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It's All Right to Grieve

by Cynthia Good Mojab, MS

I'd like to add a few thoughts on grief. I'm a mental health professional who has been trained to recognize the processes that people tend to undergo when they experience a significant loss. Yet, I keep wondering why I'm so tired, so unable to concentrate, etc. Grief is often easier to recognize in someone else than in ourselves. I have to remind myself to be patient and kind with myself, to give myself time…

When we experience a loss, it naturally and humanly takes time to figure out how to go on living without what was lost. When we lose a specific person, perhaps it is easier for us to be able to claim the right to grieve. Yet many of us are grieving the loss of unnamed thousands-as well as vague things like a sense of security, a sense of invulnerability… Not only might we ask, how can I laugh, we might ask, what right do I have to feel so badly when I haven't lost someone personally-when my partner/child/friend/relative is safely here with me.

All of these feelings and questions and thoughts are all right. There is no single right way to grieve, to learn how to live again. When we laugh and love, we do not deny the reality of loss and death. Laughter and love and loss and death are all a part of life. Some of us naturally and humanly need to embrace life quickly as part of coping, some of us need to take time first to feel the pain and confusion that come with experiencing a loss. In reality, we are likely to go back and forth (in a given hour, day, week, month, year...) between embracing life and experiencing loss. It is all right to do so. We do not dishonor the dead by living. Neither do we reject life by mourning. All of our emotions and reactions are there for a reason. Grief is constructive: it is how we learn to live again, in a different way than we were living before. This is a time for patience and kindness toward ourselves and others.

The isolation that many new mothers experience may be that much more painful and risky when it happens within the context of pre-existing grief. I would encourage all of us to take extra care in regard to the emotional well-being of new mothers. How alone are they throughout their day? Have they had the opportunity to share their grief with anyone? How are they feeling in regard to what has happened? Mothers may find it very helpful (and even essential) to be able to talk with a lactation consultant about how their feelings about the terrorist attacks may be affecting how they feel about their baby, about mothering, and about breastfeeding. Mothers need to know that other mothers are struggling with grief on top of all the changes that the birth of a new baby brings, that any sense of disconnection with their baby does not mean that they do not love him, that they cannot love him. Breastfeeding support groups offer more than support for breastfeeding. Mothers also talk about the other joys and challenges in their lives-which these days includes the horrible challenge of coping with the terrorist attacks. We were not meant to mother alone. We were not meant to grieve alone. This is a time to be together. Let's make extra effort to facilitate that.

And, we should not hesitate to refer mothers to mental health professionals just because we are all grieving. Sometimes mothers need help to get through grief. Sometimes lactation consultants do, too. Seeking help and support is a sign of strength and maturity-whether it's talking to a trusted friend or a trained counselor.

© Cynthia Good Mojab, 2001. All rights reserved. 

This text was first posted on September 23, 2001 to LACTNET, a netlist for professionals working in the field of breastfeeding and human lactation, in response to multiple posts from colleagues dealing with grief and the terrorist attacks on the US on September 11, 2001.

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