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Losing a baby at 20-24 weeks of pregnancy

The impact of losing a baby on the relationship with a partner

Losing a baby between 20 and 24 weeks of pregnancy had a big impact on relationships, in particular with a partner. Many parents we spoke to found that they grieved in different ways and that this led to difficulties in their relationship. 

Grieving differently

Often mothers we spoke to felt their grief was instant. They wanted to talk more about the loss of their baby than their partner who often didn’t speak about their loss. Some women felt this meant fathers had got over their loss more quickly or that their grief was delayed, but it was often just that fathers expressed their grief in different ways. As we spoke to more mothers than fathers, here we report more about what women said about their partner rather than what their partner said themselves. Vikki felt her partner dealt with her daughter’s death “a lot quicker, I think, than I did. But I think men - obviously, they deal with it completely differently anyway.” Some mothers reported that their partners used alcohol as a way of coping with their loss.
 

Kamie felt she wanted to talk more about their loss than her partner Dale.

Kamie felt she wanted to talk more about their loss than her partner Dale.

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That's the biggest thing, is having that support around you, to guide you. And just don't feel like you're alone, because you're not [in tears]. Because it can be really dark and horrible. And obviously men and women grieve differently, don't they, which doesn't help. 

Mmm. Do you think you've both grieved differently with Lottie, or?

I mean, we. Like Dale didn't want me to keep talking about it, whereas I wanted to talk about it. You do think of them every day. But knowing that you shouldn't really talk about them every day, you know. But I did feel like we was going like that. But we kind of stuck together, and muddled through, and tried to support each other in different ways.

What do you think has helped? What's been good?

Just having that year, just to have family time. And enjoy each other again, and. Do things. And make memories, and just making the –

Do you mean having the time off work?

Yeah, it helped. Like we went on holiday. We went abroad twice. Went to Cyprus, we went to Turkey. Just having that time, just to sort your head out. Yeah. It helped loads. Even though like financially you're a bit stuffed, but you knew you had your maternity pay. That helped. And it helped us get by. 
 

Collette felt women were more likely to talk about their loss than their partners.

Collette felt women were more likely to talk about their loss than their partners.

Age at interview: 41
Sex: Female
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But yeah, we had counselling together. And, I don't know. I don't - I think he came, to be part of it. But I think it was me that was just doing all the talking. Again, so different. Yeah, so different. You only have to go to Sands meetings full of women who want to sit there and talk about it, and on the odd occasion you get a dad, or a partner, who comes, who talks about being furious and mad, and. And then that's it. So they're lucky, in a way. They kind of – 

Channel it. Mmm.

They rage, and they do what they need to do, and then 'boom', they're off. And I think possibly it's down to your genetics, it's down to how we are made. You know, us women are so nurturing and - you know - we're the ones that carry the baby, we birth the baby. You know, and you produce milk, you - It's in your genetics. And it's probably very different for them.
Helen Z described how she grieved with her partner, crying together and sharing the pain but “that I think with all pregnancies, men aren't as attached… they go to work, and they're not - you're with that baby in your stomach, 24/7.”
 

David Z felt helpless at being able to comfort his wife after the loss of their baby.

David Z felt helpless at being able to comfort his wife after the loss of their baby.

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My feeling all the time was, was helpless. You feel helpless, completely helpless. Because you - At this stage, or in these situations, there's nothing you can do. So, you - you can't, you can’t. No matter what you do. Because you cannot actually comfort your partner, because she's going through - So the way pregnancy is, and the way that everything works - it's different, the way the woman - the way you live it, and the way the women lives it. Because it's just different. Actually it's a part of you. I mean, it's like - I feel like more - Although I understand things is, it's like - it's like for you, that you carry the baby and it grows inside of you, and you deliver the baby. Losing a baby is like if you - I don't know, if you - like you lose a hand, or you lose something. And yeah it doesn't matter what you do, or how hard you try, it's always - there's nothing you can do that can, that can make your partner feel happy. Because the situation is just very sad. And it's very difficult. 
Parents said that they found their different approaches to grieving came as a surprise and were extremely upsetting. Lisa described it as one of the hardest things to cope with and made her feel isolated at this difficult time. Parents described how sometimes they grieved together and at other times they felt very apart.
 

Collette expected her husband would be the one person that could share her pain and found it extremely difficult that they grieved so differently.

Collette expected her husband would be the one person that could share her pain and found it extremely difficult that they grieved so differently.

Age at interview: 41
Sex: Female
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My husband and I grieved so differently. So differently. And people warned me. Lots of people warned me [laugh]. Sands was one of the people that warned me, my boss warned me.

