Tara Shafer is the co-founder of ReconceivingLoss.com, an online resource center to help people cope with pregnancy and infant loss, which includes gift subscriptions to offer friends in times of need.
It is difficult for the husband or the partner, who has not him or herself suffered the physical loss, to understand the complexities associated with sex after a miscarriage.
At precisely the moment that couples would benefit the most from open avenues of communication, these avenues may deteriorate. This leaves partners alone, struggling to navigate their experience of loss without adequate support.
A woman who has suffered a loss may be experiencing the physical manifestations of loss. She may be bleeding and/or lactating. Additionally, she may feel emotionally spent, raw and isolated.
It is critical that partners understand that there is a real distinction between sex and intimacy. Says Dr. Jessica Zucker, Ph.D, Clinical Psychologist:
After a miscarriage, women might feel drained both physically and emotionally. Research has found that a majority of women harbor self-blame after the loss of a pregnancy and frequently feel that their bodies have ‘failed’ them. She may feel alienated from her body. Therefore, sex might not be at the top of her mind, but connecting surely is.
It is helpful for the partner to consider these points in navigating sex after loss.
- Have an understanding wherein time spent together will not lead to sex. Express that talking in bed will not lead to sex. This enables the woman who has experienced the loss to connect without the pressure of sex. This minimizes avoidant behavior; I know many women who avoid being alone with their partner after a loss. However much they want to be connected to their partner (and they do), they don’t want to have sex to achieve this.
- Understand that her need to take a break from sex is not personal. Many women describe feelings of anger toward their partner following loss. However, a good many of them will privately describe the anger as rooted in the perceived inability of their partner to understand. The more one finds ways to show up, the less the residual resentment.
- Understand that sex is a minefield. In resuming sex, one faces the possibility of becoming pregnant again. This is a loaded and frightening issue for a woman who has suffered a loss – no matter how certain she is that she wants to get pregnant again. It is equally difficult if she has taken the brave step of electing not to attempt another pregnancy. Sex is reminiscent of wanting, loving, and losing. Always respect the lasting tinge of bittersweet in these things. This won’t always be as close to the surface, but neither will it vanish.
- Consider things to comfort her in the immediate aftermath. Understand that she may feel very confused. Whereas, one day she may seem as though she is functioning fairly normally, the next day she may be more overtly emotional. Dr. Zucker reminds that efforts to connect through mutual verbal support, laying together, cuddling, are all important.
- Understand that this is both normal and temporary. As time passes, your sex life will resume. Depending on the individual circumstances of the loss, this may take a little bit of time.
After my and my husband’s own loss — a stillbirth at seven months — there were many nights in which he and I drifted aimlessly around our house. We loved each other. We wished to connect and yet we sometimes stumbled. I would go outside and watch the inky clouds against the thready winter moon. He would read a book inside.
But he was patient.
He was kind.
It was hard.
We made it through.