I lost my breath. Stunned beyond words, I froze as I learned that a friend and her husband lost their baby in utero at full term. In that moment, my mind attempted to refuse such a tragedy. “No! That is not possible!” I thought. My spouse and I stood in our kitchen in full embrace, silent. Even as I write about this tragedy, my heart aches.
How do you, as a couple, transcend such an experience? All of your hopes, dreams, and longings for a baby, parenthood, or siblings to your older children are lost, unexpectedly, before your baby even emerged from the womb. How do you carry on? How do you thrive again?
This complicated grief process is unique for each partner. For certain, you will never be the same person or couple again. An experience such as this transforms you permanently. Here are some guidelines to help you make sense of your relationship in the context of this profound loss.
- The grieving process will riddle you with a range of emotions. One moment, you might feel enraged; the next moment, sad and vulnerable; the next day, withdrawn and lonely, interspersed with moments of conscious strength and a we-can-get-through-this attitude. Ride these waves out and expect them of your partner. They may not always make sense to you.
- Predict the unpredictable. The early grief process is a highly disorganizing state physically, emotionally, and spiritually. You can easily lose track of time, days, events, and people. There is no set timeframe for how long this can go on, but know that it is temporary.
- Do not personalize your partner’s actions. Give each other the benefit of the doubt. When the unfathomable occurs, when your greatest fears are realized, you may not treat each other optimally. While this is not an excuse for mistreatment, it’s important to remember the context to help you depersonalize your partner’s reactions to grief.
- Stay connected. Even if one or both of you needs to take “alone” time, do so in a way that does not leave your partner feeling abandoned. Express your needs for time by yourself, but always come back and be present to each other. Ask your partner, “How are you today?” Look into his or her eyes. Do your partner’s words align with his or her spirit? Do not assume that he or she is doing OK or better than you. Ask, ask, ask—and then ask again.
- Express your feelings. When you express your grief, you give permission for your partner to do the same. One of the greatest gifts you can offer each other is the time and space to share all of your feelings. No need to resolve your partner’s grief. Simply be present to it and listen with a loving heart.
- Turn to your families, friends, and larger community. I cannot imagine a greater time to ask for help than when you lose your baby. Most people around you want to have some sense of making a situation like this “right.” While they cannot change the circumstances, most humans will want to contribute to your healing during such a tragedy. Let them. Allow yourself to be humble and ask for help when you need it.
- Give each other time to heal. There is no easy answer. No explanation. No quick fix. No overnight resolve. There is time. One day at a time, one hour, one minute, one breath at a time.
From the moment of conception, you have become parents. Parenthood produces terrifying love, a love greater than yourselves. You probably had no idea that you could love this deeply. With great love comes the potential for great loss—at all stages of life.
While many couples can survive such an event, some relationships suffer greatly. There are many variables as to why. A professional therapist can help you understand what may prevent you from reconstructing your relationship and your life. Seek help when you find it too difficult to manage on your own.
This winter, I attended the graveside service of this sweet baby. I prayed that I would have the strength, courage, and wisdom to be fully present to my own grief. My prayers continue. May parents everywhere who have experienced this profound loss find peace, faith, and love within and around them.
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