Life Without Baby

Filling the silence in the motherhood discussion

The Five Stages of Grief June 7, 2011

In her 1969 book On Death and Dying, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross described the five stages of grief as Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. If you’ve been given a diagnosis of infertility, suffered the loss of a pregnancy or baby, or you’ve reached a point in your life where you realize that motherhood just isn’t on the cards, odds are you’re all too familiar with these five stages.

Have you ever caught yourself saying some of these things?

“This can’t be happening to me?” “I’m perfectly healthy; what do you mean my tubes are blocked?” “I’m only 38; I’m too young to be infertile.” “I’m 42; there’s still time.”

That’s the Denial talking.

“It’s not fair.” “Why me?” “She doesn’t deserve to be a mother.” “Why is there no logic to the way blessings are handed out?”

That would be the Anger Stage.

How about: “I’ll just try this one last thing and then I’ll stop.” “If I can just relax, I know it will happen.” “If I lower my expectations, maybe I’ll meet someone worthy of being the father of my children.”

Yup. Bargaining.

“If I can’t be a mother, what’s the point of me?” “I must have done something to bring this on myself.” “No one understands what I’m going through. I feel so alone.”

Classic Depression.

“It’s going to be okay.” “So, you don’t always get what you want. At least I have my health/husband/career/golden retriever.”

This is at least the start of Acceptance.

As Kübler-Ross pointed out, the stages don’t always happen in this order, or in any logical sequence at all. May you got stuck in anger for a long time and skipped the bargaining all together, or maybe you went straight to acceptance, only to slip on one of life’s banana peels and end up right back in depression.

The thing is, it’s okay, it’s normal, and it won’t last forever.

Kübler -Ross applied her theory to death. In this situation, some people struggle with death until the end. Some psychologists believe that the harder a person fights death, the more likely they will be to stay in the denial stage, and the less likely they are to die in a dignified way.

Unlike someone facing death, we have somewhere to go after our losses. We have the chance for a new, if different, life. And while going through the five stages can be ugly and unpleasant, the key is to come out the other end with our dignity intact.

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5 Responses to “The Five Stages of Grief”

  1. Sue Says:

    Someone actually recommended this book to me when I was dealing with a lot of loss in my life (not only my own) last year. I never read it, but I think I’ll go purchase it this weekend. Even though I feel more in the acceptance stage of grief, I do have those days when I slip back into the others.

  2. Kathleen Guthrie Says:

    I didn’t suffer through infertility, but instead lost my dream of being a mother because of circumstances. I can add that this loss of a dream also brought on all the phases of grieving. Still muddling through….

  3. cazzolafamily Says:

    Interesting. My husband and I were talking about this last week and wondering what the cycles “looked like” for the infertile couple. I can say I’ve gone through all of them and continue to cycle through them. Acceptance is a little big longer in coming – I think because we aren’t *quite* through yet; we’re in the process of giving it one final try before we conclude that it wasn’t meant to be.

  4. Mali Says:

    My experiences of grief and loss through infertility helped me help my mother when my father died. We both had our futures change on us, after all.

  5. Elena Says:

    I think this is a very important basis to understand any kind of crisis in life. For myself – childless by separation, if you want, 39 years old and no partner in sight – the most helpful book i bought was one on going through any kind of life crisis, not the one on divorce/separation, not the one on infertility…
    I also think it’s important to be aware that yes, grieving is a process with different stages – but since Kübler-Ross wrote her book, people have also realized they don’t come necessarily in a fixes sequence which is the same for everybody. Some stages might take longer than others, or even come back several times. I think if you expect everything to “unroll” in a given sequence for you you’re back to putting yourself under pressure and that’s not helpful.


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