Understanding One Another
The grief that losing a baby brings is unique compared to any other kind of grief we may face in our lives. There is not only the loss of a life, but a mourning of what could and should have been, and the feelings that not only have our own bodies failed us, but that we have let our partner down. There is often confusion about how to “appropriately” express grief when our loss is minimized by some people. Even in the case of stillbirth or infant death others can dismiss the loss, thinking “you hardly knew your baby” or “you only had them for a few hours or days.” They do not realize the bond formed before birth and the death of hopes and expectations with the death of the baby. In the case of miscarriage, others may not understand that simply because you had not seen or held your baby didn’t mean that a significant attachment had not already been established. The intense feelings which accompany miscarriage, stillbirth and infant death are often underestimated and misunderstood by those who have not suffered through it themselves.
Most babies lost through miscarriage do not have funerals. This lack of a gathering together can be confusing as to how others should view the loss and can give couples a sense that their grief is considered insignificant. A funeral gives permission to grieve and provides others with a sense of how to offer support. It offers an opportunity to mourn and is held for the purpose of remembering the relationship you had with that person. In situations where a funeral does not take place, either because it is not practical or not desired, the emptiness is still profound for the couple and is very real. What many do not understand and what might even be confusing to your own partner is that it was not the length of the pregnancy which determines the depth of the grief, but rather the bond that had already been established with your baby.
Grief experienced after any infant loss can create shame, guilt, and even an embarrassment that perhaps you are overreacting to the situation. What is often misunderstood is that it was not just a physical loss, but also the loss of a baby whose life the couple had already planned for. It is the destruction of dreams, excitement, and the future a couple would have had together. Couples are often surprised by their intense emotions. Some will feel nothing but anguish and despair while others may be numb and feel nothing at all. These are extremes and usually couples find themselves falling somewhere in the middle. A rollercoaster of grief stages shock, denial, anger, depression will be experienced in various sequences and will be frequently revisited before resolution occurs.
The experience of losing a baby differs not only from one couple to another, but also differs between men and women. Men and women are predisposed and conditioned to express loss very differently. What men may observe in their partner could evoke feelings that she is overreacting or hopelessly inconsolable. She may feel that his distance or lack of an outward expression of sorrow means he must have already forgotten. It is important to recognize that while a profound sadness may exist for both of you, there is no “right” way to grieve. The following should facilitate an understanding of how each of you might express your feelings of loss and how to better communicate and understand emotions with your partner. Adapted from Coping Together. Info at www.copingtogether.com.