As if there isn’t enough difficulty when dealing with pregnancy loss, an added factor that can be surprising for a couple is how each processes the grief they experience. Please note that I will be speaking in generalizations in this entry, but just as the grief process isn’t linear for everyone, these generalizations also aren’t to speak for everyone.
For many years, Elisabeth Kubler Ross’s stages of grief have been considered a gold standard. We have all heard about denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, which are more of a framework rather than an instruction manual. Let’s face it; grief isn’t really a sexy topic that is getting a lot research funding to understand it better. Perhaps a different way of understanding grief, especially as it pertains to pregnancy and infant loss, is within a framework of four items created by John Bowlby.
The first is shock and numbness—our stunned reaction to our losses. After all, we were supposed to wait nine months and then bring home a healthy baby. This was not the reality we were expecting.
The second stage is searching and yearning and can include a wide array of feelings including guilt, anger, yearning for our babies, and the painful questions of “Why Me?” This is where we wonder what the future will hold for us, as the one that we had planned for is lost to us.
Depression is another expected phase of grief. This is when the reality of what seems so unreal comes sinking in. Living within this reality can be difficult, as it is not the one we would have chosen.
Finally, the final part in grief: re-organization. Reorganizing is when we figure out a way to enjoy life again, to trust, and to feel a renewal. This is not to say that we forget our child in an effort to “move on,” but rather, we integrate our loss into our life into some way. The loss is translated to have meaning.
Often times, women progress through these phases in a fairly sequential order. They tend to emote and talk about their feelings. Women cry. What can feel like a lot. They make tangible meaning of the losses, and figure out a way to incorporate it as a way to continue on with life.
Men, frequently, are different. While they may feel anger, shock, and depression, our culture teaches them to keep their emotions inside. Few men cry as a way to release these feelings. Men view themselves as needing to help their wives, to be strong, and often times, they are the ones that have to make decisions they never thought about needing to make.
As time goes on, and the early grief settles into a dull numbness, it can seem like male partners are “over it” far more quickly than the women they support. For many men, the duration of grief is quicker in that they get to a place where they realize they cannot change what has happened, and thus being stuck in the past isn’t helpful to them.
While no version of processing grief is right or wrong, it is important to talk with your partner about what you are experiencing and to acknowledge that the two of you may have very different ways of doing so.