Home About Dr Gayle Counseling Services Speaking Services Online Seminars Articles Press Room Books Contact
Ask Dr. Gayle

Grieving for a lost child

QUESTION: My husband and I had a son who died when he was four days old from a pulmonary hemorrhage. He was born a month and a half early. My husband recently moved out of our room to sleep on the sofa in our living room and he refuses to talk to me about our son. I know he's grieving, and he knows I'm here for him to talk, but he doesn't want to connect with me. I'm really beginning to worry about my husband. I love him so much, but I'm afraid his grief will tear our marriage apart. What can I do?

ANSWER: You are right to be worried about your marriage. Your grief must be shared or it is likely to drive you apart.

First, reach out to your husband about your concern for your marriage. Let him know that you are not only grieving your child, but that you are missing him deeply at this time. Express your concern for your relationship. But approach him, softly. Refrain from criticism, or anything he might interpret as blame. Instead, show him your vulnerability and sadness about his withdrawal in a gentle manner that clearly communicates your love.

If your words have no influence, put your feelings on paper. Write him a letter, again letting him know that you miss him and need him by your side, now more than ever. Express your desire to mourn with him, rather than alone. Let him know that, while you have lost your child, you do not want to lose him, too.

Although it is natural for husbands and wives to mourn differently, it is critical that spouses turn towards each other, rather than away from each other in time of crisis. How the two of you connect through this period will either strengthen, or threaten your bond.

If you are unable to reach your husband on your own, ask him to come to a grief counselor with you, or attend a group for parents who have lost children. Your local children's hospital is likely to have a social worker that can help families through this period of bereavement.

Your husband is suffering in solitude. The sorrow of losing a newborn is distinct from other loss, as it represents not only the loss of a child, but of lost promise. It is sometimes difficult for others to understand the depths of this kind of mourning, making it that much harder to share. But isolation during this period may lead to a more insidious, ongoing depression. And disconnecting during this time will certainly make for an anemic marriage.

Life has brought you into intense contact with the vulnerability of becoming parents. But, perhaps there is opportunity to create a deeper bond through your experience together.

Invite your partner to grieve with you, instead of withdraw from your relationship, in this painful time. Ask for his help to build a bridge between the two of you, rather than a wall of punishing silence.

Nature has not given you a choice in this matter. But you do have some choice about how you respond to life's sorrow. If you can use this pain to find solace in your relationship, your child's brief life on this earth will hold long-lasting meaning in your lives together.

Return to Previous Page

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.

Return to Dr. Gayle Peterson's Home Page

Copyright 1996-2003.  Gayle Peterson All rights reserved.

Send Comments and Inquiries to Dr. Gayle Peterson at gp@askdrgayle.com