Monday, July 29, 2013

Resuming Sex Following Your Baby's Death: How, Why, When

“After the miscarriage I didn’t have a problem with having sex at all. It was so comforting, so exciting. We had missed each other so much.” —Cecelia

“I didn’t want to be touched. Sex felt forced. I was sad because the loss had taken the joy out of sex as well as out of pregnancy and childbearing.” —Sylvia

The grim reality is that a pregnancy loss affects every aspect of your marriage, including your sexual relationship. And you will end up confronting this as individuals and as a couple.

You may find that intimacy brings you closer together, or you may feel dull, dead, asexual and uninterested. You may feel excited about resuming your relationship; or the thought of it may repulse you.

You may be frightened, feeling inadequate. Depression, particularly severe bouts, can kill your desire. Antidepressants will only exacerbate this. Then, after months of saying “no,” avoiding sex becomes a habit you find difficult to alter.

Your doctor will insist on a waiting period, which will be different depending upon whether you had surgery or not. Then, even after you resume sex, he will give you a timeframe in which you shouldn’t try to become pregnant again because the uterus needs to return to normal size and healing needs to occur.

When your relations do resume, you may find that it reminds you of your tragedy and causes recurrent emotional and psychological pain. Guilt at not having been able to carry a baby to term, or losing the baby at delivery, may cause you to feel so inadequate that you’re fearful of trying again, and having sex seems just too risky, or mentally painful for you.

Or you may urgently wish to become pregnant again and try too hard, turning sex into a cold, tense, joyless reproductive act instead of a joyful coming together of two people who desire to express their love and passion for one another.

A husband may worry about physically hurting his wife. He may feel guilty for having put her through so much pain after conception.

You may avoid it out of self-protection. You may feel vulnerable. You may lose all interest. You may feel cheated because you’re not getting what you really desire out of sex: a healthy baby. Resentment and mistrust for one another freezes any desire to resume intimacy, just for the sake of intimacy.

Then there’s the issue of birth control. When to restart it; when to try again. How long should you wait? If you had a high risk pregnancy that resulted in a loss, are you even willing to try again on another pregnancy, taking the risk? A subsequent high risk pregnancy may curtail all sexual activity, for months.

Taking a risk was foremost in our minds. Initially, Chris said he wanted to “try again, right away!” That abruptly changed to, “I don’t even want to talk about it” for almost a year. He wouldn’t even discuss it, roll it around, think it over. Since I was ambivalent about it—okay, downright terrified about it, since I had a considerable risk of having the same problem in another pregnancy—I didn’t push him too hard into talking about it, or making a decision, at least for the first year. Then I started encouraging and “pushed” for more discussion, particularly since my reproductive clock was winding down, and I didn’t see how waiting any longer would make things any easier, physically or mentally. You’ll soon read the rest of our story, but eventually I finally sat him down and said, “We need to make a decision here. I’m not getting any younger, and I can’t keep wondering, guessing, about what we’re going to do. It’s claiming too much mental space, strangling me emotionally." (I appreciated his feelings, but I was beginning to feel as if I were being held hostage to them, manipulated by them.) "Either we decide to take a risk again, or we decide not to chance it. I can’t keep waffling around with ‘maybe.’”

But in my heart, I knew I couldn’t—shouldn’t—go forward with another pregnancy if I were doing it just to replace Victoria, or to have my perfect family: a girl to go with my boy. Unless I was willing, and able, to put my life and the outcome of another pregnancy in God’s hands, I had no business charging blindly down that road again.

So what to do? Above all, be honest and open with one another about your feelings. Love and respect each other through them. Find other ways to express togetherness; tread slowly. Be prepared mentally for the possibility of a subsequent high-risk pregnancy curtailing all sexual activity. But be aware that sexual abstinence, for any great length of time, can place an unbearable, damaging strain on your relationship. And this sexual tension can add an unnecessary stress burden to your grief journey.

