Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Childless Mother as a Parenting Therapist

Part of my specialty as a mental health therapist for the past three years has been providing family therapy and teaching others how to parent.  When I went back to work I decided to help out my co-worker for a month and fill in as the therapist for the parenting group.  I didn't see this as a problem, as working with parents has always been just a part of my job, and after all I wasn't actually working with their kids. This should be easy right? Uh, wrong!

This past week, a minute before group started, I checked my cell phone.  As I picked up my iPhone, staring back at me on the screen was a text picture of my old co-workers newborn baby girl.  Ugh!  I mean this baby was freshly born, with baby goo all over her face, wrapped in a fresh receiving blanket, nicely nestled in her mothers arms.  When I saw this picture, all I wanted to do was throw my phone across the room, but instead I just stared in jealous horror at what was not my life, at what my life should have been.  Instead of breaking my expensive phone and upsetting my husband, I deleted the picture.

But the hardest part is I wasn't able to let myself cry in that moment.  I wanted to.  I needed to. But I had to go focus on other people's emotions, children, and struggles with parenting for the next two hours.  So I sucked in all the air in the room with a deep breath and went to group.

In group I had the unwanted pleasure of hearing about each women's joys of parenting.  This is not how parenting group usually goes.  I mean most women are in this group because they struggle with the darker sides of parenting, but for some reason I was not even allotted the little relief that some childless adults have when they hear challenging stories of raising children.  I know I used to feel this way before I lost Nora, but not today.

Today I was able to see each women's unconditional love for their child even through their difficulties and frustrations with parenting.  For me it was a confusing experience, because being a therapist, I really do enjoy seeing people 'light up' when they are realizing they have purpose and meaning in their life, which these women were doing when talking about their children.

However, I also experienced pure jealousy, anger, and judgement towards these women.  I mean, I was the person leading the group.  I was the professional.  I was not required to be in a parenting group as these women were. I did everything right in my short time of parenting and look where it got me.  I was fuming on the inside with flames of rage rising from my emotional core while on the outside, on my face, the women only saw my calm eye contact and welcoming smile that was doing a fantastic job of covering up my pain.

I grabbed my coat after work and got into my car.  When I closed the car door I thought I would be able to finally let go, to release the tears I had been hanging onto.  But the tears did not come.  I had stuffed them so far down during group that I had numbed myself to all the pain.  So, I did what any rational woman does when she knows she has to cry.  I called my sister.

I was composed still at that point, but I knew talking to her, saying the words out loud over the phone would slowly bring the emotions back to surface. And then it happened. The tears started rolling down my checks and onto my phone and down my neck as I tried to talk through them to my sister on the other end of my lifeline, the phone.  She had done her job.  She had allowed me to voice my feelings and they came alive again inside me.  I hung up with her and I wept. I wailed. I sobbed.  I cried so hard I couldn't breathe. I almost drove off the road.

By the time I parked the car in the garage I had pulled it together and was back to the sniffle stage of crying. I opened the door from the garage into the house and found my husband sitting on the steps in the hallway. He greeted me at the door and noticed my red eyes and runny, red nose. He asked, "Are you crying?" And I fell into his arms and sobbed some more.  He held me.  He let me cry.  I noticed he shed a tear with me too, and then it was over.  The anger, the jealousy, the pain, the 'why' question, it was all done with. Gone. For now.

Until next week, when I will  once again be the childless mother who gets the unwanted pleasure of being a parenting therapist. 


  1. Wow-- thank you for sharing this. I too am a therapist and worked for years doing parenting classes long before I became a mom. After our two losses to stillbirth (two different cord accidents), I've put all my focus on teaching and partly because of what you describe so well here. I feel such a pull-- missing clinical work but wondering if I'll ever be ready. Kudos to you for being there. And hugs for all it takes to do so.

    1. Hi Nancy, I am so sorry for your two losses. That must have been so painful. Thanks for the words of encouragement. I know you know it's difficult to be a therapist when you have your own issues to deal with. That has been one of the biggest challenges right now for me.

  2. Thank you for sharing this post. I'm a hospital chaplain, and only three weeks out from the loss of my daughter. Some days I feel ready to jump back into work, and other days I know I'm nowhere near close to ready. It is so helpful to read your blog, knowing we are both in helping professions and work with families. I'm not alone in the baby loss world, or in having to go back to a work that involves families (and sometimes baby loss). I admire your courage, and in some ways it gives me courage for what I will undoubtedly face when I make my return in three weeks.


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