Coping with Grief

By Epstein, Stephen | Volta Voices, March/April 2005 | Go to article overview
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Coping with Grief

Epstein, Stephen, Volta Voices

Question: Recently, my wife gave birth to our first child, a beautiful baby girl. Amidst our joy, we were told that she did not pass the newborn hearing screening, and subsequent testing revealed that she has a bilateral, severe sensorineural hearing loss. My wife and I are in excellent health, and my wife had a perfect pregnancy and an uneventful delivery. My wife is feeling very guilty that she may have been responsible for causing our daughter's hearing loss, and I am very angry that this happened to us. We can't even deal right now with all of the recommendations that are bombarding us - x-rays, genetic testing, hearing aids and cochlear implants. How can we cope with our emotions so that we can help our daughter with her hearing loss?

Answer: When parents are expecting a newborn child, it is a natural reaction to fantasize what their child might be like and what their child may become. When the child is born with a hearing loss these dreams become temporarily shattered resulting in a grieving process, which is a natural and predictable reaction to a sense of loss.

There are six stages of grieving and parents may go through one or all of them in the process of accepting their child's hearing loss. The process of grieving may take several days to several months. Most parents go through the process of grieving on their own, and some parents may need professional assistance.

The first stage of grieving is denial. Some parents initially will not admit or accept their child's hearing loss and may seek second opinions. This is simply a defense mechanism, which results in a conscious (or unconscious) attempt to conceal the child's hearing loss.

The second stage is anger. A parent becomes angry at their spouse, other family members and their doctors as a projection of their frustration. I have actually had parents walk out on me, despite my attempt to be compassionate when discussing their child's newly discovered hearing loss.

The third stage of grieving is guilt. It is human nature for parents to feel guilty, especially the mother, for being responsible for causing their child's hearing loss. This is a natural reaction, even though at least 50 percent of the children born with a hearing loss have no known etiology.

The fourth stage of grieving is depression, where a parent becomes so overwhelmed with their child's hearing loss that they find it difficult to cope with everyday situations, much less their child's newly discovered hearing loss. This type of depression is usually short-lived, in absence of other psychological problems and may require counseling or medication.

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