Miscarriage: Did it happen to me, or to us?

by sara rashid, lcpc, psychotherapist at wildflower center for emotional health

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The devastation of a pregnancy loss can impact more than just your hopes for a child. It can challenge your relationship with your body, your friends, society, and, unfortunately quite often, your relationship with your partner. 

When a couple decides to start or grow a family, they are united. The discussion is collaborative, the process involves you both (in one way or another), and you share fantasies of the outcome. But when a pregnancy ends in miscarriage, suddenly there is a distinct division: one partner actually experienced the miscarriage, and the other bore emotional, if not also physical, witness. You are separated at a time when you would both do better to feel united. While both partners feel and express grief, the clients I see often reflect my own post-miscarriage viewpoint: yes, it happened to us, but it really happened to ME.

What happens between a couple when, often in a surprise flash, their mutual fantasy future is gone? The resulting onslaught of emotion can further distance two people who are already suffering all the whims of shock and grief: anger, withdrawal, confusion, guilt, hopelessness. 

It is in this profoundly painful space that couples often find themselves struggling as partners, as well as survivors. Good intentions to support each other can be overwhelmed or directly challenged by each individual’s moment-to-moment experience. One partner may have just gotten a promotion, lifting their spirits in one direction, while the other partner just received an invitation to a friend’s baby shower, directing theirs in another. While both people are grieving, they are – at this, and at so many other times – otherwise feeling life quite differently. The resulting discord can add unwelcome extra layers of pain to you both. 

It doesn’t have to be that way.

Speaking with a supportive, educated and experienced therapist can help either (or certainly both) partners come to terms with the emotional fallout of a pregnancy loss. This includes but is certainly not limited to:  suggestion or suspicion that one partner is grieving “more” than the other; communication being impaired by the aforementioned components of grief and shock; frightening or confusing medical/physical experiences; and painful debate over whether or not to pursue another pregnancy. 

The truth about miscarriage is that YES, it happened to you both - and it happened to each of you. Awareness of this reality can facilitate open discussion of those distinguished experiences, allowing each of you to honor and process your thoughts and feelings, while creating space for you to receive and process those of your partner. Once that is established, you can learn how to support each other in ways that are productive without being taxing. 

Miscarriage isn’t the end of your story. It is a chapter that deserves being written and being read. By giving yourself the opportunity to express how it has affected you, you can create space to learn how it has affected your partner. This can be a period of growth (albeit painful) that can support each and both of you as you eventually do complete this chapter and begin the next.