I’ll leave you with two things to consider, biblical wisdom that might make you bristle, but can help you in this delicate, but critical process. Consider them carefully, prayerfully, remembering that as husband and wife you truly are one flesh:

“The marriage bed must be a place of mutuality—the husband seeking to satisfy his wife, the wife seeking to satisfy her husband. Marriage is not a place to ‘stand up for one’s rights.’ Marriage is a decision to serve the other, whether in bed or out. Abstaining from sex is permissible for a period of time if you both agree to it, and if it’s for the purposes of prayer and fasting—but only for such times. Then come back together again.” 1 Corinthians 7:3-5; The Message (The point: if you can't have pleasure, for whatever reason, figure out how to impart it to your partner. I can assure you that giving your spouse pleasure may likely be satisfaction and joy enough for you!) 

“…in lowliness of mind, let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” Philippians 2:3 (NKJV) (Same lesson as above.)

If you’re both pouring your heart, soul, mind and body into doing these things, seeking the other’s interests and needs above your own, remembering that you've made a solemn commitment to one another for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, you’ll emerge from your pain stronger, better, more in love, and with a deeper, more abiding faith in your marriage and one another.

But if you’re having difficulty getting the flames fanned again, I highly recommend Dr. Kevin Leman’s book, Turn Up the Heat: A Couples Guide to Sexual Intimacy, (Revell, 2009).


NEXT WEEK: My story continues with: One boy, one girl: The Perfect Family…shocking, hurtful comments,…and the pain of facing the world.


Until next week…

Thanks for joining me!!



(For your reading enjoyment and ease, I'm attempting to shorten my blogs!)

Monday, July 22, 2013

How Mothers and Fathers Survive Grief Together, and Apart

“He wondered why I wasn’t feeling better; I wondered why he wasn’t feeling worse.” —Sylvia

Your baby’s death may be the most serious, destabilizing crisis you and your spouse have ever faced. You’ve been tested, your relationship drawn closer, or dismantled. How you communicated with one another prior to the event may have a lot to do with how you endure this trauma. While your friends and family will most likely move on—quickly—and expect you to do likewise, the two of you may feel continuously lost, broken and upended, unable to heal and unable to converse with one another about your baby and your stalled healing. It may feel as though you’re floundering solo, individually grieving on your own, solitary islands, unable to connect, encourage or sympathize. Isolating yourselves from one another becomes the norm.

Often, immediately following the event, you’re drawn closer and grieve productively together. One may be supportive while the other spirals out of control. Then the roles can switch: when one’s up, the other’s down. When a mother withdraws from life and activities, her husband may gently encourage her, or even insist, that she get out, go see a movie, meet with a friend for tea, resume a dance class, or start something new she’s always wanted to do. Notice I said gently encourage or insist, not angrily demand that she engage in activities. It’s tempting to make impatient, high-handed, I-know-what’s-right-for-you-even-if-you-don’t, patronizing demands when you’re ready to move on, have cried yourself dry and don’t see any point in languishing in grief any longer. You want to move, and you expect everyone else—including your spouse—to just get over it and get on with it. (Remember that this event isn’t just all about you.) But one woman, Cecelia, expressed gratefulness when her husband dragged her to a choir rehearsal, even though she begged him not to make her go in. He encouraged her, and she found the two-year involvement therapeutic.

Long after the friends have stopped dropping by to just sit and listen, or calling to see how you’re doing, and the father has returned to work and daily routine, the mother will likely be in continued mourning. She wonders why her husband isn’t supportive; he wonders why she keeps dragging this out, making her life, and his, miserable. If you don’t understand that incongruent grief is common, this will add a burden and toll to your relationship and healing.
            “Deep fears usually lie at the root of this conflict. A bereaved father can
            become convinced that something is seriously wrong with his continually
            grieving wife. She then feels betrayed by the one person she had relied on
            to understand her, comfort her, and share in the loss.”1

Women, try to put yourself in the father’s shoes; men, try to put yourselves in the mother’s shoes. Ask yourself what they might be feeling under these circumstances. Give them the benefit of the doubt, no matter how mad, angry, tired, or confused you, or they, are. And a big one: Ask God to reveal your partner’s heart to you and reveal to you how you can better understand and help them. How you can really love them through their grief, like God loves us, unconditionally, through our self-absorption, crankiness, stubbornness, pain, shortsightedness, ignorance, anger, confusion, disillusionment and stupidity. Often love is not so much a feeling as it is an action. Take that action! Concentrate on nurturing one another.

