Connecting Through Loss
The days after I lost my daughter Selah, I spent a lot of time looking at my empty belly and bursting into tears, while my husband seemed to be able to go about his daily normal activities; honestly seeming way too concerned about the lawn than he should be. Did he care? Was he even grieving our little girl? I also had milk leaking out of my chest that made my heart ache for my little one who should be lying in my arms, nursing into a drunken milk stupor. Again, he seemed to be able to just go to the gym and do his workout as per usual. As a therapist I know that this is actually a normal discrepancy between a male and a female’s grieving process, but when you are in the middle of loss it can be difficult to reconcile the different ways we manifest grief.
The loss of an infant or child is a cruel violation of the natural order of life. It is the loss of promise, potential, and future. It is the loss of a life you and your partner may have planned for years beforehand. And the grief is lonely. Studies show the loss of an infant or child can cause more intense psychological and physical damage than any other grief response on both men and women—but in contradictory ways. It can be isolating even in the same relationship between the mom and dad or between two partners. The one who carried the baby must deal with both a physical and a personal loss. From the moment a woman receives a positive pregnancy test, she has begun to bond with her unborn baby. Moms feel the precious, positive moments like the kicks and jabs, flutters, and hiccups of that little soul. They also feel the sometimes unpleasant symptoms such as morning sickness, insomnia, sciatic nerve pain, hopefully ending in labor pains. Essentially, it is women who know the baby best, who is connected to the baby constantly while he or she is inside of them. Women whose babies die shortly before or after birth may still have to bear additional physical symptoms such as having breasts producing milk or possible stretch marks. A woman’s body tells her she is a mom and shows the signs that she had a baby, but when the reality is that there is no baby to take home, that grief hits ultra-deeply.
On the contrary, a male partner will grieve differently. Stereotypically, men are brought up to be protectors who can’t freely show their emotions. While wives may be looking to their husbands for support or understanding, males may not have the same sympathy. Men want to act, instead of dwell. So while a woman may be holding or rocking a teddy bear thinking of her lost baby, a man is more likely to put his grief into physical actions such as continuing to mow the lawn or going to play basketball with his friends. Men are less likely to cry or talk about their grief. This doesn’t mean the man is not grieving, more likely that they are grieving in
private or on the inside. While men turn their grief internally, society tends to forget the loss of fathers, showing their support more for the bereaved mothers. If a father in your life is going through a loss, it’s important to not pressure them to talk or to share their feelings, but to just be there to listen, show support, and even help them with their normal routine tasks. Whether man or woman, there is certainly no right or wrong way to grieve, no prescription that can solve it. The best thing you can do is let your spouse grieve in whichever way they can or want. Encourage them and validate that their responses are normal, and ask how you can help with their grief. Let your grief connect you as a couple and grow together, versus letting your grief tear you apart.
You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to know some of the unique ways that you are your partner have connected during your shared loss.
Jade Spielman, LMFT, a Marriage and Family Therapist with a private practice in Ankeny, Iowa. She has been a therapist for about 13 years, with a focus on grief, loss, and bereavement. email@example.com