(This originally appeared in the Miscarriage Association newsletter)
Becoming Parents and Overcoming Obstacles: Understanding the Experience of Miscarriage, Premature Births, Infertility, and Postnatal Depression
Ed Emanuela Quaglita: Karnac Books (Sep 2013)
Seven years ago, I wrote a dissertation exploring the disenfranchised nature of grief in the wake of a pregnancy loss. I looked at how society in many ways failed to acknowledge the nature and potentially complex pain caused when a baby dies, especially when the baby died before his her due date. Indeed, my research led me to my first contact with the Miscarriage Association, as a unique organisation working hard to put pregnancy loss on the ‘map’ of other losses – to ‘enfranchise’ the grief it seemed at the time.
While some things have changed for the better since my studies, not least due to the work of the MA and others, it is disheartening to read in this recently published book that the psychological literature continues to lack a robust enquiry into the nature of experiences around miscarriage, premature births, stillbirths, infertility, and indeed postnatal depression. This makes this book an important one as a result, for psychologists, therapists, doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals, as well as for the parents and families who they think about and look after.
The edition brings together some of the most respected psychological thinkers and academics concerned with conception, gestation and birth, although all share a psychoanalytic way of thinking – which means they are particularly curious about a patient’s family history and early parenting. These early bonds with our caregivers can have great effect on relationships in later life, and may well help us un-pack and process our present emotional world – including difficulties adjusting to pregnancy loss. It looks at some of the more troubling aspects of grief which a patient seeks help to soothe. The language may become dense for the lay reader, and some of the ideas complex, particularly when exploring the dynamics of how early relationships can be re-enacted between the patient and her baby. But if you are in talking therapy, or keen to enquire a bit deeper within, the ideas may be thought provoking or even inspiring. The case studies may also help you feel connected to others who have felt similarly to you (nearly all are female, with a couple as an exception).
Each contributor looks at one way where the great effort to create a family can be tragically interrupted: recurrent miscarriage, the experience of parenting a premature baby, a traumatic birth, parenting a child in the shadow of the death of another child (described as a ‘penumbra’ child) and, finally, the emotional impact of infertility. The authors share their psychological thinking with a bit of theory, but also through case studies of clients they worked with over many weeks and perhaps months. They are hopeful stories, there to show how a grief that doesn’t feel to resolve (because of an intrusive rage or grief or fear for example) can eventually be worked through once the connections with the past are made and worked through.
This doesn’t have to be through talking therapy, perhaps the book would help alone.