My partner had a miscarriage. What do I do?February 25, 2019
While miscarriages are common, the first thing to realise is that your partner’s connection to her baby is unique. So irrespective of how far along the pregnancy was, and how many pregnancies (successful or not) have preceded this one, her experience of this miscarriage will also be unique.
When couples come to me after a miscarriage, the biggest mistake I see non-carrying partners making is the tendency to minimise, down-play, or focus on the positives. Unfortunately, all those things tend to invalidate the experience of their partner. Those reactions – no matter if they’re motivated by love and care and a desire to help – can feel like they are invalidating the fact that a baby had died inside of a person. In my couples counselling practice in the Eastern Suburbs, women have shared some of the more hurtful things they have heard from friends and family:
“Fortunately you weren’t too far along.”
“Luckily you’re still young.”
“Well at least you know you can get pregnant.”
“We can just have another one.”
It’s common to respond in these ways, because no one likes to see a loved one in pain. But if you’ve said something like this to your partner, it would be a good idea to apologise and let them know you now understand this baby was unique, can’t be replaced, and that you haven’t had the same experience of loss as they have.
Confused about what you can do or say?
A miscarriage can be a complex experience for a relationship. People deal with loss differently, and in this particular situation, you and your partner will have connected with the baby in different ways. So those differences are likely to be exacerbated.
You can strengthen your relationship in this time of crisis by bridging the gap between what you are feeling and what your partner is feeling. Here are some ways to do that:
- Acknowledge the loss– This is the most important thing you can do. I’ve seen relationships end because of a partner’s denial, aloofness or avoidance at the very time they are needed most.
- Ask how she is doing– Being present and available is essentially what your partner needs. So when you ask her how she is doing, really listen for the answer. And don’t just ask once. Check in frequently.
- Don’t try to fix it, or focus on the positives – this might sound counter intuitive, but trying to look on the bright side at the expense of acknowledging the loss, can seem invalidating and condescending. It might be uncomfortable, but it is okay for your partner to feel what she is feeling. She will be okay as long as you remain present.
- Don’t expect her to grieve or cope the way you do– her connection with her baby is likely to have been very different to yours. Even if you didn’t see her do it, she may have sung to it, spoken to it lovingly, or held/hugged her tummy. She also gave up a lot to give it life. She will therefore cope differently with the loss of that life.
- Share how you feel– one of the most potentially damaging pitfalls of a miscarriage on a relationship is the comparison your partner makes between her grief and yours. She might feel loss, empty, at fault, self-blame, and broken. And she might show that through tears or being down. But if you aren’t reacting the same way, it can feel quite isolating for her. So if you are feeling similar feelings, then tell her. If you’re not feeling similar feelings, help her understand that your connection with the baby is different and that doesn’t invalidate her response in any way. And tell her howyou Your feelings are just as valid as hers.
- Reassure her of your love and that she isn’t to blame– While this point speaks for itself, its importance cannot be overstated.
- What is she going through physically– educate yourself about what a woman might experience physically during and after a miscarriage. Imagine what that might feel like. Then speak to her to understand what she is going through.
- Commemorate (if it’s right for your relationship) – speak with your partner and decide if you’d like to commemorate the passing with a ritual of some kind.
- Expect ups and downs– grief, especially due to miscarriage, doesn’t follow a straight line. There will be better days and worse days. Over the longer term your partner might also worry about the idea of pregnancy again. This is where the help of a professional can be valuable.
- Know your limits – if you feel one or both of you are not coping with the loss, or that one of you is not being supportive, get in some outside help. A couple’s counsellor is a good idea.
If you and your partner have experienced a miscarriage and are struggling to speak about it, find yourselves arguing more, or are feeling isolated, then marriage or relationship counselling will help you reconnect and get your relationship back on track.