Women who spent their childhoods dreaming of becoming a mother one day — but never did — may find themselves journeying through the five stages of grief. Psychologists explain that grief doesn’t occur only when a living being dies. Quite often, the loss of a thing, like a long-held dream, also triggers Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance.
For years, scientists have analyzed the patterns of grief that follow the death of a loved one, which is how we learned about the Five Stages. People stuck at Stage 4 frequently believe that excessive self-medication with drink, drugs or food will help. (Hint: It doesn’t.)
Now, a new study reveals that women who wanted children but never gave birth are twice as likely to be hospitalized for alcoholism. That is, twice as likely as the women who ultimately became Moms.
Researchers at the Danish Cancer Society Research Centre reviewed cases of 100,000 women hospitalized with mental health issues after seeking treatment for infertility. The tally of NotMoms in the group was 103% higher than the women who became pregnant after seeing infertility specialists. Going deeper, the study found significantly more hospitalizations for serious psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia among the NotMom cohort, too.
The chair of the British Fertility Society, Dr. Allan Pacey, has concluded that infertility should be classified as a disease, with increased public funding for IVF and other clinical baby-making procedures. Give ’em that danged baby and everything will be fine.
Hmmm. Is that where your mind went? Don’t you want to know if there were other contributing factors that the researchers ignored?
Were any of the women already facing some sort of psychological challenge? Did the pain of infertility lead to the pain of divorce for anyone? Were relationships with family or friends fractured in the struggle to reach Step 5 Acceptance? How many sought psychological counseling during and after repeated attempts to conceive? What level of education and professional satisfaction exists for these women? What’s in their lives to provide passion and self-fulfillment…besides that dreamed-of baby?
I’m no doctor, but my first conclusion would be for infertility specialists to encourage, if not require, ongoing counseling for their patients. Perhaps not for every patient, but definitely for those who end treatment and give up on having a baby of their own.
Because the study only reviews women so troubled that they were admitted to a hospital, here’s my second conclusion: There are more severely wounded by-chance NotMoms than anyone knows.
As researcher Birgitte (corr) Baldur-Felskov says, “This is only the tip of the iceberg. There would be many other women who were affected but treated as outpatients, and perhaps even more not treated at all.”
Ms. Baldur-Felskov also noted that her findings were not limited to women still in their childbearing years. For some of the women studied, the risk of mental health challenges more than 10 years after seeing a fertility specialist were as high as they were in the years immediately following attempts to become pregnant. GrandNotMoms, they’re talking about you.
Studies like this one are important. It was a study that showed “There’s a reason for everything” is one of the worst things to say to a grieving person, woman or man, People want to help, but if you’ve been in the depths of despairing grief, you already knew that platitude sucks. Likewise, the Danish research may not be earth-shatteringly surprising. Nevertheless, studies like these guide academics and clinical types to change systems and assumptions for the better.
Conclusion #3: If you’re childless not by your own choosing, give serious consideration to professional counseling. You don’t have to find a trillion-dollar psychiatrist, but it should be someone trained to listen and ask the right questions. A few minutes conversing with your GYN after an annual check-up won’t be enough. I’ll bet there’s a study to prove it.