Pregnancy Loss: Dealing with Well-Meaning Relatives

My husband and I have lost two babies through miscarriage. My mother-in-law was visiting and I asked her to use the name we gave our last baby. She said that she had not been born and that we shouldn't have named her. I was devastated. My husband refuses to support me and gets angry if I criticize his family. Am I being unreasonable?

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Gayle Peterson

Gayle Peterson, PhD, is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She is a clinical member of the Association... Read more

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.

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. 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.

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 stop criticizing us for naming our child."

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.

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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