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The Effects of Stillbirth on a Marriage

By Carissa Lawrence ; Updated June 13, 2017

Hearing that their baby has died in the womb can be heartbreaking news for parents. After memorializing their baby's death with a funeral, cremation or other ceremony, many married couples feel effects of the loss in different ways -- some for years after the stillbirth occurred -- as they deal with their grief separately and together.

Tension in the Relationship

Emotions that parents may feel as a result of the loss of a baby include denial, deep sadness, shock, numbness, anger, guilt and depression. Parents may attempt to cope with their loss by jumping into action, or they might become silent and secretive. According to the March of Dimes, tension is sometimes created between married couples who deal with their grief in different ways. Some couples who feel tension as a result of a stillbirth find it helpful to seek counseling or join support groups for parents who have experienced pregnancy loss.

Risk of Separation

Even in situations where a stillbirth isn't a factor, sustaining a marriage can be hard. According to a study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, couples who have had stillbirths and miscarriages are at a greater risk of their relationships ending than couples whose babies were carried to full term. The results of this study showed that couples who had stillborn babies ended their relationships up to nine years after the loss occurred. While having a stillborn baby doesn't guarantee that a marriage will end, the experience appears to increase the overall risk of divorce or separation.

Effects on Intimacy

According to the Compassionate Friends Network, husbands and wives may react differently to intimacy after a stillbirth has happened. One partner might feel an increased desire for closeness and seek intimacy as reassurance that the relationship will continue normally. The other partner may become withdrawn and avoid intimacy, viewing it as inappropriate in light of the baby's death. Both of these reactions are normal, and couples who have troubles with intimacy after a stillbirth can usually reestablish their connection with time and patience with each other.

Growing Closer Together

According to Lisa Athan, a Grief Recovery Specialist who facilitates workshops and training programs on grief and loss, it's natural for parents to go through a period of grief after the loss of a baby. Sometimes friends and family, who may not understand the deep loss parents are feeling, are not able to provide support to grieving parents. The loss of social support often causes couples to turn to each other for support. This shared grief brings many couples closer together as they support each other in their healing process.

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