March 20, 2012 in Features

‘Invisible grief’

Seeking ways to support infertile daughter
Catherine Johnston The Spokesman-Review
 

Q. My daughter has been trying to get pregnant for two years. Infertility seems to bring an invisible grief. How can I support my daughter and her husband?

A. When someone dies, we show up at a memorial service. But when a dream fails, we wonder how to acknowledge the loss.

“The desire to become a parent is something that many people choose and for most it comes easily. When it doesn’t, it can be devastating, confusing and overwhelming. Dealing with infertility is an incredibly time-consuming, and emotionally draining experience,” said family therapist, Suzi Mohn, of Issaquah, Wash.

Parents want to fix their children’s pain. Telling her “it’s God’s will” or “now you can take that European vacation,” suggests her lost dream can be explained or sidestepped, but it can’t.

Instead, follow the advice from Mohn and other infertility experts:

• Listen to your daughter’s stories.

• Acknowledge what a huge loss infertility is; recognize its unfairness.

• If the process becomes more emotionally painful, give them space, if they want it. Don’t insist they attend every family gathering.

• Don’t tell their story when you’re asked, “When you will be a grandmother?” The story belongs to your daughter.

• Don’t say, “You can adopt!” Adoption is an avenue to parenthood, not a resolution for infertility.

• If your daughter wants or needs counseling, or a support group, offer to drive her or assist with the cost.

• Offer unconditional love and support without judgment regarding their decisions about children, such as in vitro fertilization, donor egg/sperm/embryo, adoptions, surrogacy or foster care. Tell them you will love their child with the same love as any other child in the family.

Infertility brings personal and sometimes relentless grief. Your unconditional love for your daughter will not alter the outcome of her baby quest, but will give her strength and understanding, which are essential for her journey.

Q. Why don’t all obituaries in the newspaper explain how a person died?

A. Almost all newspaper obituaries, until recent history, were written by reporters as news stories, and the cause of death was considered an essential detail for a complete story.

Most daily newspapers now run obits in their classified advertising section, paid for by family members. They are a money-maker for papers, and families decide whether to disclose the cause of death.

Newspapers that still employ news obituary writers list the cause of death because they understand the natural curiosity of their readers.

Mark Zaborney, a member of the Society of Professional Obituary Writers, has been writing news obituaries as part of his reporting job at the Toldeo (Ohio) Blade since 1989.

“It’s better to deal with things matter-of-factly, rather than dealing with them euphemistically,” he told EndNotes.

“I attended wakes from a very young age and a central topic is ‘how did the person die?’ It’s better to answer the question rather than raise four or five others.”

When exact causes of death aren’t listed in paid obituaries, readers often guess. When a young person “died suddenly” it is sometimes a euphemism for suicide. But not always.

J.Y. Smith, a famous Washington Post obituary writer who died in 2006, insisted that AIDS be noted as the cause of death when it killed people, because “the newspaper has a duty to reflect the world as it really is.”

Death is one of life’s painful memories, Smith once said, but “denying painful memories is to deny part of the life itself.”

As news obits disappear, replaced by classified advertising and online obituaries, family members might consider being more open about the reason their loved one died.

Ultimately, it could help our culture better deal with death, a life event awaiting us all.

Catherine Johnston, a health care professional from Olympia, and Rebecca Nappi, Spokesman-Review features writer, welcome your questions about what to do in times of illness, dying, death and grief. Contact them through their EndNotes blog at www.spokesman.com/ blogs/endnotes.

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