How to Deal with a Miscarriage in Your Marriage

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Miscarriages can have a profound influence on your marriage, even those that happen early in a pregnancy. Many people are deeply saddened by the loss and find it hard to move forward. But such a tragedy can pull together a couple and make their marriage stronger. "As sad and painful as pregnancy loss can be, couples can use [it] to deepen their emotional connection to each other and their community," says Helen L.
Coons, a clinical health psychologist in Philadelphia. Here's how to get through a miscarriage and perhaps come out with a stronger marriage -

COMMUNICATION

Jessica Cohen, publisher of bucksmontmom.com, had five miscarriages and carried two children, both who had been part of a set of twins in which the other twin was lost. She says the difficulty of the miscarriages brought moments of frustration and tension, but her husband supported her in the way she needed. "I was really down, feeling broken," she writes in an e-mail. "I remember one night turning [to my husband] and apologizing because if he had married anyone else, he would have been a father by then. He was amazing."

Men must be aware that their wives or girlfriends often feel guilty, as if they could have prevented the miscarriage - or worse, as if they are to blame for it. Doctors will tell you that the overwhelming majority of early miscarriages are a result of chromosomal abnormalities and there's nothing anyone could have done, and later losses usually come with a more explicit explanation of what happened.

Still, women often blame themselves. "It makes me sad when there's no explanation," says Coons. "So many women fill in the blank with self-blame." If your wife or girlfriend is feeling guilty, you must reassure and remind her that this was the work of Mother Nature.

Women must remember that their husbands and boyfriends, who were also probably anticipating baby's arrival, are grieving, too.

People are naturally more focused on the woman who is undergoing both a physical and emotional trauma. As a result, men often feel obligated to hold back their sadness to serve as a pillar of strength for the woman. But he needs to mourn, too.

"Families focus mostly on the wife and in some cases blame or leave out the husband," writes Eula M. Young, COO of Griot's Roll Film Production & Services, Inc., who has had three miscarriages and has three children. "Talk when you both feel like talking, cry when you feel like crying." She adds that when you come out on the other side, you will both be stronger.

Yet, some men, even if they're supportive, don't seem to understand what their wife is going through. "My husband couldn't really relate to the fact that I was pregnant because it was so early," writes Cathy Vollmer, a talent management consultant from Pittsburgh, who had a miscarriage between having her two children and who adds that her husband was helpful and kind throughout the ordeal, in an e-mail. "Until they can actually see and hold the baby, I think it's difficult for [men] to really comprehend another life actually living inside of you." Husbands and boyfriends have to realize that for many women, this is a baby with whom mom is bonding from the start.

TELLING OTHERS

Some couples lose the baby early on and never tell anyone they were expecting or that they had a miscarriage. Others want to share the news of their loss just as they did the news of the pregnancy. They find it comforting to surround themselves with the support of family and friends.

If you are going to tell people about your miscarriage or loss, there are ways you can make it easier on yourselves.

The two of you can ask a trusted friend or relative, such as one of your moms, to inform others, so you're not constantly reliving the experience, says Coons. You could also send a brief e-mail, she adds. If you'd rather be alone but still have to tell people, she suggests leaving a message on your answering machine that says, "Thanks for your phone call. We're resting now and when we feel up to it, we'll get back to you."

Some people need the company. In that case, you should make sure those who visit are friends and family who don't expect to be entertained, says Coons. They should be those closest to you, who are willing to take care of you, she adds. Women who've had miscarriages agree. "I say take care of yourself and do what you feel you can handle," writes Young.

Going back to work might make for a great distraction, even if your concentration isn't quite there yet, says Coons. But colleagues will want to share their condolences, which could make that first day back even more challenging, especially for those who've experienced late pregnancy or neonatal loss.

To soften the blow, Coons suggests going to work for a social visit ahead of your official return to get all talk of your loss out of the way.

