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Helping my husband grieve

QUESTION: Recently my partner and I lost our first baby at five months. It was an incredibly sad experience for us both, especially considering our previous problems with infertility. Everyone acknowledges my pain, but they ignore my husband, who seems to be suffering in total silence. He doesn't say a lot to me, and feeling so drained myself, I don't know what to do. Can you help?

ANSWER: You and your husband have lost not only your baby, but the dream of family that your child represented. Considering your fertility challenges, no wonder you are feeling drained and your husband has fallen silent. You both may be suffering from symptoms of depression that is common when infertility is prolonged.

But it is also true that men tend not to share feelings as readily as women, leaving them at greater risk for depression over time. Your observation that people are not reaching out to him in his grief is also likely to be gender related.

Seek support from others who have been there

Groups such as RESOLVE have been set up just for the purpose of helping couples through this period of darkness, men and women alike. And research has linked this kind of support to lessening depression. Additionally, women who have been dealing with infertility and who have received treatment to stem the tide of depression before it settles in, have also been able to become pregnant and sustain a viable pregnancy at statistically higher levels.

Sharing your feelings with others who have experienced the depth of disappointment and pain is part of the healing process, and affects both mind and body. Attend a support group together. When your husband hears another man express some of the feelings he is going through, he will be more likely to find words to express his own pain.

Fathers may grieve differently than mothers

Sometimes, partners do not talk about their loss to one another because they each fear that differences in their experiences will be hurtful to their partner. Couples can become afraid that talking about their feelings will make it worse.

Your husband may indeed grieve differently than you do and talking about your feelings to one another may reveal differences in your experience. Be prepared to accept his feelings of inadequacy and even his anger, and that he may mourn in a different way, even a more silent way. But do find some way to share the journey you are on together, even if it is beyond words, such as creating a ritual to help you mourn your child's death.

The role of symbolic ritual in healing

Consider a ritual as a symbolic, non-verbal way for honoring what the two of you are going through in your life together. Take a trip to the beach, the mountains or somewhere in nature you find healing. Allow nature to touch your pain. Take walks, experience the sunset and rest beneath the sounds of waterfalls. Relaxation away from the usual day's activities can be a powerful intervention in helping to create an opportunity for reconnecting and reclaiming your relationship.

Suggest to your husband that you create a ritual to mourn your lost child. Plant a flower, write a poem, or burn a candle to mark the entry and exit of this little spirit in your lives. It is important to say "good-bye" before you can say "hello". Allow a ritual to hold the pain of the past, and eventually the future will present promise, as you recover from your loss.

Depression associated with infertility peaks at about 2 years, and does not generally resolve for 6 years. Untreated, it can also drive a couple apart and leave your marriage depleted. Losing your child is like having your dream, and then seeing it slip through your fingers. The discouragement can be profound.

Do not delay! Ask your husband to attend a support group or couples' counseling to help with this grieving process. And consider creating a healing ritual to help you through this period of darkness.

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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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