Today’s guest post is written by licensed biblical counselor, Jessica McDaniel of the Austin Stone Counseling Center in Austin, TX. Jessica has pursued specialized training in Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders as well as working with couples through EFT and Gottman seminars. She also specializes in Pregnancy and Postpartum trauma, grief, and loss (including miscarriage, stillbirth, terminal diagnoses, neonatal loss, birth or NICU trauma and pregnancy after loss) and runs a free support group for parents of loss through the Ronald McDonald House Charities. Other areas of experience include marital conflict, transitions in parenting, infertility, postpartum depression or anxiety, self-worth and identity, trauma, anxiety, co-dependency, sexual brokenness, and marital infidelity. Jessica and her husband, Ryan, have three beautiful daughters, the youngest being identical twins. She deeply believes that people’s lives are changed and transformed through the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ and knowing him more.
Navigating the pain of infertility and perinatal loss through the eyes of a professional counselor.
We all talk about grief in different ways and most of us would answer with a resounding YES if we were to ask ourselves, “Is grief healthy?” But when was the last time you really let yourself grieve in the places that consumed you? For the new parents who delivered their baby prematurely or the couple who is longing to conceive, grief becomes an all too familiar intruder. Grief, is the automatic and complex emotional, physical, and spiritual response to pain and loss. It affects the whole person…mind, body and soul. It impacts our feelings, our identity, the way we see others, the way we view our circumstances, and what we believe about God.
Grief is especially poignant for the momma who has just left the hospital without her stillborn baby. Or for the dad who had to rush to the OBGYN’s office to hold his crying wife after she was told their baby did not have a heartbeat. Or for the couple who just had their 2nd failed IUI for no explainable reason. When you are hoping for the most joyful news of your life and instead you’re met with your worst nightmare, grief consumes you like a fire.
If this is you or you have experienced something similar, I want to say that I am truly sorry that you are hurting and can only imagine what you’ve been going through. What you are feeling and thinking is a NORMAL and COMMON grief response.
You are not crazy for feeling this way.
Let that soak in for a minute.
The types of responses are vast when it comes to grieving the losses around infertility and perinatal death. Counseling can be helpful to consider during this time because grief varies from person to person. It can be overwhelming to know what to expect in grief, so having a counselor to help facilitate and normalize the process can be a much-needed support. From my vantage point as a licensed biblical counselor, I want to share two main ways I help clients process their grief well…In the WAITING and the WANTING.
First, the WAITING:
The most common challenge I see when a client has been unable to get pregnant or has just lost a baby is struggling to trust God in the waiting and so she can begin to despair.
She wonders why God won’t change her circumstance or take away her pain. She finds herself praying things like “Lord please take away this fear so that I can trust you in getting pregnant. Do you not see how much we’ve lost already? God you can change all of this so why can’t you just give us a healthy baby?”
It is so hard to wait. Yet we see very clearly in Scripture that we are commanded and called to wait. To wait on the Lord, to wait on His timing, to wait on Him in the process of sanctification and redemption…even the redemption of dreams shattered and life lost. You may find yourself wanting to just cry out sometimes, “would you please answer me?!”
We are so full of pain and worry on the inside that this can begin to lead us to despair if we lose sight of the One who is fully present with us in our suffering. Psalm 27 encourages us to “wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage, WAIT for the Lord.” (ESV version)
The pain and fear you feel during this season is not right or wrong, good or bad… but rather revealing something about your heart. I’m guessing if any of you are like me, even though your pain makes sense and it is valid, it can become problematic when we let it tell us something untrue about God and distort our view of Him.
And second, the WANTING:
When my clients let their deepest desires take them to a place of demand, they can begin to want a good thing MORE THAN wanting God Himself and whatever good He decides is best.
The time where grief and anxiety and demand wove together all too real in my life was during and after my miscarriage. Everything went according to plan with my first pregnancy so I didn’t worry too much about my desire to get pregnant with our second.
I was completely wrecked when we found out after 10 months of trying that our little baby had stopped developing at 8 weeks and my hopes and expectations for our growing family were shattered. I didn’t realize the entitlement I felt to having another child until the first announcement from a friend that she was pregnant a only a few days later. In the coming months I felt jealous, angry, sad, confused, helpless and crushed each month. I couldn’t imagine why on earth God would have created life in me only to experience the heartache of loss a few short weeks later.
My miscarriage happened in January of 2013, and although I will never know our second baby this side of heaven, I still grieve and tear up every time I think back to those painful months. My desire for a healthy baby was a good thing but during this time I had to learn how to trust that God was still good and not let my desires distort my view of Him. I also saw firsthand that counseling can be a really safe and intentional space to discern how to process through my grief WITH God instead of without Him.
Understanding your own grief
Regardless of how you may categorize your suffering, it’s helpful to consider that the desires of our heart often reveal a deeper need within us. When trials come, our response reveals what we truly believe about God and I hope you will consider turning to Him for comfort and safety. We do not often take the time to pay attention to our heart in the midst of these painful moments so here are a few ways that I believe biblical counseling can really help you to understand your grieving heart.
- Counseling forces you to “go there” – every single one of my clients have told me that they don’t like coming in and opening up about the most painful, heartbreaking experiences in their lives. But nevertheless, they come in because they know they will be forced to face the pain in a way that is healthy and productive. They know that even though they are scared to go there, they will not stay stuck in the pain indefinitely.
- Counseling gives you an outside perspective and objectivity into your pain that can be difficult for close family and friends to maintain as they endure the suffering with you – as much as I want to only comfort my clients, I also carry the role of being someone who can “speak the truth in love”. Biblical counselors can speak God’s truth in love in a way that doesn’t minimize your pain and gives space to wrestle with hard truths.
- Counseling can be an extension of biblical community – the body of Christ functions best when everyone is doing their part. Counselors are a part of the body and are equipped to walk with you through the suffering. They can offer specialized care in helping you navigate your grief with validation, normalization and safety. To put it simply, good counselors have a masters in empathy. Not that we are perfect or always say the right thing, but it is our number one priority to understand you, to hear you, and to crawl into the darkness WITH you.
So is counseling really necessary to grieve well? I might be a little biased, but I believe that it can be a crucial piece in your healing journey. If you’re wondering where to start, ask your friends or your church who they trust and who they would recommend so that you can go to someone who is able to care for you in this way. Whatever form your pain takes, I hope you will find a way to trust God in your grief and know how deeply you are loved by Him.
When Empty Arms Become A Heavy Burden: Encouragement for Couples Facing Infertility by Sandra Glahn & William Cutrer, MD