Even what appears to be strong marriages can be put under great stress by life events. A frightening illness, a traumatic injury, a job loss, even the birth of a child can put emotional demands on people that they find too hard to handle, and so raise the risk of the relationship ending. The loss of a child to miscarriage is a particularly devastating life event. A 2010 study as reported in Healthline bears this out: Married or cohabitating couples who had a miscarriage were 22 percent more likely to break up as opposed to couples who had a healthy baby at term. For couples who had a stillbirth, this number was even higher, with 40 percent of couples ultimately ending their relationship. When I work with families, who have endured these types of losses, it feels like tragedy upon tragedy.
Partners Grieve Differently
What I’ve learned from my own experience with a miscarriage, from patients, and from research is that each person involved grieves differently. As with any grieving, there are no roadmaps.
For women, the physical connection between fetus and mother gives her the role of primary guardian of this new life from the start. She watches what she eats and drinks, and what she does, from early on. Her partner, usually a man, just can’t be having quite the same all-encompassing experience. Fatherhood often only starts to become real for men when they see an ultrasound or start to see their partner’s body change, so they can be out of sync in their responses, operating on a different time-line as they cope with the experience of loss.
Add to this that many young men do not have much experience or understanding around feelings of loss, grief, and helplessness. They can’t fix this terrible thing that happened, and there is no one to blame. They desperately want to help but don’t know what to do or say. It’s a life trauma that requires lots of listening and empathy, and if communication between partners was not good before this, it could be rough going. There can be a tendency to avoid the subject as it brings tears, or to encourage “trying again” too soon. Both partners need to get their feelings out as they go through the grief process, which is unique to each person.
While dealing with many emotions, a woman who has just miscarried is going through hormonal fluctuations as her body readjusts to not being pregnant. It may take 6 weeks or more for hormones to return to pre-pregnancy levels, meanwhile, these changing hormones may intensify the emotions she’s feeling. Here are some common grief reactions:
- Numbness and disbelief – especially if there were no warning signs of trouble
- Trouble sleeping
- Difficulty concentrating
- Loss of appetite
- Anxiety about future pregnancies – it is common to worry that this will happen again. Get medical records about what happened and potential implications for the future.
- Sadness and crying
- Anger – that this happened to you, at medical staff, at your partner who is not reacting the way you are.
- Jealousy – when seeing or interacting with pregnant friends and babies
- Guilt – thinking, was it something I did?
- Emptiness – a physical sense of loss
- Loneliness – reach out to those closest to you, ask for comfort and support
Ways to help with grief and your relationship:
- Being respectful of and sensitive to each other’s needs and feelings.
- Sharing your thoughts and emotions by keeping communication lines open.
- Accepting differences and acknowledging each other’s coping styles.
- Remembering that healing doesn’t mean forgetting or pushing away feelings. It means refocusing and incorporating this sad time into your life story.
- Take your time to make decisions about what you would like to do with your maternity clothes and baby items.
- Protect yourself by avoiding difficult situations until you feel ready.
- Grieving and healing are not on a time schedule.
- Asking for help is not easy for some people. Talking to a counselor, therapist, or participating in a support group can really make a difference.
- Be hopeful about the future. You will laugh and smile again. Many couples have been through this before you. Being happy doesn’t mean you have forgotten your loss.
- Rituals and remembrances can be comforting. Planting a rose or a tree in their honor, or making a charitable donation or creating a scholarship. You as a couple can mark the day in a special way as time goes on.
M.E.N.D. (Mommies Enduring Neonatal Death) https://www.mend.org
The Life I Didn’t Choose: https://thelifeididntchoose.com