The Unseen Sorrow

Unseen Sorrow reproductive cancer

After a health crisis of my own last year, with breast cancer, I am starting the year of 2024 with a renewed sense of the unexpected and infusing my work with clients with a deeper experience and awareness of the unseen sorrow. The parallels of my work in reproductive loss and grief and my own health crisis have unearthed a new area of professional interest, issues to do with reproductive cancers.

At 58, it may be assumed that our reproductive organs are no longer fit for purpose. I have been fortunate to have two gorgeous daughters, now in early adulthood. Perhaps because of this, I so grieved the loss of the breasts that fed my babies. The interventions that required to rid me of the cancer and give me the best chance to not have it spread and/or return completely collided with my trauma from the childbirth interventions I had endured. It was the thing that I talk to my clients about – that past reproductive grief binds to new reproductive loss and feels so big it might consume you, quite literally.

Confronting the Unforeseen: Journeys Through Reproductive Loss & Cancer

Working with reproductive loss and the grief it carries forth, has expanded in my mind because of this experience. I have already supported those going through hysterectomy grief and certainly an array of fertility-related losses, but I now know many other encounters with health issues related to our bodies can hold profound meaning that hark back to reproduction.

Ovarian and uterine cancers, I imagine, will hold that same meaning making of loss. When we must have a part of our bodies removed, and quite rightly as some say ‘amputated’, it is a part of us that connects who we are and the things that have happened to us that make up our story.

Reproductive Loss: Beyond the Visible, Into the Unseen

Similarly, I can recall supporting those with medical histories such as abdominal surgery unrelated to reproduction that cast doubt about their capacity for fertility. So, our sense of fertility is not solely about our reproductive organs but also about the parts of us aligned in some way to reproduction that make up our whole being. Situations like hysterectomy for medical reasons, Primary Ovarian Insufficiency (POI), premature menopause (under 40yo) or early menopause (40-45yo) can truly stop us in our tracks, particularly if our desire for children or more children has not yet come into fruition.

Coping with Reproductive Grief Amidst Cancer

There is much that is wrong about how we are cared for by the medical profession. How very alone I felt post-surgery on the ward where my every medical need was attended to, but my feelings and sense of identity were ignored so entirely. When the plastic surgeon suggested dressing my own wounds at a time when I could not even look at them, let alone touch them. How do they become so detached from the human experience? A question unlikely to be addressed in my lifetime, it seems, with such a focus on data collection, risk aversion, and the general medicalisation of clinical matters overriding human needs.

Cancer, of course, has much greater visibility than reproductive loss. Even reproductive cancers are much easier to talk about with friends and family than having a miscarriage or how going through IVF might be. Although extremely grateful that my health concern was very treatable, I was stuck in the reality of how incredible the visibility of a cancer diagnosis laid out a path of support and understanding that allowed everyone to know what was expected. The comparison with the invisibility of how reproductive loss is treated is quite stark and yet both are living with the same uncertainty, anxiety, numbing experience that this new reality may not provide you with the life you thought you would have.

Building Your Support Team: A Vital Step in Facing Unforeseen Challenges

As my medical team worked on my physical survival, my survival of the unexpected lay with my chosen adjunct health care team of acupuncturists, a naturopath, my long-term osteopath, specialist oncology physiotherapists and trauma counsellor. That which comforted and provided me with the care that I needed did not seep from within the medical model but from the kindness and compassion of non-hospital-based allied health practitioners. When I am supporting those with infertility, pregnancy loss, abortion support, perinatal mental health issues and parenting themes I nearly always work on building their team. Putting this into place before a health crisis serves us to have those then treating us to know us, so needed when life turns a corner and you are somewhere you do not recognise, without walls to lean into or markers to remind you of that which is familiar.

Can there be room to thrive rather than just to survive these terrible situations? What is it that you might need to help you through it? Is this the time to build your team? Going it alone is risky with life’s complexity and its competing demands. We are primed to be thrown off the scent of meeting our own needs. Experiences in childhood, or from an abusive relationship, or in a toxic place of work, we start to function as though our needs do not matter. Until, that is, a crisis occurs that brings forth this invisible sorrow and we are alone with the unexpected.

I am always here to support you and am grateful for the insights this experience has left with me, which will infuse into my consultations and allow me to continue meeting where you need me me, in the depths of your own experience.

Written by Suzanne Hurley, Perinatal & Fertility Counsellor at Fertile Ground Health Group.

Make a counselling booking with Suzanne

On The Way Toward Parenthood


Understanding the Foundations of Parenthood

Our parenting experience starts long before the birth of our first baby. How we were parented and what happens to us along the way informs the parents we become. Any form of trauma is worth revisiting when contemplating parenthood. Traumatic events in childhood and adulthood can complicate how we feel about many things associated with becoming a parent and many are buried deep, often to enable us to continue to function.

Embracing Fluid Parenting Styles

Yet our parenting style it is not set in stone. The parents we become remain fluid if combined with insight and intention to be the parent you want to be. Each decision and choice we make can be reversed and redirected with reflection and courage.

The Challenge of Being the Parent You Needed

It is not easy to be the parent you needed but did not have. It will stretch you into your own grief, your sadness and sense of loss whilst asking you to be the adult in the room, stronger, kinder, and wise. I can’t think of another life experience that requires this fundamental shift in selfhood.

Recognising Unconscious Patterns in Parenting

I say courage because it truly does take a tangible, felt experience of gut-wrenching clarity that you just did or said something to your child that you thought you would never repeat or hear come out of your mouth. We often don’t want to repeat the errors of our own parents, but it does not have to mean a complete swing away from the model they presented us with. Rather than a knee jerk alternative we would do well to sit with that duality and take control in thoughtful decision making by making different choices that may have been harmful or hurtful in the past.

