I won’t be saying anything new if I state that men and women are different: Venus, Mars and all those matters get even more enhanced when we talk about pregnancy, simply for the fact that the situation is by its nature far from being equal.
Fortunately, in our times and especially in Western society, it is highly accepted and even expected for men to be highly involved in the pregnancy their partner is bearing, to the point that I have heard and sometimes used myself the expression: “We’re pregnant”, rather than “I’m pregnant” or “My wife is…”
This is a great positive approach, but when it comes to dealing with grieving over a lost pregnancy, the situation is still very different.
Events such as a miscarriage, multiple miscarriages, loss of pregnancy at a later stage and loss of a baby during or short after birth (and the inability to get pregnant as well) can have a huge effect on a couple and can easily lead to a break of some sort in the relationship, a break that if not dealt with properly, can bear its grudge years later, and there will of course be couples who will unfortunately get to a point of separation.
Luckily, when it comes to such tragedy, there’s not just the possibility of breaking but also the one of MAKING and this is what I’d like this article to focus on: Getting through it all as a couple and ending up stronger and united.
Why do men and women react differently?
At the start, let us try to understand the basics of why a situation of pregnancy loss can cause such differences in the reaction of men and women to it:
First and most important, it is still us, the women, who carry the pregnancy and therefore connect to it on both emotional AND physical levels and consequently when it comes to pregnancy loss, suffer on both levels, where men are only dealing with the emotional challenge.
From the many cases I’ve encountered over the years helping people getting over pregnancy loss I can all heartily say that women usually talk very freely about their situation, while men tend to close up. Women release pain by expressing and talking while men find it even more painful to talk and be exposed.
It is also the way society expects you to behave regarding this kind of loss, or in fact, any bereavement. Yael Besor, a family therapist who herself lost her daughter who was stillborn and following the experience wrote the book “Losing You before Knowing You” says: “The masculine image depicts men as controlling their emotions, analytical, rational, strong and taking responsibility in times of crisis. Naturally, these features make them seen as less empathetic, and therefore, it is less possible for them to express and sometimes even feel the grief in full force.”
And last but not least of course, we’re just different people, each one unique and just like any two people will react differently to a situation, so are our partners. No one person will grieve in the same way as another, and this is important to understand and accept.
As it is common knowledge that couples are more likely to separate after a pregnancy loss[i], it seems that it is of very high importance that we take action and preserve our couplehood.
What can you do?
· To begin with, accept that different people react differently to the situation, no matter who they are in relation to it. Accept that you can share the same experience of losing a baby but have different feelings towards it: while one might be deeply saddened, feel guilt, self-disappointment or anger, the other might just feel unlucky, frustrated and upset.
· Understand that these reactions are OK. Every person is entitled to their own feelings. Who said what’s right and what’s wrong?
· Always remember that the father, as well as the mother, grieves over the lost pregnancy despite the fact that he’s not the one physically suffering and is expected to return back to normal life (work etc.) as if nothing happened.The best tip I ever got in relation to this was from a family relative who appeared at our house the morning after we arrived back from hospital alone, without our baby. She said that whenever you talk about the matter, use the word WE. When asked “How are you?” answer “WE are…”
Months later, already holding our baby daughter who was born after the loss of our son, I met bereaving grandparents who just lost their granddaughter in a similar situation to the way we lost our boy from birth complications. I remember the woman saying she can notice that when I talk about the matter I use the word WE, and that she’s going to suggest it to her daughter. This made me realise how important that choice was: it made an impact.
Emphasise what society tends to forget: You’re both in it together!
I know this meant a lot to my partner but it had an extra and deeper effect because it constantly put US together in the centre of things and subconsciously made us deal with our bereavement together.It might not be in exactly in the same way, but you’re BOTH going through a grieving process.So thank you Judy for that visit and for the WE tip.
· Take it as an opportunity to strengthen your relationship: This is the time to be together, to support each other, to remind ourselves why we got together with our partner in the first place. Many women say that they can’t imagine getting through the grief with someone else beside them as a partner: this is a great insight into the potential of pulling it all together, as a couple.
· Talk, talk, talk!
Expressing how you feel to each other.
It doesn’t mean long conversations (ladies, beware…) but just expressing your feelings. Be congruent and say to your partner exactly what’s on your mind- you’ll be surprised how important it is for them to hear what you really feel.
Besor mentions the natural feeling of needing to protect the other side by not exposing them to the overwhelming feelings we encounter. It is important she says, to talk about our emotional state, to express anger or upset.
· Create a “secret code”: a word or a gesture which only the both of you recognize and mean that you’re thinking about the matter and need some empathy from the other: a hug or just recognition will usually do.
· At time of crisis and “survival”, we tend to forget to go back to basic: sometimes just being together, present there for the other is enough. Enjoy each other’s company: go for a walk, cuddle on the sofa. No words need to be said- just BEING is enough.
To conclude: if couplehood is something you both need to invest in on the most “normal” of times, it is ever so important to make a special effort to keep it together in times of crisis. Although we’re requested not only to deal with our own grief, but also to contain and accept the pain of our partner, it seems like it is an investment worth making.
Your hard work will be paying off both in short and long term.
Wishing you a loving and supporting partnerships,
Life-coach and trainer
[i] “For miscarriage, or pregnancy loss prior to 20 weeks, the likelihood of breaking up is 22% higher than for couples who have a successful pregnancy. The rate of splitting up peaks between 18 months and three years afterward, before falling back to rates similar to that of other couples, according to the study. For stillbirth, or pregnancy loss at 20 weeks and beyond, the risk of breakup or divorce is heightened by as much as 40% for as long as a decade after the loss, according to the study.”
(http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/health/2010-04-08-miscarriage-relationship_N.htm last accessed July 2014)