Pregnancy loss. It can sound like such a cold term, can't it? Because it's not just the loss of a pregnancy, but the loss of a baby — your baby — and many hopes and dreams. Regardless of the stage at which you lose your pregnancy, you still may feel emotionally invested.
It's a very particular type of grief to experience, though it affects many couples. The Office on Women's Health states that 10–15% of confirmed pregnancies are lost. However, this number is likely higher if you include women that don't know they are pregnant or never seek medical support. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists estimates that the statistic for all miscarriages is likely around 26% of pregnancies. That's just over a quarter, or 1 in 4, of all pregnancies.
Yet pregnancy loss remains a very taboo topic, so you may feel alone in what you are experiencing. But it doesn't have to be that way. Here are a few ways that both you and your partner can navigate the loss of your baby.
Remember it's not your fault
Pregnancy loss is not your fault. It can affect anyone. As mentioned above, 1 in 4 pregnancies ends in miscarriage. It's natural to want an answer as to why, racking your brain for something that could have happened, or blaming yourself for the loss of your baby. It's not your fault.
Many early pregnancy losses are due to genetic problems, chromosomal abnormalities, or other abnormal development of the embryo. This means that the loss of your embryo was unfortunately not preventable. Both egg quality and sperm quality can contribute to pregnancy loss.
In some cases, the “products of conception” — tissue from a lost pregnancy — can be tested in an attempt to provide a cause, such as genetic abnormality. But in most cases, you may never find out why the pregnancy did not continue. That can be hard to accept. Give yourself and your partner time to recover and time to grieve.
The effect of miscarriage on both partners
Everyone copes with miscarriage differently. No one path fits all. Although miscarriage may physically affect the female partner, it emotionally affects both partners — Dads also feel the heartbreak of miscarriage.
Pregnancy loss can be hard for dads in other ways too. They often feel the need to be strong and supportive, but this can leave men feeling invisible, and as if their feelings aren’t as important.
The truth is that both of you may be grieving. Share your feelings with each other, but also give each other space, and time, to explain your emotions in your own way.
Everyone grieves differently. Some people can't get out of bed, cry uncontrollably, or find everyday tasks difficult. Others throw themselves into a project or work and try to avoid their emotions. All these different reactions are normal. Try to respect this, and not make assumptions about your partner's reactions.
How to cope with a pregnancy loss together
Lisa Schuman, LCSW, a fertility-focused social worker and director of The Center for Family Building, advises that couples may find a lot of benefits from being in a loss support group. “Being around other people who have been through the same experience can help you process your feelings and work through your grief,” says Schuman.
If you don’t feel comfortable going to an in-person support group, then a pregnancy loss helpline or online community may be useful. Sometimes it’s easier to speak to someone anonymously, or over the phone, rather than face to face.
Don’t pressure your partner into attending a support group or seeing a counselor if they don’t feel comfortable. Ask them what they think would help. Find options for support that work for you as individuals.
Seeking counseling after pregnancy loss
Miscarriage can affect your relationship, and couples counseling can be beneficial. The feeling of grief can put pressure on even the strongest of relationships. Many people think of couples counseling as a solution for relationship problems, but it can simply be a safe space for you to explain your emotions, feel heard, and move through a difficult situation together.
If couples counseling is not for you — or even if it is — you may want to seek counseling individually. Sometimes it can help to speak to a grief counselor separately to work out your own feelings.
Using ritual to honor your pregnancy loss
Rituals don’t have to be religious or even spiritual — they’re simply a meaningful activity that Schuman says can really help both you and your partner through a pregnancy loss.
Every family’s ritual is very personal, but some examples Schuman shares are:
- Naming your baby
- Gathering all your ultrasound pictures, documents, and maybe even a letter to your baby, and burying them
- Planting a tree or plant and having a small ceremony
- Lighting a candle on a set date for your baby
A ritual gives you the opportunity to have some closure, and to honor the loss. "If you don't go through the phases of grieving, you can experience protracted mourning (prolonged grief disorder) where you become enveloped in grief," discusses Schuman. Even though you will still have strong and sad emotions, moving through the grieving stages helps you move on in other aspects of your life.
Considering your next steps after miscarriage
Schuman advises that it's also important to think about what stage you are at with both your grief and family-building journey. While you can technically try to conceive within a month or two after a loss, you may not be emotionally ready to embark on that process again.
“If you don't feel time is on your side to have a baby, due to age or another problem, but you are not ready to conceive again due to the grief of your loss, then you may want to think about making embryos and freezing them until you are ready," says Schuman.
Take time to think through your options. Speak to a fertility counselor or doctor for advice. Both of you need to allow yourselves time to grieve.
Surround yourselves with support
While your friends and family love you, they may not always say the right things when faced with a situation like pregnancy loss.
"People have a hard time watching others suffer," advises Schuman. "They want to make the sadness go away by making comments that seem helpful, but it can come across as dismissive.”
Comments like "it wasn't meant to be" or "you can try again" are well intended, but not helpful. It can lead the person suffering to play down their feelings to take care of the other person. What you really need people to do is acknowledge and validate the feelings you’re experiencing.
“That's why support groups are great for pregnancy loss,” says Schuman, “because the people there know — they have been there too.” Getting support from people you know will respond to you in a helpful way, and in a way you don't have to take care of them, is very important. Positive contact with other people can help you feel less alone.
The important takeaways: Realize that men suffer the emotional pain of miscarriage, too. Keep talking — and be there to listen to each other.
Losing a baby can be devastating, and it can certainly strain a relationship. But for some, grieving together can show you elements and strengths in your relationship that you did not see before, making for a stronger relationship going forwards.