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Grieving Over Pregnancy Loss

QUESTION: My husband and I have lost two babies through miscarriage. My mother-in-law was visiting and I asked her to use the name my husband and I had given our last baby. She responded that our baby had not been born and that we shouldn't have named her. I was devastated. She has hurt me before, but my husband gets angry with me if I criticize his family. He refuses to help. Am I being unreasonable?

ANSWER: Grieving the loss of what could have been is one of the most difficult mourning processes, whether it be pregnancy loss or infertility. You are suffering with a very personal and intimate relationship to motherhood that is invisible to others.

You experienced your pregnancies as lost children, which they are for you. Your attachment to motherhood has grown to the point of experiencing your baby and naming her. Despite the fact that your pregnancies ended early, you were already bonding, even mothering. To you, your babies, not your fetuses, have died.

But for your mother-in-law, the pregnancies were "miscarriages." Still, this difference in perception is not your main problem. Your marital bond is more of an issue!

Your marriage is being strained by loss. While grief can bring a couple together, it can also drive them apart. The challenge for bringing the two of you together at this time lies in your ability to grieve together, but not necessarily in the same manner.

Your marriage is already stressed by unresolved loyalty issues, which any new couple must settle. The additional failure in not being able to bring forth your own family at this time further strains the weak points in your relationship.

You may be looking for support by asking that others around you grieve your loss as you do. If your husband is comfortable talking with you about his baby and calling her by name, then the two of you have an agreement together. But do not expect others to experience this in the same way. Talk with your husband to see if he is, in fact, comfortable with this way of mourning. He may be unwilling to reproach his mother because he feels similarly himself. Allow there to be different mourning styles between the two of you.

For example, both of you may engage in a private burial ritual together. Your husband may support you by engaging with you, but he may not have initiated it, or needed it for himself. To ask that he support you does not mean that he experiences his grief exactly like you do, or has the same needs in mourning his loss.

Validate your own process by talking to other women who have similar experiences to your own. Joining a local support group in your area, such as RESOLVE, may help you get in touch with others who are dealing with this special kind of grief, so that you do not feel alone with this pain.

Now, for mother-in-law! If your mother-in-law openly criticizes you for grieving, and you are not asking her to feel similarly, then she is crossing a line. Your husband may support you by aligning with you, while allowing his mother her own experience: "Mom, I know you see it differently, but I want you to respect our decision on this. Please refrain from criticizing us for naming our child."

However, if you are asking her to call your child by name when she cannot experience having a "grandchild" to begin with, you may be expecting too much! Honor your own grieving process, but refrain from asking others to do or say things that are inauthentic to their experience.

This is a very difficult and traumatic period in your life. Reach out to your husband to strengthen your couples' bond and find the treasure of a deeper understanding for one another. It is natural for you to want others to reflect your grief in exactly the way that you experience it, but do not continue to see this as your answer.

Every marriage must grow from the honeymoon stage in which partners feel like one being, to the second stage of marriage which is the ability to acknowledge and not be threatened by differences. Find out how your husband really feels, and accept his -- as well as your mother-in-law's -- different ways of mourning.

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Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter..

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