Losing a baby is one of the most devastating experiences you can go through in your adult life. It breaks you in ways you cannot begin to explain. It shakes everything in your world. Your relationships suffer and your marriage is rocked in many ways. You see, throughout marriage we are constantly changing. But this change is usually gradual and manageable. But nothing changes you as fast as death. Loss changes your entire life, it reshapes your beliefs and the way you see things. I have met people who used to be loud and bubbly and then they lost a baby. And the world lost its color and they are now introverts. Now imagine what that change does to a marriage.
Grief tears us apart
with the reckless abandon
of a tornado.
– Haiku by Diantha Ain
Gender differences, the personal nature of grieving and how the baby died are some factors that make child loss such a big storm to marriages. We shall look at these factors next week. For today we look at the effects of child loss on marriage. Many couples manage to weather the storm, and their marriages get stronger because of what they have gone through together. But for some couples, the loss of a child all too often leads to divorce. I spoke to several couples who have lost babies and they opened up on how it has changed their lives and their marriage. Knowing how loss affects your marriage will enable you to avoid drifting apart and save your relationship. It will also make you realize you are not alone and you can get through this rough patch.
Emotional distance: Grief is a personal journey that causes us to re-evaluate our beliefs and life in general. Because of this we want to deal with it in our own way, individually. During this time even the most loving couples pull away from each other to grieve in private, and to search out new meaning in life. There are times in grieving when you want to be — need to be — selfish. You don’t want to consider somebody else’s feelings, only your own. You want to sulk. You want to be taken care of, and not take care of another human being. This of course means there is emotional distance which can be dangerous if not checked.
What to do: Take your me time but give your partner time too. Let them know in word and action that whenever they are ready to talk you will be there. The good thing is that most times you are not both sad and overwhelmed. So when you are feeling better and your partner is in the dumps, be there for them and cheer them up.
Faith battles: As I have already mentioned, grief is private and calls to question the things we believe. Almost everyone I have met who has lost a child tells me how their belief in God has been tested. You battle with the feeling that God has disappointed you and many times you feel alone. People handle these battles individually and most times one person comes around faster than the other. This can be (and is many times) a source of conflict.
What to do: This is not the time to keep pushing your partner asking them why they are not going to church and why it is taking them so long to find their way back. Give them space. Faith is a personal journey and you cannot coerce anyone into loving God. Pray for them. And then give them time to find their way back at their own pace.
The blame game: Depending on how the baby died, partners can blame each other for the loss of their child. In the case of miscarriages, I have heard women complain that their partners blamed them for not being careful enough during pregnancy. If your child died in accident and your man was driving you may feel anger towards them and blame them. Why? Because, anger is part of the grieving process and sometimes for us to feel better we blame others. We blame the doctors, the drunk driver etc and unfortunately our partner may be caught in the crossfire.
What to do: Realize that nobody would knowingly jeopardize the life of their child, born or unborn. No parent would knowingly put their child in danger. So even if the circumstance points to a bit of negligence on your partner’s part, forgive them. Don’t throw it in their face. Don’t say it as a passing statement. Don’t say it under your breath in the middle of an argument. Chances are your partner is already beating themselves about it. Blaming each other will only widen the gap between you and you have already lost too much.
Sex is not the same: Sex is usually amazing and easy when your relationship is doing well. When you are fighting, (which you do a lot when dealing with loss) your sex life suffers. If you lost your baby through a miscarriage, stillbirth or when they were really young, sex starts being associated with pregnancy and children. And because your heart is broken by the loss of your baby, anything associated with the process makes you sad and uninterested.
What to do: Chances are one of you will be ready to start having sex again faster than the other. If that’s you, be patient with your partner. You won’t die Nudge slowly. And if they are not ready, don’t take the rejection personally although it feels very personal. Hang in there, things will go back to the way they used to be.
As you may have noted there are many things to fight about when you are handling the death of a child. The solution is to give each other time to handle things at your own pace. Patience is very important during this phase. And remember, you never leave your partner, especially in a fire.
Wanjiru Kihusa is the Founder of Still A Mum. She is also a writer and speaker on child loss and rainbow motherhood.