Friends warned me. They were like, "Men and women grieve very differently." And it drove a very big wedge between me and my husband, because he was the one person that I thought understood, and could kind of share my pain by being like me in the grief process. 

And we were alien to one another in the way that we dealt with it. And that was hard, too. You know, we were strangers, and we slept in separate rooms, and we just could not - I couldn't get out of bed. He couldn't wait to get out of bed. You know? I couldn't eat. He drank and drank and drank. It was, it was fascinating. Fascinating how different we were in the grief process.

And I think I was very unaccepting of his way of grief, because it was so alien to me. And I guess once my Mum had stayed for a few months and left, I was alone. I had no family here.

And he was the person that I would have expected to pick up the pieces when he was dealing with it as well. You know, that was probably - well, not probably, is incredibly selfish of me to have expected that of him. And at the time, I could not understand what was wrong with him. Very alien - very alienating. Very painful. And I don't know how you get round that. Don't know how you get around that you are different people. And even though this one thing joins you, it very much divides you too.
 

Courtney felt at first her relationship with her husband was stronger than ever but found it difficult when her husband seemed to heal faster.

Courtney felt at first her relationship with her husband was stronger than ever but found it difficult when her husband seemed to heal faster.

Age at interview: 30
Sex: Female
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So the first time - So the first months when it happened, we were stronger than ever. Like you couldn't get anyone stronger. Like it was amazing. We'd do so much together, and we'd be grieving on the same path, and - And you really, like - You just - We loved each other so much that it couldn't - Like it was just insane. Like you were so privileged to be married to my husband, because I was like, I'm so lucky. 

And then your grieving pattern differs. You know? It is very different. Because yeah, my body had to change a lot. You know? And on a monthly basis I was still bleeding excessively. Then I went through another miscarriage. And your hormones as a woman, it changes completely as well. As a male, you obviously don't feel that. And, so it took - it was faster for my husband to get healed faster. Whereas for me, it's taken a lot longer. So our paths sort of widened. We still stayed, stayed on the same length, and we're still strong and everything. But you know, you just have different views of certain things. And you know, you're not - maybe you're not as close as you normally are, because you don't want to say something because you might upset the other person with it, who don't feel like that. And you know, it's - it's very - It becomes very up and down, and. Intimacy is very difficult. Because obviously - sometimes, and I hear this from a lot of people. Sometimes after, you're like 'we want to try again, we want to try again'. 

And then after a while you're like 'no, I don't want to do this at all, I don't even want children'. And then you sort of are afraid to discuss it. Whereas previously, the conversations you would have would be about your future, and how excited and, 'we're going to do this together, and we're going to do that together'. And, 'and we're going to have this family'. But, and reality - it's sort of like reality kicks in. 

And now the conversations you have aren't 'let's do this, let's do that', it's 'well really, can we do this?'

It's like - And, and then when you think to yourself 'no, we can't', you're just like 'well, what's the point in even thinking that?'

So that's really tough. Because you're trying to build a new path of the relationship that you didn't see, but you're trying to stay on the same level together. But you don't know where it's going to go.
Improving communication

Parents were aware of the impact stressful life events can have on relationships. Sarah described how it was “one of the most important things for us, to make sure that we stayed close during our grieving, that it was something we did together.” Joelle and Adam were “very aware that… the statistics of marriages not working, were quite high.” Sadly for some couples losing their baby had such a profound impact on their relationship that they split up.
 

Sarah and her husband took turns taking care of each other.

Sarah and her husband took turns taking care of each other.

Age at interview: 34
Sex: Female
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I think in terms of dealing with things with my husband afterwards, like between us - it was really important that we were open with each other about how we felt about things.
 
That was - I think that was one of the most important things for us, to make sure that we stayed close during our grieving, that it was something we did together.
 
And also allowing him - allowing him to be a grieving parent as well. Rather than it being all on me. So that we did - we took care of each other, not just - it wasn't just one-sided.
 
Some talked about how they had tried to improve communication with their partner and understand each other’s feelings. Many parents found talking to other parents with similar experiences helpful. Emily and Mike made their regular counselling session into a “’date night’ to make it a bit lighter because it could be quite emotional.”
 

Maxine and Steve described how they lit candles to help communicate their feelings to each other.

Maxine and Steve described how they lit candles to help communicate their feelings to each other.

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Maxine: But now when someone goes, "Are you okay?" And I just think I'll never be okay again. So, why are you asking me? And I wouldn't say that to like - you know - a friend, if they went, "Are you okay?" I'd probably just go, "Yeah."

Steve: Yeah. Just having an alright day or something, or whatever.

