What to Expect When You and Your Wife Experience Pregnancy Loss:
When my paternal grandmother passed away, my dad sat shiva (7 days of mourning). My mom spent the week answering the phone, answering the door, taking coats, serving meals, and holding court for the many visitors who came to comfort my dad and his siblings on their loss. My dad found the ritual of shiva to be cathartic and comforting; my mom found it exhausting and depleting.
Shortly thereafter, a rabbi shared a powerful insight with my mother: apparently there is an opinion among the Rishonim (“the first ones,” the leading rabbis who lived approximately during the 11th to 15th centuries) that children in law should sit shiva upon the loss of their in laws. Although we do not pasken (follow this ruling) according to this view, it was validating for my mother to know that Judaism recognized the significance of her relationship with her mother in law. My mom had spent all week dutifully tending to the needs of her husband and the other “official” mourners. But the reality was that, on some level, my mom was mourning too.
My mom had been a daughter in law to my grandmother for nearly 40 years. In the last few years of my grandmother’s life, my mom was actually her primary caretaker. So while she was not an official mourner, my mom was grieving and mourning in her own right. But of all the visitors who came to comfort the mourners, none came to comfort my mom.
Why do I mention the above anecdote? I share this story because in my mother’s plight, I can begin to understand my recent miscarriage from my husband’s point of view.
When I lost the pregnancy, I was the one who was hospitalized and hooked up to an IV. I was the one who required medical attention and extra care. I was the one showered with communal support for weeks afterward.
But my husband— who was busy waiting on me hand and foot during and after the miscarriage— had also lost a pregnancy.
So, to all the husbands out there, we see you. We feel for you. Whatever your feelings are, know that they are 100% valid.
And in case you feel at a loss of what to do or what to say, here are some tips from a woman who’s been there.
Wishing you and your wife a complete recovery of mind, body and spirit.
Top Ten Tips for Husbands By a Woman Who’s Been There
1. Educate yourself with the medical facts so you know more or less what your wife is experiencing and what you can expect. Accompany your wife to the doctor’s office. Ask the doctor any questions you may have. Do your research (online or elsewhere) so you can separate fact from fiction. Miscarriage is a difficult circumstance that can leave both of you feeling helpless. Unfortunately, neither of you can stop the miscarriage. But knowledge of what your wife is going through will give you a general roadmap for navigating this stressful time. It can empower you to know how you can help your wife to heal and process the loss.
2. If your wife likes being pampered, take this opportunity to pamper her. Treat her to indulgences that will make her feel feminine, adored and valued. A miscarriage makes a woman feel terrible on every level. Your wife is physically drained, exhausted, achy and in pain. She is also very hormonal (more about that later). She is likely grieving. It has been said that a miscarriage is like an obnoxious, heavy period. Your wife may even feel like she has gone through a version of labor, with painful contractions and tons of bleeding, but with no baby to show for her efforts. Imagine the physical and mental toll this takes on a person. Your wife needs time and space to recover from this ordeal.Your job, as one rabbi has said, is to make your wife feel like a queen. Remind her that no matter what she looks or feels like, no matter if she bears you a baby or not, you love her unconditionally. Hark back to your engagement and honeymoon phase. Take a page or two out of your old courtship playbook (think flowers, chocolate, perfume… you know the drill). Make time for date nights so you can spend quality time together. Even a walk around the neighborhood can be so rejuvenating for your wife— and for your relationship.3. Help your wife get (more) help around the house. Taking care of herself post miscarriage is a full time job. Her recovery will be easier, smoother and faster if she has a clean house, a stocked fridge, and nutritious meals that someone else plans and makes. If someone offers to help, take it! Don’t be a hero or a martyr. There is a time to accept help. This is that time.4. Don’t assume you know what your wife is experiencing or feeling. Every woman is different and every miscarriage is different. What may comfort one person may offend another. In fact, your wife may even consider the very same comment insensitive at one time and comforting at another time.Instead of assuming you know how she is feeling physically and emotionally, ask your wife: “how are you feeling?” And, “I want to be here for you. How can I help?” Listen and respond accordingly.5. Understand that your wife is most likely grieving the loss of the pregnancy, and know that people grieve in many different ways. Familiarizing yourself with the 5 stages of grief can be helpful. However, be aware that an individual rarely experiences the 5 stages of grief strictly in order or within a short time frame.Depending on how far along your wife’s pregnancy has progressed, you may not be experiencing the miscarriage as much of a loss. Most women do tend to experience miscarriage as a loss, even when it happens early on in the pregnancy. Remember that the baby was literally growing inside of your wife. With the miscarriage, she has lost a part of herself along with hopes and dreams of a baby that will never be born. Listen to your wife and validate, validate, validate.Many husbands do in fact experience the miscarriage as a loss. It is healthy for you to feel your feelings, to grieve, to cry. We women don’t have a monopoly on the feelings market. 🙂 It is a good idea to share your thoughts and feelings about the miscarriage with your wife. Your shared feelings can be a source of comfort to one another. Ultimately, this shared experience can even deepen and strengthen your marriage.6. Don’t blame yourself or your wife for what happened. Barring serious injury, there is nothing one can do to cause a miscarriage nor to stop it. An early miscarriage is often a sign of genetic abnormalities that would have caused the fetus to be non viable. Later miscarriages and stillbirths are unfortunately just as unavoidable. Blaming yourself or your spouse can cause undue pain in an already painful situation. It is not your fault.7. Expect your wife’s hormones to be raging. In other words: Expect the unexpected.8. Don’t judge your wife (or your marriage) by the way she acts during and immediately following the miscarriage. Hormones can cause wild fluctuations in moods, thoughts, words and behaviors. It is certainly very unpleasant for a man to be subjected to his wife’s raging hormones. Please try your best to be forgiving of her during this time. Believe it or not, it is actually very unpleasant for your wife to be overloaded with hormones. She is likely to have pregnancy hormones as well as postpartum hormones cycling through her bloodstream at the same time. Your wife does not relish the agitated, unsettled state this puts her in. She would much rather be the cool, calm, collected girl you love to be with.9. Plan something special for the mikvah (ritual bath) night following the miscarriage. Get a babysitter. Clean your bedroom. Make the bed with fresh sheets and put a note on your wife’s pillow. Make reservations at your favorite restaurant, order takeout or cook for her. Plan a fun, relaxed activity to do together. Help your wife feel cherished and calm.The first mikvah immersion after a miscarriage can help your wife put closure on her experience. But it is also an opportunity for a new beginning.10. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or advice from a friend, family member, rabbi, or therapist. Avail yourself of any resources that are helpful to you, and discard those that are not helpful.
Miscarriages are very common, which means that quite a few people have been where you and your wife are. You may draw wisdom and strength from those who have been there and who have come out the other side.
There are many miscarriage resources available for women, both within the Jewish community and in the general population. There seem to be fewer resources designed for men, which is part of why I am writing this letter. An estimated 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage, which means that quite a lot of husbands have experienced a miscarriage of their own.
Perhaps one day, you will be the one who has gone through it and who has come out the other side. Hopefully you will emerge from this with a stronger marriage and a deeper bond with your wife, having weathered this storm together. Perhaps one day, you can be there to help guide and give chizuk (strength) to someone else.
May Hashem (God) comfort you and your wife on your loss.