Venus and Mars: Crucial Differences in Grieving

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By Nancy W. (Part 2 in a series)

No two people ever grief the same way.
No two people ever grieve the same way.

There are some crucial things to understand about the process you are embarking on.

First, no two people ever grieve in the same way. This is because nearly every culture on earth prescribes different roles by sex and biology. Men protect, women nurture. Men are the breadwinners, while women bear the children. This is very important to grasp.

Consider this: Men, especially in Western culture, may grow up believing it is their duty and role to be the breadwinner, the protector, the fixer. They may strive in usually very concrete ways to fix things when they are broken. They may be action oriented. They may have been taught to tough things out. They may need to feel that things are under control, orderly and predictable. Very “yang.”

Women are different. They may be brought with a cultural expectation that they be nurturers, or told their very biology gives them caring hearts and unfailing stamina. They may be expected to be networkers who use rather fuzzy logic and intuition to come at solutions to problems. They’re often expected to relinquish control for a greater good, or be to wait for solutions to reveal themselves. They may fee that they’re softer, more emotional, less rational and more feeling. Very “yin.”

When I used to teach Childbirth Education, way back when, I would have my husband come help me with the segment on Dads. Dads view pregnancy as a time for grasping the responsibility of fatherhood, and providing for a family, and for dreaming of the baby to come. Most Dads don’t take any of this too lightly, so their mate’s pregnancy can be a time of emotional upheaval, even if they don’t share it with their mate. After all, they are supposed to be the protector and fixer. Nine months is a long time to get prepared.

But, for the mom, the entire experience is different. Beginning with the implantation of that tiny embryo in the wall of their uterus. From then on, nothing is ever the same. (Editor’s note: This is true for same sex couple as well, with the one who carried the pregnancy facing a different experience than the one who did not.)

Do you know that the placenta produces the equivalent of 100 birth control pills’ worth of hormones, mainly estrogen, each day in order to sustain the pregnancy? Imagine popping over three months of medication every day! It would certainly alter how we feel. Did someone say emotional? There is no word to describe the crescendo of feelings which can overcome a pregnant woman. Pregnancy is absolutely intoxicating! And once the mom feels the first quickening, there begins the symbiotic and loving dance, a yearning pas de deux which lasts a lifetime, in many ways.

But for us, when it was time for us to deliver our children, our deliveries were a time of travail, and for us, incredible, unspeakable loss. A loss of not only all the dreams, but the loss of the miracle of pregnancy itself. It is utterly devastating! And, no matter how wonderful a dad is, he will never be able to completely comprehend the enormity of that loss, the totality of the devastation – physically as well as emotionally.

So, what now?

And so there you are. Bereft. Adrift in a dark sea of grief. Crazed. Unexpected. Alone. Scorned by society. Torn with emotions. Feeling, perhaps, unsupported by your mate who is also dealing with grief. What now?

Back to where I started. First you must understand that no two people grieve alike, or on the same schedule. This is very hard for most couples to fully grasp. Men may seem to be in denial. After all, society has put it on them to be “macho,” strong, protective, but please understand that to be in denial is to be grieving, just the same. And remaining in denial takes enormous energy. It is exhausting. And how frustrated our partners must be when they cannot find an easy “fix” for our pain. Thus we may see and feel their anger. No wonder we don’t often see tears! How sad, but how true for many partners, especially men.

Women, on the other hand are adrift in a sea of hormones, immediately postpartum. Their bodies still feel pregnant, but in their minds they know the terrible truth. That there is no baby in their womb anymore. Their milk comes in, but there is no baby to suckle. Their empty arms literally ache to hold the infant who is forever gone. No wonder we curl up in a fetal position and want to die. No wonder we wail and howl.

I would take my puppy, Rover, out in the middle of the night and I would cry so hard, rail at the stars, howl at the moon! Poor little Rover would gallantly lick my tear stained face. He loves me that way to this day. He grew up suckled on my tears, poor pup. I was simply inconsolable for weeks. My husband was at a loss to help me.

It will always be this way. Partners will grieve differently. Even with our two-mommie couples here at Ending a Wanted Pregnancy, each partner’s experience with the grief process is different.

And here is the most important aspect of losing a child: when one person in a couple loses, say a grandparent, or sibling, the other member can be strong and supportive. But when there is the loss of a baby or child, the loss is shared. Neither parent may have the energy to support the other. As a result, we must both attempt to understand when our partner can’t be there for us.

It is this disparity which shakes the very foundations of a relationship following the death of a baby or child. Remember this, and try to cut each other some slack, for the sake of your relationship. Give yourselves time to heal, at least a year by most standards. Do your grief work. Each of you!

Editors note: Nancy W. has given us permission to divide her “long post on grief” into this series of five articles:

Part 1 – What is Grief Work?
Part 2 – Venus and Mars: Crucial Differences in Grieving
Part 3 – The Grieving Year
Part 4 – The Big D: Depression
Part 5 – The Tapestry

photo credit: melynaguona via photopin cc