February 12, 2024

‘Ambiguous Loss’ and Grieving the Child We Never Had

Prechter Program research participant, Meg LeDuc wrote about her circumstantial infertility journey and her mental health for bp Hope.

This article first appeared on the bpHope blog.

After much consideration, my husband and I made the difficult decision to not have children because of my bipolar disorder. Here’s how I’m coming to terms with this loss.

I’ve been considering holding a small ceremony, just my husband and me, to mark the loss of the child we never had.

I got this idea from Jody Day, founder of Gateway Women, the worldwide support and advocacy network for childless women. In a podcast episode of The Meaningful Life with Andrew G. Marshall titled “Find Hope and Meaning Without Children,” which I recently listened to, Day discussed childlessness as a form of “ambiguous loss.”

What Is ‘Ambiguous Loss?’

The term “ambiguous loss” was coined by Pauline Boss, PhD, in the 1970s. According to the Cleveland Clinic, it’s a loss with no sense of closure and a lack of resolution.

When I’m grieving, full-on sobbing, and refusing to get off the couch, family members tell me to “go for a walk” or “to get in the kitchen,” which honestly, I know will help — but it feels like they’re not listening to my pain. I want someone to sit with me, to acknowledge the grief and the loss — not to “fix me.”

While researching ambiguous loss, I read the suggestion to hold a small ceremony, like planting a tree or writing a letter, to create a sense of closure in response to ambiguous loss. It deeply appeals to me. “Yes,” I think, “let’s acknowledge the pain.”

A Personal Journey: Navigating Grief and Acceptance

My husband Tim and I recently decided, after a four-year process of investigation, to neither have biological children nor adopt. This was a very personal decision, one that was right for us, and certainly might not be right for you in your own journey: People with mental health conditions definitely can be good parents and have safe pregnancies.

I think my husband and I would have made great parents — that’s part of the grief for which I’m searching for closure.

I imagine Tim and I would burn a single white rose — for our dream daughter — then scatter its ashes over the frost-etched ground in our backyard. Perhaps we would alternate reading verses from Psalm 139:1-12, which was a reading at our wedding, and still speaks to me of an Almighty who holds all things in the palm of his hand and knows our pain intimately: “You have searched me, Lord, and you know me…” (Psalm 139:1).

And perhaps, we would be comforted...

To read Meg's full story, check out the article at bpHope.