How to support the non-pregnant partner after a miscarriage
When Erich Streckfuss’ wife was first pregnant, he didn’t know who to share the news with, given the convention of not announcing a pregnancy until 12 weeks, when miscarriage becomes much less likely.
“I made it a point to tell a few very close friends and family about it,” Streckfuss told HuffPost. “My reason was, if something is wrong, it’s the support system, these are the people I’m going to call for help.”
The couple’s first pregnancy went well and they now have a 3-year-old daughter.
Last year, when he found out his wife was pregnant again, Streckfuss said he “took the same approach”, thinking he would only tell a few people, but “in the exuberance of this, I got a little too excited. I probably told more people about it than I wanted or needed.
This time his wife showed symptoms of a miscarriage and the couple were together in the doctor’s office when the loss was confirmed.
Streckfuss said he felt like “an observer” and there was nothing he could do to help his wife, who works at HuffPost. While dealing with his own grief, Streckfuss also had to announce the loss to everyone he told about the pregnancy.
“It was completely the opposite of why I thought I had to tell them in the first place,” he recalled. Rather than making the experience easier, it was “overwhelming”.
“I didn’t even feel like I got anything out of it,” he said. “I just had to disappoint them and relive the whole experience every time I told people.”
As people apologized, Streckfuss was struck by how quickly they stopped bringing up the subject.
“I felt like it was so much faster for people in not acknowledge him longer,” he said, noting that after the loss of his mother years earlier, people continued to inquire about his condition for months.
Streckfuss said a few people had shared their own miscarriage experiences with him and it was reassuring to hear they had more children.
“I don’t know exactly what I was expecting or hoping for from people,” he said.
Streckfuss says he will likely tell fewer people about any pregnancy in the future. But at the same time, he would have liked to have had more openness and support.
“I’m contradicting myself,” he acknowledged, “because I’m sitting here saying I want to keep things private…and also saying I wish people would open up more.”
His thoughts illustrate the complexity of grief, which can make us want to be embraced one moment and left alone the next.
It’s common for people to mourn pregnancy losses in private, which means there’s no script on how to broach the subject, especially with the partner of the person who experienced the miscarriage. , whose feelings are often entirely ignored.
The first step in offering support is to recognize that it is also their loss.
“The support should not be different for either partner. It just has to be actively demonstrated,” Jacqueline Fernando, a California therapist who specializes in infertility and pregnancy loss counseling, told HuffPost.
Ask them how they feel — and keep asking
“Non-pregnant partners may feel like they’re not ‘allowed’ to have deep feelings,” Fernando said. They may think, “I have to be the strongest. I have to hold on. And traditional gender roles can exacerbate that pressure.
Josephine Atluri, author, life coach and podcast host, pointed out “the biases we have about the differences between men and women in processing feelings.”
“Assuming the non-pregnant partner doesn’t feel the same magnitude of grief and other emotions after a miscarriage invalidates her feelings,” Atluri said.
While the non-pregnant partner certainly doesn’t have to share these feelings with you, you can still honor her presence.
“When we don’t acknowledge and forget to check in on our non-pregnant partners and how they’re grieving and coping, we send them the message that their feelings don’t matter,” Fernando said.
This can cause partners to ignore their own feelings or experience what’s called disenfranchised grief, which Fernando defined as “where others don’t see your loss as worthwhile.”
As Streckfuss discovered, friends and family may assume that a partner will recover quickly from a pregnancy loss.
“There is no expiration date for grief,” Fernando said. “It’s always okay to show sensitivity, care, and compassion by just checking up on a friend.”
It may be especially important for you to check in and send a message of support about what the baby’s due date would have been, as well as the year following the loss.
do something intentional
It can help make a concrete move, although it doesn’t have to be big.
Fernando suggested the following: “Put a plate of cookies on their doorstep and send a message, ‘I’m going to leave warm cookies on your doorstep. If you want to open the door, talk about it, you might need a hug, I can do all those things. Otherwise, you can totally keep the door closed… As soon as you are ready, I am available to sit with you.
Don’t say “Just try again”
These words are often meant to offer hope or a quick fix, especially “when the grief is too uncomfortable to bear as a spectator,” Atluri said. But this sentence “may give the impression that their loss was inconsequential and can be easily moved”.
Atluri suggests avoiding phrases that begin with the words “You should” or “Just do.”
Don’t feel like you have to say things to fill the silence
“Often people feel uncomfortable with the silence of mourning and want to fill the space with words,” Atluri said.
But a flood of advice and anecdotes may be too much for someone in such a vulnerable state.
“Allow the mourner to take the lead on what they want to say, if necessary,” Atluri said. “Sometimes the most powerful thing can be a hug, holding their hand, or just sitting next to them in their grief.”
Be open to all forms of grief and healing
People will react to a miscarriage in different ways, depending on their own personal history, the circumstances of the loss, and other factors.
Atluri, who has experienced the loss of twins herself, said “People going through a miscarriage need their space to process their feelings in a way that feels authentic to them. This may look different from how you would approach things, so it’s important not to invalidate someone’s process.
Even partners may have different loss needs.
“Partners in the same household may grieve differently, and that’s normal,” Fernando said. “There is no room for judgment in grief. It does not mean that a partner suffers more or less.
With a miscarriage, the lack of proper rituals in our culture to acknowledge the loss can pose an additional challenge.
Fernando noted that there is often “no historical memory, tangible representation or physical manifestation of this life”. When someone dies, we may share memories or photos of them, but a pregnancy loss leaves us without those things.
“Remembering a miscarriage can be anything the couple decides. There’s no one way to grieve and no one way to heal,” Fernando said. A partner can plant a tree fruit tree in their garden to commemorate the loss, for example.In this case, a simple remark on the tree could demonstrate to someone that you recognize its significance – and that you, too, remember its loss.
If someone who has experienced a miscarriage, or the partner of such a person, is looking for a therapist or support group, you can refer them to the organizations Resolve, Fertility Out Loud and Postpartum Support International.
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