How can you and your spouse survive the grief and loss of a pregnancy as a couple? Here is what I learned.
I lost my first baby only hours after I’d first heard the thump-thump of his heart during an ultrasound. Just six weeks along, our baby was all heart and yolk sac. When my body expelled that blip of baby I was alone. I remember the confusion of the pain, the cramping I thought was a result of too much pizza. And then there was the bleeding, which left little to question.
As I attempted to console myself in the sweet little Cape Code my husband and I had renovated throughout our late 20’s, my husband, Mike, was sleeping in a hotel room near the Virginia woods, where he planned to hunt before dawn. He was in the middle of nowhere, without cell service. Unreachable. It was a cold, Friday night in November, and for each of us, life was shifting unpredictably. And yet it was only me who knew.
Just as the sun peeked over the ancient Blue Ridge Mountains, my father drove to the country and trekked through the woods to the quiet spot where he knew Mike and my brother would have set up their tree stand. There, in the dawn of a mountainside, dew dampening the fall leaves, as deer woke and stretched their limbs, my husband learned the truth I already knew: our baby was gone.
For weeks I would stare at the fridge in amazement at the cruelty of the small plastic containers of yogurt sitting silently. I’d bought them before I’d lost the baby, and yet they were still there. For dairy to last longer than that first pregnancy, that first baby, that first dream, felt a mockery of my heartache.
The love of our children can’t be measured, and so the loss of a baby, no matter how small, is inconceivable until the misfortune finds us. The months following my miscarriage were filled with anxiety and grief. How could it be? How is it possible to love so wholly and completely in such a short period of time? And how do we stumble past that heartache together as a married couple?
My husband and I grieved that miscarriage separately, differently. He was always off fixing something, building, cutting and piecing wood together. I measured my loss by tears as I burrowed into the couch. I obsessed over basal body temperature and ovulation. I became an expert on conception. Frankly, how any woman gets pregnant is amazing, a true act of God. Because it’s not as easy as we tend to think it is. The window is narrow. Hit the snooze button too many times and you might miss it. Any woman who has struggled with conceiving a baby understands this.
A couple months after our loss, Mike was passing through our small green family room one evening when I told him it didn’t seem like he really felt anything, at least not like me. I was sitting in the corner of the couch, the place that had held me as Mike sifted through his emotions elsewhere.
He turned to me, his eyes hard. His face pink and his mouth tight, anger barely contained. He yelled, “That was my child, too!”
His words shocked me. He’d called our baby a child.
I realized then that not only had he been grappling with the same loss as me, he understood that the blip of life I’d carried and lost was a child who could have been the culmination of our dreams. I hadn’t seen beyond the due date.
Sometimes our own grief can overshadow the pain a loved one is feeling. I believe miscarriage, because it is so unique a loss – sometimes intangible and crippling at the same time – can be especially difficult waters for a couple to navigate. But understanding how our spouse grieves and giving them that space to grieve in their uniquely personal way is important for our marriage. I’d thought my husband was feeling less than me when he was actually processing feelings that were beyond what I’d ever considered.
How to Grieve Together
I’ll share another more in depth piece on surviving grief as a couple at a later date, but I want to leave you, my dear friend, with a few things to consider if you or a friend has recently gone through a pregnancy loss. May these prick your heart just a bit and allow you to offer grace to your spouse who might be grieving in a way you don’t understand.
- Learn his grief language. Just like our love languages, we have grief patterns. Fortunately, this is something we don’t have as much experience with as our love languages, but when you’re in the trenches of a loss, you need to take some time to consider how your partner grieves. Is he someone who needs space? Does he need additional affirmation? Does he, like my husband, need projects to busy his hands while he processes his heart? His grief language is likely very different from yours, but allow him the space to walk through it in his own way. When you do that, you’ll learn how to reach him where he is.
- Pray together. There is something so powerful about praying together. It breaks down boarded barriers we didn’t even realize we’d constructed. When we are open with God, He tends to kick down those walls. When you pray as a couple through grief, you are allowing each other a glimpse into your brokenness in front of God, and that is a privilege that will bind your marriage and protect you through this season. No matter how differently you grieve, your shared loss is unique to you as a couple. No one else can fully get it. It’s as intimate an experience as creating the life you lost.
- Plan for your future. After the loss of a baby, life can feel flat. Joy can feel like a memory. Suddenly everyone is pregnant. And happy. And seeing babies that once made you expectant now birth in you a grief so deep you think it could swallow you whole. But what can be even more difficult through this stage is not being connected with your spouse in how to move forward. While your body needs at least three months to heal physically after losing a baby, then what? Will you try again? Will you pursue other options? Be prayerful and come to a decision point together as a couple. I can promise you that living by unspoken expectations will create a deeper divide as you move forward in your healing.
Above all, dear friend, know that this pain will evolve and God will show you joy again – because He is faithful.
This fall marks the ten-year anniversary of the loss of our first baby. I didn’t have faith then. So for me it was only darkness until I felt my sweet Noah quicken in my belly. But even though I didn’t know God was there, He was. He was with me behind that closed door as our baby left me, and He was with Mike in the woods as the dream dissolved into the morning haze. He is with you through this, and He is with your husband. Now in the loss, and later in the joy.
This article originally appeared at ErinWhitmer.com.