Relationships after a loss event are often strained and the lack of communication is probably the main factor, as it is in any type of relationship breakdown, but when you are in the throes of grief and are experiencing severe hormonal shifts it takes a conscious effort to communicate effectively. I mean, who wants to put their energy into communicating when you feel like you are drowning and can't even breathe? Here's why it may be important:
Couples who have a pregnancy loss or stillbirth run a 22% greater chance of divorcing than couples who never experience a loss.
It's a pretty daunting statistic and a lot of factors play into it. The hardest part is understanding that it is possible that the loss is different for you both. It doesn't take away from the reality of what's happening but typically the mother has a deeper connection because she is physically connected, whereas the men grieve the loss of the dreams they had. Respecting and honoring each other's stages of grief may be key in surviving this terrible statistic. relationship with your partner is probably the one that comes to mind first because it is at the forefront and the most obvious as you are experiencing the loss together although it may look very different for each of you. In my coaching practice, I hear all kinds of varying reports of what the loss mom is feeling about her partner. Some say they aren't feeling connected because their partner isn't grieving the way they think they should, or isn't showing as much emotion as they thought they should. In my own experience, I felt like my husband wasn't really grieving as much as I was and it bothered me thinking that he didn't seem to care as much. When the tension built and I called him out on it he said "I didn't want to talk about it because I didn't want to make you cry" What he didn't realize is that not talking about it didn't make me cry any less and I needed to see that he shared in my grief.
Even years after our loss something would sneak in for me (and still does) and once I was shocked when my husband said, "Oh! That still bothers you?" We had to understand that while the scar of grief never goes away for either of us, it shows up in different ways at different times. I know for me it is usually something that happens with my children when I'll notice it creeping in again and for him, there will be something that happens with a young patient at work or maybe when a co-worker is experiencing their own loss. Respecting that it is still there for both of us and it shows up in different intensities at different times, and by adding in a lot of communication without judgment is what has allowed us to be a success story and I would dare say made us even stronger.
Sex after a loss is also a varying situation. I have clients who crave that intimate connection days after and can't get enough as soon as they are cleared by their doctor (or before!), and some who struggle at the very thought of having sex again either for fear of another pregnancy or feeling like they aren't capable of that connection again, or are struggling with body image.
After I got the news at the hospital that my babies were gone they wanted to get me to deliver them naturally and not have to have the healing of a c-section while I was also emotionally healing. They gave me a cervix softening suppository and sent me home. While we were laying in bed in shock of what the past 24 hours had brought (not even thinking about having sex) I could tell that my husband was having a hard time touching me at all because I had dead babies inside of me. Yep. I said it. He would never say that but the usual storm of two larger-by-the-day babies rumbling around inside of me was deafeningly quiet now in a disturbing, unnatural way. I could not wait to return to the hospital the next morning to continue this nightmare but I wasn't sure how "we" would ever be normal again once we came back home to this bed.
My husband was so supportive and always made me feel desired and worthy but I struggled for several years after (even though I had another baby a year later) feeling like my body had failed me and I was forever damaged goods. Years later during my own coaching sessions, I was able to forgive my body and see the amazing things it has done and celebrate its strength and resilience and I appreciate that my husband weathered all the self-loathing and beatdowns that I served up to myself in the process. Lack of self-love happens often when you experience a baby loss event you feel like your body has let you down and can take a toll on your relationship.
Our losses teach us so many things and sometimes just appreciating what our bodies are capable of doing can be healing. Loss mamas are among the strongest people alive. One of my favorite quotes is "I can't think of anyone stronger than a mother who has just lost her child and still breathes". If we can learn to keep communicating with our partner throughout this grief journey and not feel like it is ours alone to bear we can see how our loss is affecting us and appreciate another's journey of the same loss.
One of the exercises I do with my coaching clients is to have them ask their partner what they will miss the most about not having the baby. It is letting them know that it is safe to express the dreams they are mourning and a great way to start a conversation. Another exercise is to have each parent write down the things they are feeling or times when they notice the grief is creeping in and compare the lists to see what the similarities and differences are. Most of the time they are surprised by how similar there are and recognize that they each have their own way of dealing with them.
With some professional support and tools, it is possible to come out of this feeling even more connected and being a stronger couple than before. If you are looking for someone who can be objective about your situation, would like to learn more about how I can guide you through your journey of baby loss and show you ways to heal in a healthy way that honors you and your baby please leave a comment here or send me an email at jen@Jennifersenncoaching.com to set up a time for us to discuss what might be right for you.