After losing multiple pregnancies, one writer reflects on the mantras she and her husband have followed to help them stand together through the dark times rather than grow apart.
One minute it's clear skies and open road, with you and your partner cruising that pathway to parenthood in a shiny convertible. The next, your car bottoms out and you're suddenly swallowed up by a dark sinkhole neither of you saw coming.
That's what it has felt like each time my husband and I have received the devastating news that my pregnancy was no longer viable. Sadly, we've had to deal with it several times, in several ways—reclined on an exam table at a routine ultrasound appointment, seated before our somber-faced doctor during an office visit, huddled over a cell phone with a grave voice on speaker—and it never gets any easier.
With their personal worlds crumbling down, the last thing a couple needs is to lose each other. In my usual driven-to-try-again way, I was halted in my tracks one day by my husband's admission that he still was not over the miscarriage before last. I had no idea! I felt that I bore the brunt of the physical and emotional turmoil after each loss, so it was easy to overlook the fact that my husband was grieving too, albeit in a different way. He and I may not always walk in step, but looking back at our trials with recurrent pregnancy loss, I find that these 10 rules are the constants—the beacons that show us the way out of the darkness, hand in hand.
- Be together. Be at each other's side as soon as you can. It's reassurance that you are not going through this alone. Each other's gentle presence is all the company you may seek in the early days after the loss. Until you're ready to be social again, you both shouldbe there to monitor each other's solitude.
- Have a "dote night." If your husband is like mine, he'll report to his marital duties by tending to your needs as you physically heal—preparing your meals, bringing you drinks, giving you time to rest. My husband is a bit (a lot) on the Type A side, so he can go through these motions like he's counting beans. But I've learned that there's a simple way to bring tenderness to even this practical stage of both of our emotional recoveries. Coming from you, an utterance wrapped in a "sweetie" or "babe" or "thank you" can be all he needs to soothe an out-of-reach ache. You'll know how best to dole out a "dote dose" to your partner, in a way he or she will most appreciate. Just remember to keep it up—it may mean more than you think.
- Keep in touch—literally. Whether it's an unspoken apology fogging up the air, or grimy guilt clogging up your throats, clear it all with a touch. The power of touching and hugging are reminders that not only are you both in this together, but you're on the same side. The walls that may threaten to grow between you will be thwarted by your united front. My husband and I hold hands, or one of us may rest a hand on the other's knee as our doctor breaks down the depressing news. On top of all the wonderful things about touching, it's scientifically proven to trigger the release of mood-boosting oxytocin.
- Offer a thoughtful gesture. Hubby is usually the charmer who opts for sending flowers, presenting a tasty care package, or gifting jewelry. My approach is more along the lines of a hand-written card, a fresh-out-the-oven banana bread, the gift of a song, a mid-day phone call, or a "thinking of you" text. It sounds like courting all over again, but it's more like a guide for how loving and forgiving we should be to ourselves during this punishing time of regrets and self-blame.
- Manage your families. Concerned relatives will reach out with words of encouragement for you both. While the outpouring is appreciated, I find that when the feelings are still raw, it can also be a little awkward coming from the in-laws. With that in mind, each of you should be the point of contact for your own families. In the past, we've intercepted the well-meaning calls and let our own families know that our partner needed more time to gather him/herself before speaking with them.
- Grieve separately. It's important to have quiet moments with your feelings. Allow each other the time and space to work through some things privately. I admit, it's tough not getting worried when my husband retreats into himself. I'm hardwired to comfort. Overriding this instinct is something I'm still working on, because I'd hate to get in the way of a natural healing process.
- Grieve together. When either of you are ready to share your pain, tears, or even just your gripes, show each other that you are present. Be prepared to listen with your heart.
- Ease the house rules. Your house, your anti-rules. You want to fire up more oxytocin? Try something my husband and I do after a heartbreaking loss. It goes a little something like this (sound trumpets of pageantry): "For the duration of one or more days, previously banned habits are henceforth decreed admissible." Yes, that means I can very well hook myself up to an IV bag of coffee if I want to, and my husband gets to pick at his fingers to his heart's content. It's a delicious way to indulge in a little instant gratification at a time when life feels anything but gratifying.
- Engage in your comfort activity together. You and your other half have a "thing"—I know you do! Maybe it's firing up the Wii, or making homemade pizza. For me and the hubs, there's nothing like bingeing on a good comedy series together. If we start with a muffled chuckle, there's a good chance that at some point in that viewing, we'll eventually forget our troubles enough to let out a cackle. And when that moment happens, it's music to each other's ears.
- Look to the future. When you're ready, forward-thinking discussions, even fleeting ones, are a healthy practice. Don't shy away from dreaming again, even if in an indirect way. When reacting to our 1-year-old shouting, "Mine!" for the millionth time, my husband and I might joke, "Wait 'til she realizes she has to share her room at some point." Now, that's a step in the right direction.
Debbie Rigaud is an author of Young Adult fiction. She and her husband welcomed a baby girl in early 2014, and life as they knew it has (thankfully) never been the same. Follow her on Twitter: @debbierigaud.