Baby loss is one of those events that places great strain on relationships. It is common for relationships and marriages to fall apart after the couple suffers a tragedy like this. Because of how emotionally draining grief is, one or both partners may find themselves unable to work on the relationship and grieve in a healthy way at the same time. As a result, sometimes the grieving parents go their separate ways soon after baby loss.
A break up after baby loss could be triggered by a number of things. Relationships break after baby loss if the partners are unable to understand each other’s different ways of grieving, and so drift apart rather than closer together as they mourn. In some cases, emotions like guilt, shame, and anger become overwhelming, especially when one partner blames the other for the loss. Differences in how to proceed after the loss also affect relationships and could lead to separation. For example, one partner may want another child as soon as possible while the other does not and this could bring up feelings of resentment and a lack of understanding between the two.
We also can’t ignore the role of societal stigma in causing relationship problems after following the loss of a baby. In our African society, the man or the man’s family, sometimes stigmatize the mother after the loss. Some men decide to take on another wife to bear children when their wives lose a baby, especially if there are multiple losses. Some people blame and accuse the mother or claim that she is cursed. These things are an additional blow to the mother, who then feels abandoned, isolated and like an outcast even as she deals with the pain of losing her child. In many of these cases, the relationship between the mother and the father ends up falling apart.
When the relationships break after baby loss, the pain of that loss is added to the grief. For many, it feels like a double tragedy and they find themselves unable to cope. Grief after baby loss is often a lonely journey and when one finds themselves abruptly without their partner, the person on whom they had been leaning for support, they may feel even more alone and isolated. This could make it that much harder for them to come to terms with the loss and begin to heal.
If a couple’s relationship breaks after baby loss, it becomes even more important that they seek counselling. This is because the feeling of experiencing loss on top of loss can easily cause one to feel overwhelmed. On the one hand you are dealing with the loss of your baby and the emotional experience that comes with it, and on the other hand you are dealing with the loss of your relationship and the emotional experience that comes with that. While it is easy for these two things to blend together into one big psychological stressor, you need to remember that they are closely related but they are not the same thing. The thoughts and feelings within each experience are different and need to be dealt with in therapy as separate issues. This will ensure that the grieving parent comes to terms with both losses rather than allowing one to be overshadowed by the other and ends up not getting processed psychologically.
Support from family and friends becomes all the more important when relationships break after baby loss. When the bereaved parents are able to lean on each other for support after the loss of their baby, they can bond in their grief and become even closer than before. However, if this is not possible because the relationship ended, they may each find themselves suddenly without a strong support system. It is easy for feelings of grief to spiral out of control when the bereaved person feels like they have nowhere to turn. Family and friends of the grieving parent need to rally around him or her to ensure he or she doesn’t feel alone as they deal with the complicated mix of emotions that comes from baby loss and a breakup.
There are ways for a couple to protect their relationship through an event as traumatic as baby loss. Unfortunately, because of the lack of awareness about baby loss, many people do not consider the possibility of losing a child when getting into a relationship or when getting married. Without having considered how baby loss could affect their marriage, couples are often ill-equipped to go through such an event together. Having more conversations about baby loss and incorporating it into pre-marital preparation could help prepare couples in the event of such an experience.
However, when the relationship does break, the most important thing is for the mother and father to recognize and acknowledge the loss of the relationship and the ways in which it has affected them and their grief. Sweeping the emotions that come from the break up under the carpet in favour of focusing only on the baby loss may seem like a good strategy but those emotions will come up later on and may even hinder the healing process. Instead, they should allow all their feelings to flow, including the ones they feel as a result of the break up, such as anger, feelings of abandonment, blame, shame, and loss of self-esteem.
Though the experience is doubly painful when relationships break after baby loss, the bereaved parents can still heal and go on to live whole lives with other healthy relationships. If psychological support as well as the support of family and friends is available, then a bereaved parent will be able to come to terms with both the loss of the baby as well as the loss of their relationship, and thus adjust to their new reality in a healthy way.