“In the English language there are orphans and widows, but there is no word for the parents who lose a child.” ~ Jodi Picoult
Children bury their parents up on a hill. It’s the sad, natural cycle of life. But parents bury their kids deep in their hearts for the rest of their lives. Then, some people are forced to bury their dream of having children… in the murky depths of what might have been.
For Those Dealing With Infertility, Miscarriage, or the Death of a Child
There’s probably been no shortage of people telling you to get the help and support you need. Or maybe there has. People often don’t know what to say, when, or how to say it. Or perhaps they’re afraid to say the “wrong” thing. So, they say nothing. The deafening silence around the loss of a child or the ability to have children can make you feel ashamed, or marginalized, or lost in the solitude of your own grief.
Some well-meaning people say, well, dumb or insensitive things. Unfortunately, the hurting and grieving individuals often feel like they have to be understanding, gracious, and compassionate toward someone who makes callous remarks.
Some statistics have reached urban legend status concerning divorce rates for parents who’ve lost a child. I’ve heard 80% or even 90%. Don’t let these numbers scare you. The actual number is around 16%, including couples experiencing marital difficulties before losing a child. [The divorce rate is actually higher (30%) among parents having their first child.]
This is not to say that fertility issues, miscarriages, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome(SIDS), or Sudden Unexpected Infant Deaths (SUIDS) don’t create unique marital challenges and difficulties.
One challenge is the reality that people grieve differently. Some cry, some get angry. Some people need to process their feelings out loud. Others need to process their emotions internally. The important thing is for spouses not to judge each other’s grieving process or draw conclusions about who cares more. Men and women often process loss and grief differently, especially after a miscarriage.
In Helping Men with the Trauma of Miscarriage, published in Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, Mark Kiselica and Martha Rinehart, Ph.D., looked at case studies of men whose partners had lost a baby. They found that the fathers’ sadness and grief were dismissed by others.
Additionally, men also grapple with the physical loss of their wives after a miscarriage.
“What I know from my own data, and working with support groups in counseling, is that miscarriage does a number on your sex life,” says Swanson. “For men, it was, ‘When can I go back to her? I miss her.’ For women, it was, ‘If I never have sex again, I’ll die a happy woman.’”
Similarly, many people mistakenly believe that an early-stage miscarriage is less complicated emotionally than one that happens later. Research indicates that this isn’t the case. A woman can start bonding with her baby as soon as she tests positive on a pregnancy test.
Many other misunderstandings surround grief, infertility and miscarriages.
People often have a dismissive attitude toward those trying to conceive. Some assume that medical advances and adoption provide a “fix” for couples facing infertility. However, medical procedures only go so far and are too expensive for many. Same for adoption. Plus, psychological hurdles like guilt, blame, and the desire to have a biological child are challenging issues to navigate. Sterility or infertility can leave an individual feeling “broken” and burdensome to their spouse.
One thing to be careful of when dealing with infertility or the death of a child is Partner-Oriented Self-Regulation (POSR). POSR is where one spouse tries to stay strong for the other. They may bottle up their emotions, avoid bringing up the loss, and act as though nothing has happened. A spouse who “regulates” themself in this manner mistakenly believes they are helping their partner. In reality, they may be sending a message to their partner that they are unmoved and calloused. Plus, they could unknowingly be invalidating their spouse’s feelings and hampering the grief and healing process for both of them.
Whether a couple is wrestling with fertility or losing a child, communication, counseling, and cultivating a support system are crucial. Remain a team in your marriage and utilize the resources available to you.