own grieving process or do they all sit within my overarching sense of identity loss? And will that grief ever feel like its concluded or do I merely accept it as a given based on duration passed? I feel that the notion of time being a healer doesn’t feel fitting for me, yet for some clients it does. That it’s almost a question of society deeming a time-limiting process, that I only have permission to acknowledge the losses for so long before it becomes unacceptable, “grief that is experienced when a loss cannot be openly acknowledged, socially sanctioned or publicly mourned” (Doka, 2002.Pg.160) I question as to whether I still recognise the aspect of myself that I felt ‘died’ when I became a mother and as such I’ve absorbed this aspect as being a configuration of myself? (Mearns & Thorne, 2006. Pg. 120-143) The confident, professional, independent woman that I once was still serves ‘her’ benefits in my present life which may be why I can’t, or even won’t, grieve a loss of ‘her’ entirely.
This is Part 3 of a 3 part series of a personal account of postnatal depression, anxiety & loss.
Doka, K (2002) Disenfranchised grief. In Kenneth J. Doka (Ed.) Living with grief: Loss in later life (pp. 159-168) Washington D.C.:The Hospice foundation of America
Kübler-Ross, E. (2014) On death & dying: What the dying have to teach doctors, nurses, clergy & their own families. Scribner: New York
Mearns, D & Thorne, B. (2006) Person-centred therapy today. New frontiers in theory and practice. Sage: London.
Stroebe, M. & Schut, H. (2010) The Dual Process model of coping with bereavement: Rationale and description. Death studies (23) 3: pp 197-224
Viorst, J. (2002) Necessary Losses. The Free Press: New York