By Monica Novak –
A reader (I’ll call her Lori) wrote in one day to say that her husband had been contacted by a woman he had dated nearly 30 years earlier. She told him she had broken up with him because she had been pregnant. She went on to deliver a premature baby who died after only an hour. Lori wanted to understand why, after all this time, the woman was contacting her husband. He had known nothing of the pregnancy all these years and now felt a great loss. Here is my response to Lori:
I certainly understand your distress over this matter, and I’m sorry for the pain and confusion it is causing both you and your husband. He’s been hit with two blows at once: learning that he fathered a child AND that the child died before he had a chance to even say hello. First, I would like to tell you that it is very common for women who lost a baby in miscarriage, stillbirth, or infant death twenty or more years ago to suddenly and unexpectedly find themselves dealing with the grief that they’ve suppressed all these years, even if the child was unplanned or unwanted and they never acknowledged the pain at the time of the loss. Thirty years ago, pregnancy and infant loss grief support was just beginning to take root, and most hospitals offered little if anything in the way of support. Too frequently, mothers who gave birth to a stillborn or dying infant were “protected” from the emotional pain by caregivers who whisked the baby away at birth, never to see or hold their child. If this woman was young, and especially if she was hiding the pregnancy from her family and friends, she likely would have denied any grief or sense of loss she was feeling and would not have sought help. But these experiences, if not dealt with at the time, stay buried deep in our hearts until something causes them to resurface.
Two stories come to mind from my book, The Good Grief Club. When my daughter Miranda was stillborn, I found my aunt unexpectedly in my hospital room asking to hold her. She couldn’t even verbalize why she had asked. I found out later that she had miscarried a baby thirty years earlier and had never been allowed to deal with the grief, so she stuffed it. She thought that by holding my dead baby, she would finally be able to grieve for the child she never knew. Another woman I wrote about had lost one of her infant twin sons nearly thirty years earlier. She never got to hold him and felt alone in her grief. Everyone told her she should be happy she still had a living son, so she suppressed her true feelings of grief for her deceased son. That living son grew up and his wife became pregnant with triplets. But when those three baby girls were delivered prematurely and, one by one, she watched each of her granddaughters take their last breath, those emotions that she had buried came rushing back, sending her into a deep depression. She, along with her son and daughter-in-law, began attending Share support group meetings together.
Regardless of whether this woman who contacted your husband was planning on raising the child or giving it up for adoption, she most likely was deeply affected by the experience of the baby’s death. Something might have happened in her life recently to trigger the feelings of loss she never allowed herself to feel. She might not have anyone else to share those feelings with who would understand like the father of the baby, even if he never knew the baby had existed. She might also be feeling regret or guilt that she never told him about his child. I would encourage you to keep the lines of communication open and allow him to grieve in whatever way he needs. Men and women often grieve differently, and it’s common for men to be withdrawn and quiet, or even angry while they process the emotions. Society, in general, still does not understand the deep sense of loss a parent feels when an unborn or newborn baby dies, especially if nobody saw or held the baby. If your husband needs help dealing with this experience, there are support groups, both local and online, that will be able to help: Share Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support, Inc. at www.nationalshare.org and The Compassionate Friends at www.compassionatefriends.org.
I wish you both healing and peace.
Monica Novak is the author of The Good Grief Club, the highly-praised memoir about her friendships with six other women that carried them through the ups and downs of grief and motherhood following the loss of their babies in miscarriage, stillbirth, and infant death. She also serves as editor of Open to Hope’s Pregnancy and Infant Loss blog page. For more information about her book, and for pregnancy loss and infant death resources, please visit her website at www.thegoodgriefclub.com or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.Tags: grief, hope