Displaying Anger~
Some partners can handle angry outbursts of the other person quite well, without taking the eruption personally. Others cannot. They feel guilty, blamed, attacked, walloped, weak and impotent. This is what happened in our case: Chris took my outbursts as direct personal attacks, internalizing all of my spoken or silent communication, assuming I laid blame for Victoria’s death and my pain on him. Since he had effectively shut down his communication about the loss, my actions and words—from my hindsight perspective—were really cries for attention and reaffirmation of his love for me. His avoidance led me to display my anger in other ways, in other areas, and previously mundane issues became problematic. For over a year, it didn’t go well for us. I didn’t ‘get’ him; he didn’t ‘get’ me, and we groped around endlessly in emotional darkness.

Discussing the Loss~
Sometimes—actually, often—men think women don’t want to talk about the loss because talking about it will only keep the pain on the surface. So they avoid the subject. Unfortunately, this avoidance tactic can backfire, because his wife may really need and want to talk about the baby, about all of the new mothers and babies she’s encountering, about the careless comments people make to her. This is how Hilary described how her need to talk and her husband’s need to remain silent about the death of their twins affected them:

            “In the beginning we talked about the babies, the grief, and when to try
            to get pregnant again. But then Bennett said, ‘I want to talk about the loss
            but not all the time.’ I said, ‘If I can’t talk to you, who can I talk to?’ We
            both understood each other but couldn’t help each other.”2

If your partner cannot, or won’t talk about it, find someone or a support group willing to listen, and, (may I be blunt), stop resenting the other person for not grieving the way you are. (Outright insensitivity or negligent, unloving, abusive behavior is another topic.) Dwelling on their shortcomings will only cause resentment to build; and resentment eventually leads to total lack of empathy, anger, misunderstandings, feeling misunderstood, and emotional distancing, all of which can result in the fracturing, or dissolution, of your marriage. You are prone to becoming so entrenched and self-absorbed in your own pain and “justified” feelings that you’re only able to view the other person’s attitude and approach, and everything about them, as “wrong.”

If you do feel you’re pulling away from one another, understand that the feeling of disunion is most often due to fear and hurt, not lack of love for one another or love for your baby.

While in the state of Iowa this past week for my aunt’s memorial/family reunion, I read a story in the local newspaper, The Courier, about a couple, Heather and Drew Collins, who were recognizing the one year anniversary of their eight-year old daughter’s abduction and murder. I found some of their thoughts and words helpful for any parent who has lost a child:

            “…When you are sitting idle, aren’t keeping yourself busy, that’s when
            the monsters come. You have too much time to think,” Drew Collins said.

The article pointed out that the couple also remains focused on nurturing their family because of the toll such tragedies like theirs take on marriages. “The divorce rate is 98 percent, they say,” [Heather] Collins said. She reported that their marriage is still strong. “We also respect each other’s way of how we grieve,” she said. “I understand he grieves differently, and I’m OK with that.”

Her wisdom is solid: Respect. We grieve differently. And we need to be OK with that.

NEXT WEEK: Your grief and sexuality. What about another baby?

Thanks for joining me.

Until next week!



1 A Silent Sorrow: Pregnancy Loss; Kohn and Moffitt (Dell Publishing, 1992), page 50

2 Ibid; page 52 

Monday, July 15, 2013

How A Father Grieves

Love's not time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
within his bending sickle's compass come;
love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
but bears it out even to the edge of doom...
William Shakespeare

You feel helpless. You’re the family provider. Why couldn’t I have stopped this from happening? I need to focus my energies on making things better, getting over this; I need to return to work to recover some normalcy, make sure we don’t lose our insurance coverage, protect my wife, provide, provide, provide! 

