This Pain Feels Too Great to Bear
To Miss a Person We Have Never Met
What exactly constitutes as infertility? Infertility is the inability to achieve or maintain pregnancy after 12 months of regular unprotected sexual intercourse. In the U.S., 1 out of 8 couples have trouble getting pregnant. Couples facing this challenge often find that much of the joy and spontaneity around sex gets lost. Being physically intimate has now become “results driven”, “we’re on the clock”, and feeling that pressure can be so difficult. This element in a relationship that is so fundamental to a couple’s intimacy is now painful or even absent. The act of sex itself can be a source of grief and emotional pain for the couple for what is represents – “we’re not a fertile couple.” It is so important for couples who feel like they just need some space and distance from sex to be able to remain physically and emotionally close. If couples take intercourse off the table, they still have affectionate touch, playful touch, and sensual touch available to them.
I Held You in My Dreams
When couples who have been trying to get pregnant for some time are able to achieve pregnancy, they can feel a whole host of mixed emotions. What they have been longing for has finally happened. And, not all pregnancies will be successful. About 1 in 5 clinically diagnosed pregnancies will be lost; Here we’re not including those pregnancies lost prior to a medical doctor’s confirmation. Perinatal loss includes miscarriage, stillbirth, and neonatal death. This may be new ground for a lot of readers, particularly because our culture doesn’t talk about these losses, so let’s get our terms defined first before we move ahead.
- Miscarriage is a loss that is less than or equal to 20 weeks gestation.
- Stillbirth is a loss that is greater than 20 weeks gestation.
- Neonatal loss happens from birth to up to 28 days of life.
There are a lot of misconceptions and myths around miscarriage that should be covered here. First, the myth that miscarriages are rare has already been addressed, but it’s an important one to dispel since believing it can lead many women to feel shame and isolation. Women may believe that it’s their fault, that they did something to cause it, “I drank too much coffee”, “I could have prevented it from happening.” This is simply untrue. Most miscarriages are caused by a developmental problem with the embryo. The myth that this only happens to women over 35 still has traction. The silence around miscarriage in our culture only serves to perpetuate these misunderstandings and sends an implicit message that we should feel shame. Worse yet, well intentioned friends and family members can end up saying incredibly hurtful things like, “Everything happens for a reason” or “Well, you can always try for another one.”
How Old Would They Be Now??
26,000 stillbirths occur every single year in the U.S. That’s an unbelievably painful statistic to reckon with. That is 68 stillborn babies every day or 1 in every 160 births. Again, there is scant literature out there that addresses treatment for the couple after suffering this type of loss which further implicates our cultural aversion to the issue. This baby had a heart beat. In many cases, the mother felt it moving. It may have been given a name, which gives him or her even more form, more identity, and gives the partners more emotional pain. The couples that face this loss are grappling with the paradox of wanting to hold on to their loss while at the same time trying to let go of it. There is no birth or death certificate given to the parents of a child that dies in utero. For the couple, their loss is real, and yet they are missing some of the symbols and rituals that others have when they are in mourning. It is very important for these couple to not let themselves or their family narrative be defined by the loss. They will never forget, but they can begin to write the next chapter in their story.
The most frequent cause of neonatal death is premature birth. Parents have the choice of holding their baby after death, and for different people, for different reasons, this can help the grieving process or it can stunt it. All of these losses can be traumatizing. Loss triggers previous loss. It is not uncommon for partners to be out of sync in their own grieving process. People go in and out of grief, and this back and forth can feel like an emotional rollercoaster, especially when one partner feels ready to try again for a baby and the other partner is nowhere near being ready, or may even resolve to not try again because the thought of going through this again is unbearable. There is an incredibly powerful article about one mother’s story and the death of her infant in the New Yorker written by Ariel Levy called Thanksgiving in Mongolia. Please get your tissues ready before reading.
What Can Couples Do When They’re in Hell?
This article is only a surface visit to these issues. If you are struggling with any of these types of loss, you are not alone. You do not have to remain alone. Professional help is one phone call away. If you know someone who is going through, or who has gone through a version of this unimaginable pain, please share this article with them.
“I carry your heart with me (I carry it in my heart) I am never without it.”