After our son Patrick died, I learned very quickly that my husband and I processed grief differently. I didn’t understand how he could go back to work just a few days after our son died. He needed the structure. That structure was part of the way he coped. But, I feared that we would quickly grow apart. After a few days, I broke down and shared my fears. In that moment, we both realized how different our personal journeys were and that we would have to work to connect our personal journeys to that of our journey as a couple.
Each new part of this life after loss has required a purposeful step to connect our personal journeys to our journey as a couple. I’m not going to sugarcoat it! Just like any other part of marriage, it takes consistent work to walk together in grief, pregnancy after loss, and parenting after loss. Even in a committed, loving relationship each person can feel isolated and alone.
Here are five ways to connect with your partner during pregnancy after loss:
1. Practice self-care
It may seem counter-intuitive to list practice self-care as the first way to connect with your partner. But, taking care of yourself is vital to being available to connect with your partner. Like they say during the inflight safety instructions when you fly, “If you are traveling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your oxygen mask first, then assist the other person.” You can’t help your partner if you’re not taking care of yourself. And you can’t help your relationship as a couple if you aren’t also practicing self-care. Encourage your partner to also practice self-care.
Some simple ways to practice self-care:
- Drink plenty of water
- Take a shower
- Take a walk around the block
- Get your hair done or have a pedicure
- Drink a cup of tea
- Eat three meals a day
- Meet a friend for coffee
2. Do small, meaningful acts that show love for each other.
One of the most meaningful ways my husband and I connected during the early stages of our grief and through pregnancy after loss was through little notes on Post-its. We’d leave them for each other around the house or in each other’s lunches. Even when talking was hard, these small notes were reminders that we love each other. Only you will know what would be meaningful to your partner, but here are a few other ideas:
- Cook your partner’s favorite meal
- Clean the bathroom (or whatever your partner’s least favorite chore is)
- Bring home your partner’s favorite flower, candy bar, pastries from the local bakery, specialty coffee, or any number of other favorite things
3. Plan time as a couple.
When my husband and I realized how differently we were coping, we committed to going on an “adventure” each weekend. Because my husband’s commute and workday were long, we had planned on doing this after Patrick was born. Weekends would be family time. We realized that even though Patrick died, the two of us still needed to plan activities for the weekends in order to connect, distract, and take care of ourselves.
Some activity ideas:
- Make a picnic and take a trip to the park
- Visit a museum
- Go to a concert or sports event
- Visit a local festival
- Go apple picking
- Take a class together (art, dance, cooking, roller skating, etc.)
- Plan special date nights
4. Create a safe zone.
When you’re feeling particularly isolated or misunderstood, it’s important to have a way to communicate this to your partner. Work together to create a phrase that immediately lets your partner know that you need a time out and the ability to safely share or release what’s going on in your head. It may be as simple as, “I need a break.” When one partner says that phrase, it’s understood that he or she is in an extremely vulnerable place and needs patience and a safe place to be heard or cry or whatever he or she needs in that moment.
In that moment:
- Stop what you are doing
- Take a moment to breathe
- Cry together
- Embrace each other
- Listen to each other
- Support each other
- Encourage each other
5. Talk to other people who understand.
Each partner needs a few trusted people they can talk to. You also need a person or place where you can talk as a couple.
When you’re feeling alone and misunderstood, you may need to vent to a trusted friend or therapist. Talking out your own frustrations and hurt might also help you start to see your partner’s point of view. Some ideas where you could get individual support:
- Trusted friends
- Therapist or counselor
- Support group
As a couple, you may find a couple’s therapist or to be helpful as you navigate your grief and pregnancy after loss together. Other places to get support as a couple:
- A mentor couple who has been through loss and can walk beside you as a couple
- A couple’s support group
This life after loss can feel overwhelmingly lonely. We need our partners more than ever, but it can be so hard to connect and communicate when we’re processing so differently. Try to remember that it’s OK to process differently: there is no right or wrong way to grieve and move through pregnancy after loss. But also prioritize your relationship as a couple. That relationship is its own being that needs to be nurtured. It will never be easy, but it will always be worth the work.