The loss of a baby or babies can and does have an impact on a marriage as each parent attempts to regain their equilibrium and balance after such a devastating loss. The loss of our child(ren) changes us forever. We lose our innocence and the future is forever changed. Add to this the fact that men and women grieve differently, and the impact on a couple’s relationship is not always a positive one.
Generally speaking, women tend to be more open about what they are feeling than men. Women may have one or two girlfriends, a sister or mother with whom they “open up,” express what is on their minds and how they are feeling. Men, on the other hand, don’t usually have close relationships with other men which would include speaking about their emotions or the sharing of feelings and thoughts. Traditionally men have been inundated with messages such as “suck it up”, “crying is for wimps” and “act like a man”. In such an atmosphere, with no safe place to express their emotions, men have not been dealt a fair blow when it comes to expressing those inner emotions.
It is important to note, however, that things are changing. Thankfully there is more dialogue regarding men’s feelings, not only by the men themselves but also by society as a whole. Parenting magazines are offering support articles for men on how to help a partner with breastfeeding, through the pregnancy, dealing with loss of a baby or babies and more. Internet Sites have sprung up providing ample opportunity for men to write about their feelings, express their pain, joy, feelings of insecurity and fears about parenting. Support groups for men and dads are more readily available in many communities. Book stores now carry books for fathers regarding parenting, relationships and grief. Oprah Winfrey has done a couple of shows regarding men and their inner feelings and fears. All of this is important and hopefully, over time, will help bridge the gap between men and women!
It is acknowledged that not all mothers and fathers experience difficulties in connecting while grieving. Some couples are brought closer together, communicate regularly and feel much closer in their time of greatest need. What I would like to explore in this article, however, is the possible negative impact of the loss of one or more of babies on a couple’s marriage. Further, understanding that men and women grieve differently and what some of those differences can be is helpful. We also need to understand a little bit about Grief itself:
When we look at Grief from some of these perspectives, it stands to reason that mother and father will not always be on the same time line as each other and or be grieving in the same manner. Initially a couple may cling together and share their pain with tears, embraces and conversation. It isn’t unusual for the father to be the one in charge of making funeral arrangements, talking to the undertaker, hospital staff, choosing a casket, working through the finances and paperwork. He may also have to deal with other children at home, handle his job and the ramifications of his absence, worry about his wife and answer questions from family and friends. One father indicated after the loss of one of their babies, that he was sick and tired of friends calling and asking him how his wife was doing! “What about me? I lost a baby too!” They had skipped right over him and minimized his pain and grief. Juggling all of this and trying to find time to grieve the loss of his baby or babies is a monumental task for a Dad to face.
Mother probably has family and friends whom she can talk to about her baby or babies. She may need to focus on physically getting better in the case of having had a c-section, and may also need to take care of a surviving co-multiple(s).
After the funeral, it may be harder and harder for Mother and Father to “get together” on an emotional level, to speak about what they are feeling: of their fears for the future or the fears each has for the survivors of their multiple birth – “If I get attached to this baby, will she die too?”. One may “blame” the other for the loss, even inadvertently. It may become necessary to seek some bereavement counseling from: a cleric, grief counselor, social worker or psychologist who specializes in grief issues. Your family doctor can assist you in this regard or refer you to an appropriate support individual.
If, as a couple, you already have a child or children, this may add another difficult component to your grieving journey, or not, as each individual family will decide. Sometimes the need to continue to be available for your other children can be a boon. Having to remain mobile, available and responsive, for one or both parents, can sometimes be helpful in spite of mourning for a lost child or children.
Sometimes one or both parents may find the opposite and find it difficult to continue to be an attentive and available parent. One or both may experience feelings of being overwhelmed, pressured, resentful or of wishing to simply withdraw. All of this is normal and doesn’t mean you are a bad parent. Try your best to keep the lines of communication open with your children. Let them know you are feeling very sad at the moment, need some quiet time, or are thinking of their dead brother or sister. Let the child know that they didn’t cause your sadness but you are sad, nevertheless. It will be helpful for him (or them) to know that feeling sad is a part of grieving and your reactions and feelings were not caused by them. By being honest with your child or children about what you are feeling, you will be helping them and yourself, even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time.
It may be helpful to try to keep in tune with whatever your partner may be feeling and to try and distract your other child or children for a time, in order to give your partner some space to him/herself. A role reversal may occur at another time for the other spouse.
Here are some suggestions to aid a marriage in time of grief. You and your spouse may add some others that will work for you.
Grief and its Impact on a Marriage, Fact Sheet by Bereaved Families of Ontario – Ottawa.
Men & Grief, by Carol Staudacher, 1991, New Harbinger Publications, Inc.
Healing Your Grieving Heart: 100 Practical Ideas, by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D., 2001, Companion Press
When a Baby Dies: A Handbook for Healing and Helping, by Rana K. Limbo and Sara Rich Wheeler, 1993, RTS Bereavement Services
The Worst Loss: How Families Heal from the Death of a Child, by Barbara D. Rosof, 1995, Henry Holt and Co.
Trying Again: A Guide to Pregnancy After Miscarriage, Stillbirth and Infant Loss, by Ann Douglas and John R. Sussman, M.D., 2000, Taylor Publishing Co.
Trying Again After Loss, by Ann Douglas and Lynda P. Haddon – Article found on this Web Site