Late miscarriage, the partner’s perspective
There is no way to prepare for the experience of a late miscarriage. Similarly, there is no advice, no strategy and no quick-fix philosophical perspective that can help guide parents through one of the most complicated and grief-ridden periods they are ever likely to face.
What is late miscarriage
Late miscarriage is generally viewed as any instance in which parents lose their child at some point later than 20 weeks into the pregnancy but before 24 weeks, when it is considered a stillbirth.
Although around 15-20% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage, of these around only one in 100 occur in late pregnancy – and, because of the bonding and expectation that have taken place, it is these late miscarriages which so often prove to be the most emotionally traumatic.
There is no steadfast set of instructions to help parents who have lost a baby late in the pregnancy, whether it’s week 24 or week 34, it can affect the parents in so many different ways. Both partners may feel sad, angry, distressed, numb, detached… there is just no way of knowing how and when these emotions will hit and with what degree of severity.
There is no doubt that late miscarriage is difficult for both parents. However, it is important to bear in mind that your partner has been carrying the baby and that her body has changed as a result. She has been flooded with hormones and will have grown attached to the experience of pregnancy in ways you may be physically unable to comprehend. She may also experience the additional and visceral trauma of bleeding for days or weeks following the miscarriage. It is easy to understand why, for some mothers-to-be, losing a child at this late state in pregnancy can be a defining experience.
Support your partner
It is of course helpful if parents can draw on the support of family, friends and the local community. However, despite the best wishes of those around them, some couples may just wish to “close in” and support each other privately. One way this can be done meaningfully, purposefully and with full recognition of the trauma that has been experienced is to perform some kind of ritual or ceremony to help with the processing and negotiation of the loss.
Above all, partner’s should try as much as possible to be present and engaged. This means being ready to listen to her, to give her physical warmth and proximity as she wants it and to allow for the grief: this means that in order for the grief to be properly processed partners shouldn’t try to make things better before they really are. Just as psychological studies show that children recover better from a traumatic injury when their parents give it proper credence with a kiss, a rub and some soothing words, so too do women recover better from a miscarriage when their grief is recognised for what it is while being given time to breathe and negotiate their own loss. There is nothing to be gained from enforced or artificial jollity at this stage. Things will not get better faster simply because one partner wants to move on quickly.
Partners supporting themselves
While the partner may not have been carrying the child, they were the co-author of the pregnancy and so need to be careful not to trivialise the gravity of their own experience just because they are worried that their partner has gone through more than they have.
When a partner allows himself to recognise and express the way he is feeling, he can begin to heal. Talking to friends and family is a good place to start although it is important to spend some time alone with the grief. However, partners should not be afraid to keep busy with other things as long as it is not pushing the feelings of loss aside.
Partners who have experienced late miscarriage should not feel guilty about taking time out to go for walks with together, to exercise and to enjoy the company of the people who matter to them.
If you need additional help and support talk to your GP or contact a bereavement counsellor about your options.
Take the next move at your own pace
If you have experienced late miscarriage, at some point you may want to try for another baby, but it is important that you don’t rush into this if you are not ready.
There is plenty of time and you can easily put plans for baby on hold until you restore your equilibrium to some extent, particularly if you are trying for a baby through IVF.