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Moms Can Also Experience “Missed Motherhood”

Being a Mom doesn’t exclude you from having one or more experiences of missed motherhood, a time when you are not a mother when you might have been. Millions of women – about 75% actually – fall into one or more of the five missed motherhood categories: pregnancy loss through miscarriage or abortion, infertility, placing a child for adoption, missing the opportunity to conceive, choosing to be childfree. This can happen before, in between or after your children come into your life.

Missed motherhood often happens in multiple ways with the experience not limited to the specific events. Instead, missed motherhood encompasses the impact over the course of a woman’s life—the way pregnancy, childbearing, absence of children, infertility, and loss or termination of a pregnancy are held and integrated by the woman herself, by the people around her and by the culture. Each woman’s experience is unique.

It appears that the more control each of us feel we have over circumstances, the greater our resilience and flexibility, and the easier it can be to process the loss, experience our grief, and then move forward in life. Unfortunately, not knowing how to do that or what else to do, we often try to move forward without allowing ourselves to process the loss. Even medical professionals often urge women after a miscarriage to quickly get pregnant again, or start another round of IVF when the first attempt failed as if a future success erases the loss.

When there doesn’t seem to be the space or time or support to explore and share our feelings, when others react to our loss by offering ways we can fix our situation, we may feel forced into silence. We don’t need to be fixed. Rather we need to explore and express our feelings – be listened to and heard – so we can experience the connection with others and integrate the losses.

We are not the minority. By the age of menopause 30% of women have had an abortion, 70% of fertilized eggs do not implant, 20-30% of pregnancies end in miscarriage and some women have multiple miscarriages, 17% of women are infertile and never conceive although they may adopt or become stepmoms.

When we repress or hide our feelings, they become our secret. We live with the false hope that time heals. It doesn’t. The loss, the pain, the grief can fester within us and surface periodically as circumstances trigger the memories.

Sometimes the longer we hold onto the secret, the more difficult it can seem to reveal it. And yet, speaking the truth to a supportive listener opens us to fresh air that can then move through our heart and mind.

We don’t always get what we want in the way we want it. Motherhood happens in many ways not initially envisioned. I’ve spoken with mothers who are raising a beloved child on the autism spectrum who speak of it as a kind of missed motherhood. I know women who couldn’t carry their own child and were delighted to become step-moms to their partners’ young children only to experience that they would never be the “real” mom. I know women who have adopted a child and always felt they missed out on birthing one that looks like them. I know women who have chosen to be childfree fall in love with partners who have children, and take on a role they originally chose to forgo.

As a speaker on this topic, I have had women in their 50’s or 60’s come up to me, touch my shoulder and quietly say, “I’m one of those women. My first pregnancy ended in miscarriage and I’ve never been able to speak of it, but over the years I am repeatedly visited by the thought of who that child might have been.” Or the woman who shared that she was forced to have an abortion as a teen and finds the loss of that child keeps surfacing although she has children and is well into menopause.

My own mother never shared until she was in her 70’s that she had a traumatic, almost life-ending, miscarriage before I was born and in all her future pregnancies lived in fear it would happen again.

The growing frequency of experiences of missed motherhood needs to be recognized, brought out into the open with effective steps for grieving and healing that go beyond what each woman can accomplish on her own. Loss attended to – experienced, grieved and healed – can become integrated into our life. The loss doesn’t disappear, but the grief can, and our experience of the loss can shift.

There is an untapped sisterhood of women who have experienced missed motherhood. Recognizing our shared reality, regardless of the differences of our individual story, normalizes the experience and creates a greater culture of understanding and support among all women.

I wanted to be a mom, but that was not what happened for me. It was traumatic and life-defining, but I managed to create a full and satisfying life. Over the past 25 years as facilitator of the Hoffman Process and as a life coach, I have supported women, and men, in recognizing the losses, healing the pain and creating fulfilling lives.

In the book, Honoring Missed Motherhood, Loss, Choice and Creativity, I share my own experiences, along with those of thirteen other women, as a starting point for a much larger story. The healing journeys are followed by specific steps that readers to heal themselves and create a culture of understanding and support so all women can grieve their losses, experience their wholeness and move into joy.

Copyright ©Kani Comstock

You can learn more of my story and the stories of 13 other women as well as steps you can take to honor the loss in my latest book, “Honoring Missed Motherhood: Loss, Choice and Creativity.”

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Kani Comstock is the author of two books: Honoring Missed Motherhood, Loss, Choice and Creativity and Journey into Love, Ten Steps to Wholeness. Both of these books describe challenges involved in healing the past, and outline steps to be taken to claim personal authenticity and inner wisdom and find love for self and others. In addition to being Director of Coaching Programs and a Process Teacher for the Hoffman Institute Foundation, Kani speaks and leads workshops to support women, and their partners, in healing the loss and unresolved, often repressed, grief from missed motherhood,which includes infertility, pregnancy loss from miscarriage or abortion, giving a child up for adoption, choosing to be childfree, or never having the right circumstance.

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