Understanding a Spouse's/Partner's Grief in Pregnancy Loss

by Melissa Jaramillo

"We're having a baby!"

These words flow easily from the lips of a new mother as she shares the news with her partner. Together you anticipate, you plan, and you dream.

Then something goes horribly wrong. Because of a miscarriage, stillbirth, or any number of other "unexplainable" reasons, the child you were so ready to cradle in your arms is no longer with you. Where there was joy, now there is this incredible sense of anguish, pain, and emptiness. Sharing these feelings with your spouse may not give you quite the reaction you expected or desired.

Unfortunately I speak from experience. My husband and I have shared several losses. Each time I have to remind myself that his reaction is quite different than my own. This does NOT mean that he cares less than I do, but instead indicates that his method in grieving is very distinctive of mine.

Keeping some of the following in mind has helped us maintain our relationship and honestly aided us in becoming closer to one another:

  1. Physical aspects: Pregnancy to a woman is REAL. How can it not be? There are constant physical reminders -- nonstop trips to the bathroom, tenderness in areas that you didn't know existed, the favorite outfit that simply cannot be buttoned, stretch marks, morning sickness galore and then that lovely feeling of the first fluttering and later the various ballets of the tumbleweed within.

    A spouse or partner though, is forced to be content with the anticipation. While he may be involved with picking out names, painting the nursery, setting up furniture… feeling those ninja kicks later on, he is still able to remain a bit separate.

    When a loss occurs, the mother experiences it down to her very core. Hormones are thrust into a whirlwind. There may be physical complications such as extended bleeding, leading to iron loss, anemia, etc. There are lingering effects of the pregnancy with the knowledge that it is for naught. There is no way to ignore this.

  2. Emotional aspects: Again, drawing from my own experience, I have a need to continue to share this with my husband. I need to talk. I need to remember. I have a need to decipher through everything in search of a reason "why". In my time of sorrow I want my best friend -- my husband -- to be the one that I'm able to turn to.

    My husband however… *rolling eyes!* would like some peace and quiet. He is the type that prefers to put up a wall between him and the pain. He doesn't need to go over and over things. He doesn't have to have an answer of "why" this happened. Some of his statements that I can almost count on are "It happened. I can't change it now can I?" or "What do you want me to do?" These callous statements can make me want to throttle him!

Given these polar opposite approaches to our loss how can a marriage/relationship survive?

  • Keep the lines of communication open. Do share your pain/feelings with your partner, but respect when he doesn't do the same.
  • Understand that your spouse may express his grief in other ways. There does seem to be within them a need to be able to "do something". Perhaps you may see him throw himself into a project around the house or focusing his attention on something totally unrelated to family. Again, this does not mean that he cares less about the loss, but this may just be his method for dealing with his own pain. He may not be able to change the outcome, but he certainly can prove that he can "fix" something!
  • Seek outside contacts. This may come through formal grief counseling but can be as simple as working through things with someone that has "been there / done that." Share company with other women who have similar stories of loss to share. They may be friends in your neighborhood, organizational groups that meet, or even through establishing ties online (such as message boards, chats, email lists.) Sometimes online support may be one of the best ways to deal due to that sense of anonymity allowing you to express feelings you may otherwise be too shy to share. All of these women will give you an understanding that may be lacking at home. That in turn, frees up your feelings of being let down by your spouse.
  • Be prepared for the future. One or both of you may be wary of becoming pregnant again. Subsequent pregnancies may find less enthusiasm offered by your spouse. Knowing this ahead of time acknowledges the fact that he may be scared or reluctant to become "attached" to the new baby (or it could be you having these emotions!) Granted, understanding this doesn't necessarily make it easier to accept it though. Continue to talk and often!
  • Work together to find a way to memorialize your child. Perhaps planting a tree or a garden, having a plaque made or purchasing a small angel to sit on your mantle. Even creating a web page in honor of your infant is an idea. Brainstorm and see what each of you comes up with.
  • Finally, remember to focus on your relationship, particularly the intimacies with long walks, handholding, hours spent in pillow talk at night. Refrain from blame or separation. Allow this time to become one in which you are united, despite your different approaches to grief. Strengthen the bond between you rather than tearing it apart.

As you share in the things that brought you together, you will also find that you share in the healing process together -- just as it should be.

About the author: Melissa Jaramillo is a work-at-home mom. She has experienced several pregnancy losses.

Copyright © Melissa Jaramillo. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org, LLC.