Experiencing a pregnancy loss is unforeseeable and unfathomable. Couples who go through a miscarriage are often jilted to the core. Their entire beings are shifted irreversibly, and their relationships transformed. Going through grief with a partner can seem like an easier process than going it alone. But the truth is, until you actually go through a traumatic experience with your partner you will not know how each other is going to handle it. For some couples it can be a severely devastating and difficult experience to navigate together. But there are ways to help your relationship after a miscarriage.
There aren't too many large studies on pregnancy loss and the rate of break up and/or divorce. But according to a large study done in 2010 and published in Pediatrics, couples who experienced miscarriage were 22 percent more likely to break up than couples who had successful pregnancies. Additionally, those who experienced a stillbirth were 40 percent more likely to break up or divorce. The study said most couples broke up within one-and-a-half years after the loss. But researchers saw the higher risk for separation up to a decade after the pregnancy loss.
Many think going through traumatic experiences with another person can bring you together. And that may be true in some cases. But as concluded in the same study, pregnancy loss and stillbirths are enormous stressors and can significantly impact even the strongest of relationships.
Dr. Jessica Zucker, a clinical psychologist that specializes in pregnancy loss and miscarriage, and founder of the campaign #ihadamiscarriage has had a miscarriage herself. She counsels other couples going through loss and knows first-hand what navigating a pregnancy loss with a partner can look like and feel like.
"You see a lot about your partner when you go through challenging times," Zucker says in an interview with Romper. "Some might say through sickness and in health, but when you’re actually in it and watching how someone navigates unforeseeable and unfathomable experiences you may change your tune.”
As challenging as it may be to work through all of that grief, it's not impossible. And some couples can ultimately work together to heal and stay together. Here are nine ways to help your relationship after a miscarriage.
1. Encourage Each Other To 'Lean Into' The Grief
Almost everyone can admit to avoiding uncomfortable feelings at one time or another. Why? Because no one likes to feel uncomfortable. It's not pleasant to feel uncomfortable. But Zucker suggests really taking the time to feel these distressing feelings.
"Couples can help either encourage each other or be comforting witnesses to allowing their partner to lean into grief," Zucker says. "We tend to stave off uncomfortable feelings, but generally I find the sooner you lean into the uncomfortable feelings, the sooner you get out of them."
2. Favor Emotional Transparency Over Silence
Because of societal taboos surrounding out of order death (meaning child before parent) many women feel shame and guilt after miscarriage. They may feel silenced by those around them. They might feel it so much that they don't even want to open up to their partner about it.
"Shame is usually something we don't say out loud and that's why it becomes shame," Zucker says. "If couples allow themselves to be vulnerable and let their partner know them in this time, in this place and in this process I think there's a lot of potential benefit there."
3. Don't Compare Each Other's Grief
"Saying yours is worse, or mine is worse, that's not going to help the grief dissipate," Zucker says. She reminds couples to stay open-minded about what grief looks like. For some it might be very apparent, for others their grief might be less visible. Grieving is a very unique experience and one that doesn't have a definite timeline.
"Honoring both ways of grieving and honoring the fact that you may be showing it differently, expressing it differently, and feeling it at different times — all of that is valid," Zucker says.
4. Try Not To Blame One Another For The Loss
Zucker urges couples to not try to figure out or dwell on who's perceived 'fault' it is. She says some people question if it was due to a sperm, egg, or age issue. She recognizes that many women feel like their body has failed them after a miscarriage, but in the end it could have been a sperm issue. Regardless, she says it's best not to figure out fault and dwell on it.
"Ultimately it only matters for the medical purposes of moving forward in terms of getting pregnant again," Zucker says. "But from emotional standpoint it doesn't really do couples well to do this back and forth, it just pits them against each other and that's not ultimately healing by any means."
5. Exhibit Awareness And Compassion For The Person Who's Body Had The Miscarriage
This is not brought up to be competitive. But, it is absolutely worth noting that the person who's body actually went through the loss will undoubtedly feel more about the loss. Beyond the emotional feelings, the physicality of reproductive loss needs to be recognized, understood, and acknowledged in its entirety.
"If a woman starts bleeding, or she has to get a D & C, or if she's been bleeding afterwards, or if she's been cramping, if she has to wait cycles to try again, if she has to go to multiple doctors appointments — she's the one that has to do that," Zucker says. "Sometimes the blood loss weeks after is a physical reminder of your loss every day."
6. Don't Turn Elsewhere For Support
Turning to substances or alcohol in a time of trauma can be tempting, but Zucker warns against it. She also suggests not turning to people outside of the relationship because then it takes away from the work the couple needs to do together to heal. A little venting here and there is OK, but when you only turn to other substances to cope, or other people to vent it becomes problematic. She reiterated from a past article with Romper that the best way a couple can support each other in times of loss is to turn to each other for help.
7. Find Ways To Ritualize OR Memorialize The Loss Together
It doesn't matter how far along you were when the pregnancy loss or stillborn happened, you can honor the life however you see appropriate. The Pregnancy Loss website noted that you don't need to pretend your baby didn't exist or it wasn't a real baby. There are many ways to do remember your baby such as making a memory box, planting a tree, starting a foundation in the child's name or getting tattoos. Zucker suggests a couple memorialize the baby together even if they don't want to as a way to heal and connect through the grief.
8. Commit To Healing Together
No matter what the final outcome of the situation, to even begin to try to work through the feelings both partners need to commit to healing together. You both have to want to make the relationship survive. This might mean you read books together, attend support groups, or mutually agree to go to therapy.
9. Accept That Sometimes Relationships Don't Make It After Loss
Sometimes you see things for what they really are and you let go. Shelley Whetton wrote in the Huffington Post that it took a miscarriage for her to realize her marriage was over. Her husband had acted aloof and dismissive at the news of her miscarriage. In those harrowing and lonely moments she knew she would divorce him one day.
Some couples simply change too much after pregnancy loss. Or sometimes, one partner doesn't show up emotionally for the other one like they need or expect. And other times the traumatic experience of losing a baby conjures up old dysfunctions. You will never know how it will go, until you go through it.
The unnerving part of the whole grieving process after a pregnancy loss is you never know if you and your partner will make it. But, not knowing can also be comforting as it can be totally up to you on whether you and your partner stay together.