While these things are true, focusing on them to the exclusion of identifying your pain and grief will likely derail you from the healing process and the anger and sadness that accompany it, feelings often anathema to men.

However, if you are a man who doesn’t shy from expressing his feelings with words and tears, you may find that others become uncomfortable around you when you do open up and bare your heart and soul this way. This response may add injury to your pain and cause you to withdraw.

Taking care of the sad details of death are a burden. And watching your spouse suffer physically and emotionally may leave you feeling helpless and avoidant.

What About Bonding With the Baby?
Your grief experience will be quite different from the mother’s. You relied more on dreams, expectations, and maybe the joy of feeling the baby move through the taut layer of your wife’s belly. You imagined, while she really felt and experienced life. Or your feelings of loss may be driven more by what you see your wife experiencing. To you, the event may feel more like birth, and death, than any life at all. Your pain may even revolve around not ever having been able to experience you baby’s life as your wife did.

Or perhaps you did develop strong emotional and physical attachments through attending every doctor visit and checkup, watching live ultrasound scans, hearing the heartbeat at every visit, feeling the kicks, or being with your newborn at delivery and holding and caring for them throughout their short life after birth. This is how a woman named Ceclia explained their loss:

            “Mark was with the baby the whole nine hours of his life, when I couldn’t be. I had
             tremendous concern for him because he was so bonded with the baby. He isn't 
             someone who expresses his emotions easily. He wasn't hysterical or anything but I
             could just see it in his face." 1

Moving On~
Most men feel if something is broken they need to labor to fix it, return it to normal, and make that happen just as quickly as they are able. You need to work to keep sane, to keep from feeling the pain, to ignore your perceived failure. As long as you’re moving, doing, functioning, you believe it’s all right. Withdrawing from friends and social activities may give you a break from your suffering. You may even arrive at a point where you feel you’ve expended all the tears you can possibly expend, and your official grieving period can close. It may indeed truly be over, but beware that if it’s not, if you have closed it prematurely, your grief may reappear in disturbing behaviors and thoughts long after your baby’s death.

If your wife experienced a medical emergency requiring emergency surgery or delivery (like mine did), you, as the father, may have been faced with agonizing questions requiring quick decisions. Your system may have been on overload with responsibilities, to both your wife and your baby, along with fear of your wife’s possible death and the impending death of your child. As soon as that was over, you may have abruptly switched mental gears to set aside worrying about your baby and flipped to worrying about your wife and her recovery and state of mind. Burying or ignoring your feelings won’t make them slink away. If you worried about your wife’s health during this event, let her know! That way she won’t misread your expressed and obvious relief about her well being as a lack of caring about the baby or the loss.

I knew Chris was frightened the night I started hemorrhaging in our bathroom. I could see it in his panicked eyes. Then he choked out the words, “What do I do?” When the paramedic turned to look at him after shutting the ambulance door to say gravely and without fanfare, “I don’t know if we’re going to make it on time,” then quickly hopped into the cab and drove away with me, Chris stood in the driveway for some time, asking himself what he was going to do now and wondering if he would soon be a widower. He busied himself cleaning the blood puddles from our carpets before driving to the hospital. On the way there all that rolled around in his mind—like a repeating tape—was: What if she’s not alive when I get there?

I could see the deep sadness in his eyes as he leaned over the bed railing to grasp my hand the night the end came. He’d been abruptly stopped at my room’s doorway and asked by Dr. Gordon to make a decision. (For the details of that part of my story, see my February 4, 2013 blog post.) Waiting for the outcome must have seemed like an eternity of fear for him. And I could see the immense relief on his face when he strode into the recovery room to once again lean over my bedrail, clasp my hand and announce that we’d had a girl.

