Here’s the truth: I lost four pregnancies, and after each one, I hated my husband.
My first loss was an ectopic pregnancy, meaning the embryo took up residence in my left fallopian tube, which required emergency surgery to end the embryo’s life and save mine. The day after this surgery, while I was in bed woozy from pain pills, my husband, Chris, went to a hockey game with his brother. When I expressed my frustration—nay, rage—about this to a friend, she said, “When I had my miscarriage, my husband went to Vegas.”
This seems to be a thing with some husbands in the wake of pregnancy losses. Psychologists call it avoidance. I call it annoying.
In the midst of my four losses (I had two ectopic pregnancies, a first-trimester miscarriage, and a second-trimester miscarriage), Chris distracted himself with various projects. He took up mountain biking, plotting out different routes through the local hills, highlighting maps and leaving them all over the house. He went on long runs. He volunteered to collect signatures for local causes that had never mattered to him before. He became obsessed with cleaning—one day I found him in the backyard, scrubbing the cement. At one point, he signed up for a disaster preparedness course. He would research things online like, “Can you drink pool water in an emergency?” I was left to wonder if this was a metaphor, if our losses had made him feel so vulnerable to tragedy that he was compelled to do whatever he could to prepare for the worst.
One activity that was not on his list: Talking to me. I needed to talk about our losses, and this need directly conflicted with his own need to “move on.” He wanted to avoid it completely, go through the motions of everyday life as if nothing had happened. I resented his stoicism. I resented that I was the one who felt like a train wreck (mentally and physically). To me, it seemed he wasn’t grieving at all—he was clearly too busy for that.
It took time, and couples therapy, for me to realize that Chris was, in fact, grieving. He was just doing it differently than I was.
While writing “All the Love: Healing Your Heart and Finding Meaning After Pregnancy Loss,” I talked at great length with my co-authors (Meredith Resnick, a clinical social worker, and Dr. Huong Diep, a board-certified psychologist) about how common it is for couples to struggle in the wake of this type of loss, with much of the struggle rooted in different grieving styles. As grief expert David Kessler told Brené Brown on an episode of her “Unlocking Us” podcast, “I do not believe a child loss is what causes divorce; I believe judgment of each other’s grief causes divorce.”
And divorce is a very real threat to couples after a loss. According to a study that followed more than 7,000 pregnant couples for fifteen years, those who experienced miscarriage were 22 percent more likely to break up than couples who hadn’t, and the percentage was even higher for couples who experienced stillbirth. The increased risk of divorce and separation could be seen up to a decade after the loss.
If you are hating your husband after a pregnancy loss, and want to keep your relationship intact, here are some thoughts that may help.
Remember, he lost a baby too.
He did not carry the baby, but he was planning for life as a parent, just like you. I remember the way Chris’s eyes lit up the first time I told him I was pregnant. He was so excited. Admittedly, I did not think much about his disappointment when we lost each of our babies; I was too consumed with my own. But, fathers suffer too. Studies of the effects of stillbirth on fathers show common themes of grief suppression (aka avoidance), employment difficulties and financial debt, and increased substance abuse. In other words, it’s hard on them.
He probably feels very helpless.
Chris is a classic fixer, and there is no easy “fix” to the grief that accompanies pregnancy loss. This is very unsettling for many partners and may cause them to retreat: “If I can’t fix it, I don’t want to deal with it.” The retreat is evidence of their pain.
He probably feels scared, too.
At one point, Chris said something that explained so much:“You’re my rock. I don’t know what to do when you’re crumbling.” He was afraid he’d “lost me” in an irreparable way. He was afraid I would never get over our losses. I wish we had acknowledged each other’s fears and opened up an opportunity for comfort. It would have made for a much less bumpy road.
It’s not that he doesn’t care; he’s just trying to “stay strong.”
When Hilaria Baldwin publicly shared her first miscarriage, her husband (Alec Baldwin) was quoted as saying, “My wife’s happiness is my prime concern.” Men are conditioned from a very early age to repress sad or fearful emotions to appear strong and in control (#toxicmasculinity). Whenever I think of this, I have a little more empathy for Chris.
Sometimes you need to get support from others.
In our society, we seem to romanticize the notion of “spouse as everything.” But this is a lot of pressure to put on one person. Instead of stewing over Chris’s inability to meet some of my emotional needs, I learned to seek support from friends and family members. Seeking support outside of Chris wasn’t giving up on our marriage; it was taking pressure off our marriage. Once I got that support, my anger at Chris diminished. My needs were met—not always by him, but they were met. And that saved us. The whole experience gave me a clearer understanding of what is in his wheelhouse (and what is not) as my partner. Do I wish he was more of an emotional guy? Sometimes. But I love him for who he is, and I know full well there will be times throughout our life together when I will need the support of others. In a way, I’m grateful that I figured this out early in our marriage. It’s shifted what we expect from each other and clarified what we need. Loss has a tendency to do that—shift, clarify.
Remember the big picture.
Phases of grieving are intense. But they are just that—phases. It’s been a few years since our losses (we now have a 3-year-old daughter who came to us after a completely textbook pregnancy—go figure). I can say now that what we went through made us stronger as a couple. It sounds cliché, but it’s the truth. Our experiences have given us a confidence in our resilience as a couple. I know there is so much we can survive, together.