Impact of Family Narratives on Parenthood

How we were raised may also impact our very desire to be a parent. Family stories can shroud any feeling of delight or reward that might be possible if you were treated poorly, devalued, disrespected, or disregarded. Similarly, the choice to not parent can become fraught if the family narrative only holds parenthood as the established value of worth. Reproductive adversity on the way to parenthood can truly mark us. Much of what can happen can be traumatic. How do you then flip that and suddenly be happy about pending parenthood when the cost has been so great.

Coping with Reproductive Adversity

There is no shortage of material when talking about this legacy in counselling. Many do not realise the mark life has left on them when thinking about raising children. Meeting your newborn baby carries you into your own newborn state of parenthood. Just like your newborn you will need to feel your way with your senses and what your sensible, adult brain thinks should happen often does not transpire. What you want your baby to do does not match with how they are and the adjustments you do or do not make are likely to either make or break you.

Counselling: Navigating Parenthood’s Challenges

How you learn to care for your children will be informed by how you were cared for by your parents. Even the things you cannot directly remember are often held within us to be revealed in time. Big and strong emotions often accompany parenthood in ways that confound us. It is so common to have a client say to me I am so different to how I thought I would be, and I don’t understand where this is coming from. Then the work begins. In counselling, we thread our way through the many experiences life has provided in order to make sense of our responses and take charge of what we want to do differently.

Empowering Positive Changes in Parenthood

It can feel very scary and make us very vulnerable, but it is possible to make great changes. We don’t have to continue to harm and hurt our children just because that is what was done to us. It is possible to hold a profound intention to do it differently just with an intention to do so. Allow the intention to take you into action and demonstrate to yourself and your family what is in your heart. Learning to understand the legacy of your life experiences and how it might impact your behaviour is to be applauded. What better investment is there in caring for those that are considering, trying to, or encountering themselves as parents.

Written by Suzanne Hurley, Perinatal & Fertility Counsellor at Fertile Ground Health Group

Make a booking with Suzanne

Support After a Pregnancy Ends or a Baby Dies

Support After a Pregnancy Ends or a Baby Dies

As a counsellor, listening to and being present to the unfolding stories after a pregnancy ends too early, or when a baby dies, requires me to hold space for another’s sorrow in a way that can seep in, grow, and be held as a deepening sadness. This impact can be felt, yet remain as invisible and silent as the way society responds to these unspeakable losses.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside, you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.

Naomi Shihab Nye

Supporting someone after a baby dies as a loved one requires holding compassion for any perceived failings in supporting the unravelling of another in sinking downwards into an unfamiliar terrain. Allow them to decide whether to rise again or not and just be there alongside, being the doula for the other side of birth where a baby is missing in every part of their imagined shared futures. It is bleak and dark and unbearable and yet bear it you must as it is only a fraction of what the other carries. 

Often the joy of having babies is preceded with experiences of grief, and yet we only see the images around us of blissfully expectant mothers and smiling parents with their children. So rarely do we see the stories of loss, often born shrouded in silence such as with miscarriages, terminations or when a baby dies in utero, during birth or shortly after.

If you visit a maternity hospital, you will likely see image after image of the joy of having a baby. Go seeking a visual representation of the babies that will never be born, die in pregnancy, in labour or shortly after birth and you will notice little to no representation for this reality. With life comes death and the lifetimes in between the two are varied and many, yet we only champion live births and happy parents.

Sitting with

Being alongside such experiences is profound in its sadness, and yet there is honour in being a companion to such grief. Sitting with the love lost and the agony felt in letting go is an enormous task to hold. Forgiveness is needed when you fear you might get it wrong as it comes with the territory where ‘getting it right’ does not really exist. It is as much a fantasy as being a perfect mother. There is only what is.

Be present when others cannot be. Be there because there is a need. Hold self-compassion as you cannot be blamed for any failings as who taught you to hold the unbearable? Who taught you to know what to say, not say and when to do and give instead of speaking?  When you cannot ‘fix it’ there is no room for questioning, only sitting with, being with, sharing the uncertainty.


Allow the depth of despair to be felt and be held. Give them an anchor to secure themselves to. Let them know their rights in honouring the loss, speaking of their loss, to expect to be heard for as long as they need to speak of their pregnancy, their baby, the child missing from the dinner table. Speak their baby’s name, ask them about their cherished one. Find ways to honour this experience, a tree that blooms at this time of year, a memory box full of all that is known and not yet known about their pregnancy, their baby. Allow for meaning making and disbelief to coexist.

Let them know it gets easier, you get to know the grief, recognise its needs, make room for it, be forever changed by it. Know your limits and encourage professional support so they can become more than the sum of their broken parts. Seek help yourself as you begin to feel that deepening sadness seep in and start to grow. You and I cannot ward this off for we are human, and it is too big to wriggle our way out of it. When attending to another’s grief we must attend to our own breaking hearts.

Know that a parent that has endured suffering on the path to parenthood will be better equipped to know something of their child’s suffering and may pass to them what has been learnt in reaching rock bottom and rising again. 

What a gift to give to another to reshape suffering into a way to comfort even if you have never received that yourself. Hold light where there is darkness and know if you only offer kindness, it is enough where there is sorrow.

Suzanne Hurley

Support After a Pregnancy Ends or a Baby Dies

Perinatal & Fertility Counsellor & Supervisor

Fertile Ground Health Group

If you would like help navigating grief and loss please feel welcome to make a booking with Suzanne.