Thinking back on it, I was so busy trying to keep Victoria—and myself—alive that I neglected to consider just how much stress Chris was experiencing, just how much of a violent emotional and physical roller coaster he rode: First your wife’s bleeding to death, now she’s not (and maybe we have a chance); then she’s bleeding again and things don’t look good, to now everything’s gone downhill so rapidly that it’s likely we’ll lose both your baby and your wife. 

I should have recognized, and appreciated, that Chris had a far different perspective on the events than I did. No wonder he started telling people: “I think we got off easy.”

For a man who’s a sought-after expert in fixing complex, technical problems, it must have been agony to have to stand aside and watch from the sidelines, and not have a clue what to do.

Men are also wired to protect, so they may expend any energy reserves on protecting their wives—and themselves—from experiencing anymore hurt. And you may find yourself suppressing anger toward your wife for not “being able” to provide the child you wanted. Voiced expressions from her—about her “failure” and inabilities sometimes add to your anger—even if you know she is not to be faulted.

Avoiding the subject only makes the situation worse. Your communication breaks down, and she ends up thinking that you really didn’t care as much about the baby as she did, and that you aren’t grieving the loss. Sharing these thoughts can bring you closer together as you work through them and try to understand your pain. It is important that you share your sorrow together.

Society also assumes that the mother, not the father, is the one experiencing the loss. Consequently, little or no attention is paid to the father during the time of grieving; no concern is given to his grief and needs. This only adds to man’s feelings of having to control his emotions, be strong and protect. One woman remembered the following encounter:
            “One of my friends from work came by with her husband. She had a lost a baby
            the year before and her husband looked at my husband and said, ‘How are you 
            doing? Nobody asks about us!’ My husband never felt he had as many outlets  
            to talk about the loss as I had."2 

Because men tend to compartmentalize things more than women—like when they go to work, they’ll probably promptly forget the argument they had with their wives that morning, while the wife ruminates on and replays it in her mind all day until it gets revisited and settled that night—they often find work a blessed release and diversion from their loss, pain and grieving. Being busy and productive gives men some sense of healing. A woman’s experience will be different. When she returns to work, she’ll likely encounter constant reminders of her loss that add to her pain. Don’t assume that what’s healing for one is healing for all!

            “Karen Reed, a nurse who has researched the impact of pregnancy loss on fathers, 
            has pointed out that men not only feel this initial need to be "strong," but also they  
            are often so conditioned by their male roles that they cannot even let themselves
            cry. This expectation is reinforced if you are obliged to make practical 
            arrangements following your loss."3

Expect your outlook on life to change. This father expressed it poignantly:
           “I am more reserved in life about things that would have excited me before.
            The losses put a lid on things for me. the disappointment is overwhelming. I 
            lost my innocence."4

Unfinished Grief~
The demands placed on a father after his baby’s death may pre-empt recognition of emotions as well as a complete, healing grief process. Grieving may be abruptly curtailed by a return to a demanding work schedule. And through it all, you may still be assailed with feelings of jealousy, anger, and doubt about making future plans, feelings that shock and destabilize you. This is where talking to understanding friends, family, clergy and grief counselors can be so helpful. Verbalizing your feelings to other sympathetic men can be immensely helpful in the grieving process.

And when anniversaries, holidays and family gatherings occur, don’t be surprised when you’re flooded anew with these feelings. It’s okay. It’s normal, and you’re not weak!

Finally, considering setting aside a special time each week for you to recall your baby, write about your feelings (many men journal), or talk about your loss and grief with a friend or a support group. Be proactive about doing what you can to resolve your pain. It really isn’t going to disappear just because you hope or will it to.


NEXT WEEK: Grieving Together

Thanks for joining me.

Until next week!



1 A Silent Sorrow: Pregnancy Loss; Kohn and Moffitt (Dell Publishing, 1992) page 39
2 Ibid; page 43-44
3 Ibid; page 41
4 Ibid; page 44