It is a painful process to face the reality that you will not have the child for whom you have dreamed and planned. Something inside of you knows that you must do so to move forward. But how? How do you say good-bye to the child you never had?
In our recent show Coming to Terms with Infertility Grief, Carole LeiberWilkins, LMFT shared tangible ways to say good-bye to the child you never had. Whether you’ve never conceived at all, lost a baby through miscarriage or stillbirth, or experienced multiple failures during fertility treatment, saying good-bye is an essential step in finding your path forward.
Use Your Culture’s Language
Treat the loss of your dream as if it were a death. Speak of the child in the same ways that your family recognizes the passing of a loved one. Every family has its own culture surrounding how death is honored, and this language will help you conceptualize the loss that you are grieving.
If you don’t know your family’s particular way of speaking about death, feel free to name it, and express it in the way that helps you the most. Many families are uncomfortable talking about death and other similar painful losses or have stigmas about it in their cultural context. You can use this opportunity to change that for yourself if it helps you mourn.
Create a Ritual
Your family and your culture likely also have specific rituals surrounding the mourning process. Allow yourself to create and participate in those traditions that mark the passing of both the child and the dream you held for yourself.
Some families hold a memorial service when there’s been a miscarriage in the family. Others plant a tree in honor of a late-term pregnancy loss. Talk with your partner (if you have one) and those family members closest to you — ask for their support in creating this ritual for your loss.
It’s not so much about Getting Over Infertility as it is about moving forward.
Write a Hello & Good-Bye Letter
Another ritual that can speak healing and hope to your heart is to write a letter to the baby you never had. LeiberWilkins suggested that you include a few key elements to concretize the image of your dream child and the relinquishing of that dream.
- Open with a specific greeting. “Dear Child I Never Knew” is fine, but you could also consider giving the child a name and a gender if you think it will help you.
- Attribute to that child some specific character traits that you have dreamed of or imagined. Saying, “I always hoped that you would have your Daddy’s big brown eyes” gives weight and gravity to those lost hopes as well as the lost child.
- Talk in your letter about the things that you wanted to do together. If your family loves the annual vacations at Grandma and Grandpa’s lake house, go ahead and say how sad you are that you won’t get that experience together.
- Close with a good-bye that allows you to release the “ghost” of that dream you’ve been holding. For example, you can write, “I have to let you go now so that I can grab hold of whatever Life has next for me.”
Do Something Significant
Take your good-bye letter and decide what action will mark the end of this dream child tangibly. To some, this step might seem like a scene from an overly-dramatic movie, but saying good-bye with this final significant act can be very healing.
- Some folks burn their letters and scatter the ashes at a location that has deep meaning to them.
- Others rip the letters up and allow the wind to take the pieces away.
- You could bury the letter at the base of the tree that you planted in the child’s honor.
Releasing your dreams of the child for whom you have longed might feel like an unattainable goal. Using this coping strategy to say good-bye to that detailed mental picture of your child can allow you to name and experience what you’ve lost. Then you can embrace more fully that which is next for you.
Tell us in the comments: did you have a good-bye process that helped you release the dream child in your heart?
Image Credit: Daniel Horacio Agostini