Maxine: And just in my head be thinking something different.
[both talking at the same time]

Steve: But when I say it-

Maxine: But to you, I kind of go, "Well why are you asking that question?"

Steve: Well, I know - Yeah. You know what I mean?

Maxine: Don't be so silly.

Steve: And then like the, the - The way the like the –

Maxine: The chaplain.

Steve: The chaplain said is, "Light a candle." So you light a candle. And then it's not a good day, because otherwise I keep asking the same - you know? And they said to me, "Steve, you'll ask a question to Maxine - are you okay - and she'll probably say no." 

Maxine: [laughing]

Steve: Ah, and then you think, oh for heaven’s sake, yeah, yeah, I know, I stupidly asked that question. And they say "Oh, you know, if you light a candle, then you know that Maxine's not good, or."

Maxine: Stay out of the room. Don't come near.

Steve: Yeah, that's it. That's it. Or if I'm not happy, light a candle. 'Oh, Steve's not good today, better walk away'. And you don't, do you. You know what I mean? But it, it's a way of trying to communicate, isn't it? You know what I mean?

Maxine: Mmm.

Steve: But I think just say like, you know, "Oh, are you okay?" Oh, sorry - putting my foot in it again. No. You know what I mean? But.

Maxine: Mmm.

Steve: You are, like physically. But like Maxine's saying, emotionally –

Maxine: Emotionally.

Steve: You know - know what I mean? So.

Maxine: Yeah, I think what you find is, you can have - You can have days - You don't have good days. You have okay days.

And then you just have days that creep up that are, are just – 

Steve: Yeah.

Maxine: - they're the darkest days you could ever imagine.
 

David Z felt that giving time to listen to each other and talk about things together helped.

David Z felt that giving time to listen to each other and talk about things together helped.

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Well obviously you have to be strong, because the person who goes through the worst, who is actually going through the worst part, is the mother. And yeah, just try to - Just listen as much as you can to your partner. Because they want to talk about it. So, in my case, Asun wanted to talk about it. And, and because the situation is tough for both of you, sometimes can, can - you're very irritable. Irritated? It's just hard. It's hard for both. And, but I feel that giving time to listen to each other and talk about it, it helps. It helps. Because it's - It can affect the relationship. So, that's why you have to be strong. And you have to understand as well. On both cases, no? The, the partner - So the partner needs to understand that you need your time and your space. And if you don't fancy to talk about it, if you don't want to talk about it - It's like what I said about counselling. Because you want to talk about what happened with Pau, it doesn't mean that I want to talk about it right now. So just give me some time. Or it's not the right time, or. And just - I think that not falling into, into like a silence, no? Periods, or trying to - Trying to understand situation. Or trying to okay, understand how, what is she going through? Or what am I going through? And, and let's talk about it, and - And talk about it in a good way, no? If the conversation just gets to a point when one of –when the conversation is getting to a point where I'm not feeling comfortable, stop it there. Stop it. Because, because both are going through very tough time. The conversation that start very innocent conversation talking about how you want, how you're feeling - it can end up in an argument. And you don't want that. You don't need that at that time. And yeah, I think it's just be cool, I mean keep it cool, and just listen to your partner. And if you don't want to talk about it, just be honest, like "Listen, I don't want to talk about it right now, because I don't feel like. Let's talk it later." Or, that's it. Or let everybody have space and time. Whatever, whatever's been. Because everybody's different. And if she wants to talk about it a lot and you don't want to talk about it a lot, then offer counselling, or - I don't know - what she needs to - Or offer her to spend time with, or him to spend time with family, or whoever he feels comfortable.

Because if you're not comfortable, you're not going to go through. You're not going to get over. Because you're going to be forced to the situation that you're not happy, and, and you just want to get out of that situation. And what you do is at some point you can, you can be stressed and aggressive and you want to leave, and, ah, that's it, that's not the point, that's not how to, you do things. So, yeah. My advice is this, is just to actually look, think about yourself, you know? As a father. So, how am I feeling? Do I want to talk about it? Is it the right time? Or who I want to talk- Do I want to talk about it with my wife? No, maybe not. Maybe you want to talk about it with, I don't know - go to somewhere and talk to somebody else - just do it. Whatever makes you feel better, do it. Because if you feel better, then you will go home, and because you're feeling better you will open up to, to your partner. And then you, you will actually be able to sit down and understand her, and listen to her, and - and it's a relief when you can talk. And, and let it out. And you see that the other person is listening to you. Yeah. Think it's just - just understand what you need, no? As a father, what do you want? Do you want to talk about it? Yes, or no. Is it the right moment? With who? And when? On your own terms, that's it. Whatever you need. That's what I would say. For whoever has to go through this.
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