Navigating Grief After Pregnancy or Infant Loss: Healing Together

| Emily Baggett, LMFTA

Losing a pregnancy or a baby is a heartbreaking experience that can shatter the lives of new or expecting parents. The ensuing grief is deep and intricate, touching every facet of an individual’s life. This loss can especially impact partners who may find they grieve individually and together in different ways. This can add additional challenges to what is already a complex process, and can add to feelings of isolation and distress. 

Understanding Grief After Pregnancy or Infant Loss

Grief is a natural reaction to loss, but it’s essential to recognize that it takes various forms in each person. When couples face the loss of a pregnancy or an infant, they often discover that their grief journeys diverge. This divergence can be perplexing and emotionally taxing, as grief is a messy and complex process.

In popular culture, grief is often depicted as a linear progression of stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. However, in reality, this progression isn’t so straightforward. Grief is messy and complex, and doesn’t follow a predictable pattern. People can experience emotions “out of order,” simultaneously, or revisit stages they’ve already passed through.

For couples, these variations in grieving can strain their relationship significantly. It’s essential to understand that grief is a deeply personal journey, and each partner may experience it differently. A partner feeling anger while the other is overwhelmed by depression can lead to a sense of invalidation. Partners may wonder why their emotions differ when they’ve experienced the same loss. The truth is, each individual brings their own set of rules, routines, traditions, and expectations regarding grief and loss to the relationship. Navigating these together can offer new sources of support and open opportunities for shared grieving.

The Impact of Loss on a Relationship

Unsurprisingly, not every couple finds solace and growth in the face of loss. The loss of a pregnancy or an infant can place an immense strain on a relationship. Couples may struggle to connect emotionally and may even find themselves embroiled in heightened conflict. Grief can become a wedge, making it challenging to support each other effectively.

One common hurdle is communication. Partners may find it difficult to express their emotions or fully comprehend what the other is going through. This lack of communication can result in feelings of isolation and further strain on the relationship. Partners may inadvertently invalidate each other’s emotional experiences through their words or actions. In situations where the relationship is struggling after a loss, seeking additional support is advisable. Whether from supportive friends and family, spiritual advisors, or professionals, expanding your support network is crucial during times of intense emotional distress.

Seeking Help After Loss

Recognizing the need for help is a significant step in the healing process. Couples who have experienced pregnancy or infant loss should consider seeking therapy. However, the choice of the right therapist is vital. When seeking a therapist, look for professionals experienced in grief counseling and loss. Grief counselors should be empathetic, understanding, and capable of guiding each individual through their unique grieving processes.

Couples facing pregnancy or infant loss often wonder whether they should seek individual therapy or couples therapy. The choice depends on their specific needs and circumstances. Individual therapy provides a safe space for each partner to explore their grief and emotions separately. It can be a crucial aspect of the healing process, enabling each person to work through their feelings at their own pace with the support of a professional who advocates for them. It may also offer a secure environment to address concerns about the partner’s support during a challenging time.

In contrast, couples therapy focuses on the relationship itself. It helps partners communicate more effectively, understand each other’s grief, and discover ways to support one another. Couples therapy strengthens the emotional connection between partners, a vital aspect during this challenging time. Additionally, it can provide a safe space to navigate difficult conversations that a couple may struggle to find elsewhere.

Both couples therapy and individual therapy offer unique benefits. It’s not uncommon for partners to seek both simultaneously or transition from one to the other based on their needs and the recommendations of their clinician. Some clinicians can collaborate with each other with your consent, forming a clinical team to provide comprehensive support.

Dealing with Well-Meaning Remarks

Throughout your journey of grief and healing, you will likely encounter well-meaning but potentially insensitive remarks from friends and family. People often struggle to find the right words to comfort you, leading to unintentionally hurtful comments. It’s essential to remember that these remarks usually come from a place of love and concern. While they may be poorly expressed, they generally reflect a desire to support you.

When dealing with well-meaning remarks:

Communicate Your Needs: Politely and gently let people know what you need from them. Whether it’s a listening ear, their presence, or assistance with daily tasks, clear communication can help.

Educate: Share your experience with others, explaining what is helpful and what isn’t. This can help friends and family understand how to support you better.

Lean on Supportive People: Surround yourself with empathetic and understanding individuals. Seek out support groups or connect with those who have experienced similar losses; they can provide invaluable guidance and empathy.

Maintain Firm Boundaries: If you find that a well-meaning individual is not receptive to your needs, don’t hesitate to step back from that relationship or situation for your well-being. You may not have the emotional energy to address their behavior during this challenging time, and that’s entirely understandable.

Honoring and Remembering Your Baby

For many couples, spirituality plays a significant role in their grieving process. Seek spiritual support from a trusted religious leader or community if it provides comfort. Many religious traditions offer rituals and ceremonies that can help couples find solace. Whether you opt for a funeral, a remembrance ceremony, a traditional grave marker, or a special place where you find solace, having a space to remember and honor your baby can be a vital part of the grieving process.

Some couples choose to create physical memorials, such as a garden, a plaque, or a piece of artwork dedicated to their baby’s memory. These tangible symbols can serve as a source of comfort and a means of keeping the memory alive. Lighting a candle on special occasions, setting up a dedicated memorial space in your home, or planting a tree in your baby’s memory are other ways to remember not only your baby but also the hopes and dreams you and your loved ones had for their life. It’s essential to discuss these choices with your partner and find ways to honor your grief and loss that resonate with both of you. You may choose the same path, or you may discover that you have different needs.

Moving Forward Together

As time passes, the intensity of grief may begin to subside, but it never truly vanishes. Instead, couples learn to carry their grief as they navigate life together. This journey, akin to the early stages of grief, may ebb and flow through different emotional stages.

Creating a new normal means finding a way to move forward as a couple while keeping the memory of your baby alive. It involves recognizing that life will never be the same, but it can still hold moments of joy and happiness. Just as you are allowed to feel grief and sadness, it’s also acceptable to find moments of joy and peace and does not invalidate the very real loss you have experienced. Finding happiness does not mean you didn’t love your baby.

In conclusion, navigating grief after pregnancy or infant loss is an incredibly challenging journey for both individuals and the couple as a whole. Understanding that grief is a personal and unique experience for each partner is the first step. Seek professional help when needed, whether through individual therapy or couples therapy, or from your community to aid in the healing process and strengthen your relationship. Honoring and remembering your baby in your own way can provide comfort and solace. Communication, education, and support from understanding individuals can help you heal and find hope for the future as a couple.

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