Saturday, March 19, 2016

Honoring Your Marriage After Pregnancy Loss

Something I feel passionate in writing about is honoring your marriage and fostering your relationship after pregnancy loss.  My caveat is this: I am not a marriage expert. Nor am I a counselor or trained professional of any kind. But we are a couple who have gone through multiple pregnancy losses together. (At various stages of pregnancy and very different types and causes of loss.) I wanted to share what has worked for Dan & me.  Not every couple is the same nor is every situation, but these are things that were important for us.

1.) Recognize that you may grieve differently.  That you may have bonded with the child at different levels or in different ways.  Don't expect him to react the same way that you are and don't accuse him of not grieving. Dan allowed me to cry, to fall to pieces, and talk and share the details very publically (not every loss, but many of them).  It is not how he would do it but he understands that that is what grief looks like for me.  Find a way to grieve together.

2.) Don't put a time limit on grieving.  Dan gives me time to grieve the loss (there is often more than one thing you have "lost" in this situation) and does not pressure me to get back to normal or "feel better" faster.  The timeline is different for each person but it definitely does not go away as fast as other think it should.

3.) Support each other.  He holds my hand when I cry. He holds me when I do not have the strength to stand.  He prays with me. There are times when he too needs support.  I think he has a smaller support system than I do regarding this (it's just our personalities - I have more friendships and am more open & know more women who have been in this place before) and that's why it's important that I am there for him to talk to as well.

4.) Don't place blame.  In our case each loss has had different circumstances and causes.  None were preventable, as far as we know, and none could have been predicted.  I do not have a medical condition causing me to have a likely outcome of loss - but even if I did, he would not BLAME and FAULT me.  It can go the other way too, because in our grief we search for answers in places there are none.

5.) Give each other grace as you go through the grieving process because it can make you do some uncharacteristic things.  I'm sure I've been unpleasant lately: the sleep struggles & grief & anger lead to me being cranky, short tempered, hurtful with my words at times.  Don't have too high of expectations of each other.

6.) Talk about what's next. Communication is important so TALK to each other.  Determine if you plan to try again or not (or any other options) and get on the same page at some point, as that can tear you away from each other a bit.  Even if you don't agree initially it's important to get those thoughts about the future out of your head and into a conversation.

7.) Don't neglect the couple part of your marriage - feed your romantic relationship.  Take time together. Still make time for dates; it's maybe more important now than ever.  Recognize the beauty and love that caused you to create precious life.  When we held Oliver we said "we made this - together" and it was beautiful.  In that moment I loved that man more than any before it.

8.) Don't neglect intimacy.  Don't let your sex life become all about trying for the next pregnancy (or about avoiding one). Spend time loving each other and focus on the closeness and bonding that can come from such an intimate experience. You are walking through this together.

9.) Continue to pray for each other and for your marriage. (I'd love for you to read this one on marriage.)

10.) Talk to each other about your hurts but don't put the full burden exclusively on each other. I opened up to friends and family for support and tried to disperse some of my moments of heartache around a bit so as not to overwhelm Dan. He takes on the Protector and Comforter role so well that it can get in the way of allowing his ownself to grieve.  If I need him to "fix it" a little less that allows him to heal his own hurts a little more. Be discerning who you share with though, as people, with good intentions, are not all able to support you.

11.) Acknowledge life is still happening and all the same enemies attacking your marriage before are still there.  Be aware and on the lookout.  Don't neglect these things because they can creep in when you're vulnerable and catch you off guard. 

12.) Appreciate each other. I thank him for supporting me. For recognizing my needs and acting on them and not dismissing them because his are not the same. He acknowledges what my body has through in giving birth and having surgery (and the shots and hyperemesis before that) and lets me know he appreciates it.  He cares for me by tending to household/childcare duties to give me a break to heal. I tell him how much that means to me.

13.) Don't put up a wall.  We have weathered so many storms together because we let each other in.

14.) Celebrate what you DO have. Whatever that may be for you, know that there are always things in life to be grateful for.

15.) Find ways to grieve and celebrate your baby TOGETHER. There are various things we've done.  For Bentlee and Oliver we went shopping together to find special keepsake boxes to store photos, cards, blankets, etc. We eat pink cupcakes each year on Bentlee's birthday.

We got tattoos to represent those babies so we can show them off and take them with us like our living children.  First we had our "Bentlee" tats done 5 years ago. Then we added Oliver and the 9 others.
I added onto my existing Bentlee tattoo with Oliver's name as well as 11 butterflies. Butterflies are the universal symbol for pregnancy loss so I have one for each child I have lost.

Dan already had Bentlee's name on his lower arm and adding Oliver's to his limited real estate looking a bit wonky on its own, so he went for a full arm sleeve (lower arm for now).  He has 11 baby feet (2 of them in color), a daddy lion, a mommy lion, and 4 cubs playing.  (We have 4 living children.)  This has helped us bond over the losses and celebrate the time we had with them and the life we created.