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The Unimaginable and Disenfranchised Grief

Infant loss takes many forms and, as individuals and as a society, we often lack the capacity to acknowledge, honor, and process the grief that accompanies it. The term “disenfranchised grief” refers to “the grief that persons experience when they incur a loss that is not or cannot be openly acknowledged, publicly mourned, or socially supported.” Miscarriage and the death of a child come to mind when one thinks of infant loss, however, there are many other forms that need to be seen and given voice: infertility, termination of pregnancy, still birth, or removal of custody, among others.

As an early relational health clinician working with families with mental health and substance use issues, I invite awareness and consideration of the grief parents experience when a child is removed from their care. Often, loss of custody is accompanied by feelings of guilt and shame that arise both within the parent themselves and from people and organizations that surround them. What I know from my work is that every parent loves their child and is doing everything in their capacity to meet that child’s needs. The blockages to attuned, responsive caregiving are not rooted in a lack of will or caring, but in early traumatic experiences of the parent. May we all reflect upon what comes up for us when we think of a parent losing custody of their child. Every feeling that emerges is valid, whether it be fear, blame, anger, or compassion. And while every feeling is valid, we need to build the capacity to move through the difficult feelings and be intentional in our actions. Let us find the courage to engage with parents we know who have lost custody of their babies—perhaps asking how they are doing over a cup of coffee or telling them that we are sorry for their loss and that we will keep them in our thoughts. Perhaps we help them sort through their child’s items.

Infant Loss Blog

Mourning the loss of a child is perhaps the most difficult human experience imaginable. Yet mourning without the support and acknowledgment of community pushes this experience even further into pain and suffering. At CGE, our teams continue to provide a safe place, safe presence, safe path to all clients and we remain steadfast in our commitment to help clients during life’s most difficult moments. This month, as we honor pregnancy and infant loss, please consider into your compassionate thought and action all parents who have experienced loss in all its forms.