Prince Harry and I Agree: Bury Grief at Your Peril
Give voice to your grief, loss and trauma or risk being held hostage by it.
If you agree with that assessment you’re in some royal good company. Prince William and Prince Harry to be exact. They got my attention in recent interviews about how grief and loss impacted their lives. Harry notably talked of how he once “found himself overcome by a ‘flight or fight’ sensation” during public events. It was only when he “realized it was the unattended, unresolved grief” that he could begin to make sense of how his loss and unattended feelings affected him.
Both princes, through their own admissions and mental health charity work, encourage others to give voice to their grief. In one taped segment William and his wife Kate engage with those expressing grief after miscarriages. It was a bit emotional for me to watch even now — 15 years after the loss of our alpha pregnancies.
I came away both envious and alienated at the same time. Why? Because the grieving couples received validation.
“There’s no meditation room or ‘in memoriam’ for the dreamed of and much desired children lost following IVF embryo transfers.”
Grief and Its Long Reach
Miscarriages have a long history of making others feel uncomfortable. The default expectation is that we’re not supposed to talk about them. There’s very little in the way of social convention or a ‘grief norm’ to help the mourning process along. Then there’s the ugly stepchild of miscarriages: IVF losses. While clinic staff promote and boast about births on websites, hallways and bulletin boards festooned with baby images, there’s no meditation room or ‘in memoriam’ for the dreamed of and much desired children lost following IVF embryo transfers. Yet they live within us.
This summer I found myself still wrestling with the loss of our children. You see, I have three very real reminders — three beautiful girls all born within weeks to friends and family members around our first anticipated due date. For 15 years I’ve watched them grow up and blossom. It’s impossible to separate them from the dreams of our children.
Days after time with one of these delightful young women, a neighborhood party introduced me to new people. Now well beyond the ‘fight or flight’ response that Harry described, I came prepared for the inevitable ‘do you have children?’ question casually launched my way. This time I not only had my missile defense system activated, I was prepared to launch my own should the need arise. It did.
“No, we were unable to have children,” I responded looking my interrogator in the eye. And that’s when the awful flip dismissal came flying back at me.
“Well, you can have one of mine.”
I’ve lived this dismissal moment more than once over the years, but this time I didn’t ignore or let it pass.
“That’s actually not the right thing to say to someone who has lost their children,” I said quietly. “It’s quite cruel actually. We lost seven in total.”
My now flustered new acquaintance looked at me as if my honesty attacked her. “Oh, well, I mean, I’ve never been sure I’ve been a very good mother…”
Silenced by Dismissal
There it was. Another dismissal. And immediately, it was back to her and her children.
If only there was the equivalent of Harry and William and their platforms to help educate and make clear that you don’t lose your children once. You lose them over and over again. It’s made worse when you’re not given room to express that loss openly. Disenfranchised grief in particular gets pent up.
Author Julia Leigh‘s observation came to mind in that moment: ““Half-grief, forestalled grief, was a kind of hell.”
As Harry said in the latest HBO documentary, “So there’s a lot of grief that still needs to be”—he whistles, and makes a downward gesture with his arms—“Let out.”
Yes, Harry, and might I add: it’s much, much easier to let the grief pour forth when you have a receptive audience.
This was made abundantly clear in the wake of a poignant IVF loss narrative shared on ReproTechTruths. After published, the author wrote to say, “One of the heartbreaks of losing our son was knowing that no one would ever know him, that he wouldn’t matter to the world. But, if my story helps just one other woman in any way, it will have been worth telling.”
Yes. Very worthwhile. We hear you and we validate your loss.
If you have a story to tell we want to hear it.