MEETING BASIC NEEDS

Often, women discover they've lost their baby before they actually complete the miscarriage. Doctors explain their early pregnancy loss and options; they might give them the choice of miscarrying naturally on their own or a Dilation and Curettage (D and C), a minor surgical procedure to remove whatever is left from the pregnancy.

Sometimes, women end up having to do both. For later losses, many women have actually gone through labor.

Everyone will have to keep in mind that women, even those who've had first trimester miscarriages, are going through major changes. What many don't realize is that a natural miscarriage is a physically traumatizing experience. "It would have been nice to know beforehand that miscarrying is very painful physically as well as emotionally," writes Cohen. "I had significantly less pain from the D and Cs than from the natural miscarriage."

Your body needs to heal no matter what your exact circumstance. Even though you might be sad, you must force yourself to eat something and do what you can to sleep. You should talk to your doctor if you're having trouble meeting those basic needs. Husbands and boyfriends must step in if sadness is overwhelming you to the point that you can't take care of yourself. (You can get more information on whether your depression requires professional help at "How To Decide Whether to See a Mental Health Professional After Your Miscarriage.")

Once you're physically better, you should determine what might lift your spirits - a weekend away, immersing yourself in a project, going to a nice restaurant.

These activities won't take away the pain, but they will provide a lovely distraction. At best, they'll take your mind off the miscarriage for a little while. "I planted a garden to represent the gift of life I had," writes Nancy Beck, a nurse who had four miscarriages and has two children. "I love my garden and it brings me peace. I love to watch the changes of the seasons with different flowers blooming throughout the year, the life of the garden, and the animals, and insects who come to enjoy the space."

DEALING WITH PEOPLE

One of the difficulties those who've lost a child must face is the challenge of family, friends, celebrities, and strangers who are showing off their bellies swollen with child, celebrating births and first birthdays, all while you're grieving. You're happy for them but sad for yourself. And seeing pregnant women and babies - or even just hearing about them - can bring up lots of emotions.

"We have big hearts, and we are simultaneously able to be happy for others," says Coons. "But it sure is hard."

Be clear with loved ones about what works for you. If there's a baby shower for a friend, for example, and you don't think you can handle it, you can send a gift and stay home, says Coons. You just have to determine your level of comfort and follow your heart.

Unfortunately, some people might say insensitive things to you - from why don't you have a baby to yours wasn't a real baby yet anyway. You and your husband should have a united front and protect one another from hurtful words. Try to understand that most people mean well, says Coons, and they don't mean to be insensitive. Lean on each other in these moments, simply say thank you to those doling out the insensitive condolences, and then quickly move on.

DECIDING WHETHER TO TRY AGAIN

Most doctors say that after a first trimester miscarriage, the mom needs two to three months (with two to three normal menstrual cycles) before she should try to get pregnant again.

You'll have to talk to your doctor for specific advice. Whether you're physically ready to conceive, however, should not be the only factor in your decision. Spouses and partners must seriously talk about their emotional state and whether they're mentally ready to try again, says Coons, who suggests setting aside a time when both of you are rested, peaceful, and open to talking.

Some couples, she adds, can benefit from seeing a therapist or counselor.

Those who have experienced a late-term or neonatal loss have greater challenges ahead of them. They won't forget, says Coons, but they must move forward. "Their hearts will be able to love each other and other children," says Coons. They have to realize, she adds, that having another child won't diminish the love they have for the lost one, which is particularly important for couples who experienced later loss.

One way that couples comfort themselves and honor their late babies is by creating rituals, often around the anniversary of the loss. People have planted a tree, gone to the cemetery, and donated to charity every year after the loss. This helps them remember the child while still moving on with their lives.

Remember, there are others who can relate to you. "No matter how alone you feel, there is someone who understands," writes Cohen. "Do whatever you need to do, whether it be staying to yourself, going for therapy, being with your friends, or losing yourself in a hobby. This is the time to put yourself and your needs first."