Supporting Your Partner After Baby Loss
Losing a baby at any stage of pregnancy can be devastating
Grief specialist and author of Why Baby Loss Matters Kay King explores how you can support your partner at this time of grief
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So, you and your partner have decided that you wanted to start a family or to add to your existing one – what an adventure. The decision to create new life, to extend the love between you into a new person is so exciting, the creation of siblings is one of the most sacred and special experiences of growing your family. The journey towards conception and confirmation of a pregnancy is different for us all, just as the journey into parenthood differs for every woman and birthing person, and their partners.
When you begin on your journey towards parenthood, new or repeating, it is unlikely that the consideration of baby loss, pregnancy loss or conception loss will dominate your thoughts, unless they have permeated your life previously. We are an optimistic race and baby loss is so very hidden in our society that we often forget the gamble that we enter with life and death on this path towards parenthood.
When couples enter their anticipated nine-month countdown to meeting their new little human and something quite different happens, it can be terrifying and heart-breaking. Baby loss, miscarriage, conception loss or other forms of loss can change the course of our futures in ways unimaginable. Whilst living in the shock, trauma, desperation, and grief of baby loss, how and what are we supposed to do to ensure that we continue to support our partner and nurture our relationship with them?
Grief is the natural and normal response to loss of any kind. How grief manifests for us individually is going to be totally unique and will be very different from others around us. You and your partner might have differing emotional responses to the same loss, with one feeling that it was less significant than the other. Early loss in pregnancy may result in feelings of utter heartbreak for one of you, with the other feeling that it was a ‘blip’ on the path towards future successful pregnancies. Knowing how to continue to hold the space for everybody’s unique response to loss is a challenging negotiation and can put strain on your connection with one another.
As an advanced grief recovery specialist, one of the core teachings that I share with my clients is what we call the six myths of grief. These myths:
- Don’t feel sad
- Keep busy
- Be strong for others
- Time is a healer
- Replace the loss
- Grieve alone
These myths have seeped into many of our understandings of grief and can have a huge impact on how we continue to live after loss. They are commonplace reactions to how so many of us have been taught we must respond to a loss and yet each of them acts to avoid, rather than find peace with our experience. Spend a moment reading through those myths and think about whether they resonate with how you have come to interpret your emotional response to loss. It is likely that you and your partner are both adopting a few of these myths without consciously knowing it.
We are a very death-denied society, we hide our loss, suffer in silence, fear talking of the risk of death and come to fear death throughout our lives. Baby loss enters our lives suddenly and shockingly. When we see our partners suffering and in pain, it is a natural response to want to bring them peace or to comfort them. It can be torturous to witness our most loved other going through heartbreak, we simply have not been gifted with the education or tools, role models or techniques to know how to support this.
Many of us have come to think of grief a process, as a step by step pathway through a series of predefined emotions. The work of American-Swiss psychiatrist
. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross gave us the language of the ‘stages of grief’ and gained popularity as the way in which grief will manifests for us all, moving through denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance – this presentation of a fixed emotional pathway through grief has been misinterpreted and become commonplace in our shared understanding of what might happen when we experience loss.
Grief is not linear, it is not a fixed or defined process, you will not suddenly come out the other side once time has passed or you go on to have another baby. Grief is unique and how you experience it, your own personal response to loss, is your 100% experience, it is likely to be very different from those around you. Even when your experience of the same loss is very different to your partners, your experience is completely valid and requires its own special considerations.
Supporting your partner through heartbreak is painful, I am not going to lie, silver-line it or offer false promises: supporting grief within an intimate relationship can be one of the hardest challenges you will face. Your relationship may ebb and flow between being hugely connective and supportive as you co-navigate your grief or you may find yourself feeling lonely and misunderstood, grieving not only for the loss of your planned parenthood but also for the loss of your previous relationship dynamic.
In my book Why Baby Loss Matters I describe a concept called the ‘ring of grief’. In this simple method we surround the person, or people who have experienced loss first-hand at the centre of the ring and ensure that everybody around them is aware that the only thing that they do is offer support inwards, any needs or emotional challenges faced by others is taken out to people in circles bigger than our own. This concept requires a support network of people that you can rely on to ensure that they surround the griever with unlimited support and do not add their emotional needs to the plate of the griever.
Remember that as the partner of somebody who has experienced baby loss, you have also experienced loss and each of you will require a network of supporters around you to ensure that you are able to communicate your needs. Each of you will experience grief in your own unique way and the key to navigating this is to allow empathy to be rich in your relationship, listening to be promoted and the opportunity for remembering and sharing to be allowed. Working together to identify strong peer support that meets each of your needs, whilst acknowledging that such support may be good for one of you and not for the other, can really help. Working with a professional will enable you to look at your loss in a wider context and can aid you and your partner in understanding how each experience of loss is informed by our unique relationships with those around us.
Kay King is the author of Why Baby Loss Matters, published by Pinter & Martin