I spent the weekend mulling over ways in which my husband showed up for me when I was experiencing crippling grief after each of our four miscarriages. Last night, as we were getting ready for bed, I asked him how he found the capacity for my grief as well as his own. He looked over at me, taken off guard, and said simply: “that’s hard to put into words… I knew I had to be there. That was the most important thing.”
A few minutes later he said, quietly, “I hope I showed up for you in the way you needed me to.”
My husband would say “it’s the little things.” But in truth, nothing about these things felt “little” as I was floundering: fluffing the pillows, keeping track of the medical bills that flooded in, scheduling follow-up appointments with my doctors, researching local support groups, encouraging me to take my time.
There are so many ways our partners can show up for us as we process and heal. A solid place to start is in the understanding of how your partner receives love and support than trying to meet them exactly where they are. No pressure, just patience, and acceptance.
Grief can present in many ways. At times, my grief was explosive. At times, silent and withdrawn. Each of these presentations required a different kind of support and navigating that can be, without doubt, challenging; however, offering consistent reassurance, validation, and compassion are beautiful ways to handle any presentation of grief.
Here are some actionable ways to show up:
Provide nourishment. Nutrient dense foods replenish us and promote healing within the body. Food feels like love. In times of grief, it can be hard to take care of our own basic needs so cooking for your partner or ordering in their favorite foods goes a long way.
Help with household tasks. When someone is grieving, tasks like laundry or grocery shopping can feel particularly arduous. Shouldering some of these responsibilities allows your partner time to rest and heal without worrying about the day-to-day chores within or around the home.
Establish healthy boundaries while you grieve. One of the most common challenges I hear from my fertility clients centers around managing family members that overstep boundaries. Healthy boundaries are always important; however, they’re especially important when someone is really hurting. When we experience a trauma, it can feel very invasive to have people showing up unannounced, incessantly calling or texting, offering unsolicited advice, and asking lots of questions. Often there are unrealistic expectations around the timeline of grief and also the process of grief as this is completely specific to the individual. Clear communication and boundaries around your experience can guide others to show up in support in ways that actually feel supportive. I felt a lot of stress around this and was so grateful that my husband communicated our needs to the outside world. I felt protected by this during such a vulnerable time.
Call on your support system. A full spectrum doula focusing on bereavement, a therapist, or a loved one to help around the house with pets, cleaning, living children, etc. Often, we are expected to “soldier on” and “power through” even when we’re falling apart. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, lean on your community, and express your needs. When I was suffering, people often said to me “wow, you’re so strong” when I was anything but. Imagine the shift that could occur if we responded “actually, I’m really struggling and I need help with ____”
Prioritize rest and self-care. Without rest, we cannot heal. It is the most paramount pillar of healing. Selfcare looks different for every individual but it’s important that we continue to nurture ourselves and our partners. For me, meditation, Epsom salt baths, acupuncture, writing, and allowing myself to slow down are vitally important parts of my wellbeing practice.
Honor the loss in your own way. This can look like a million different things: writing a poem, creating a shadow box, getting a tattoo, a symbolic piece of jewelry, lighting a candle. Whatever you choose to do is beautiful and important.
Honor the loss together. In addition to all of the ways in which I honor my babies daily, it also felt important that my husband and I honor them together. Some couples organize community events or purchase a star in remembrance. Others plant a tree or create a beautiful space within their home. The process can be very cathartic and so powerful.
After our third miscarriage, my husband got three arrows pointing to the heavens tattooed on his ribs. At the time, he didn’t tell me that each arrow represented one of our angel babies. But later, when he felt safe enough, he shared with me that this was one of the ways in which he wanted to honor them. We cried together and cried again when he added a fourth. He is very creative and has lots of tattoos so this homage felt very fitting for him.
Later, we planted beautiful rose bushes. We created rituals that felt right to us. I’ve known others to light candles, hang windchimes, frame ultrasound images, create shadowboxes, or name stars after their babies.
If I had to sum it up in one sentence I’d say this: care whether you are showing up for your partner in a way that feels supportive to them.
Laura Fletcher, CD the Founder & CEO of Selah Fertility and author of The Grace in Grief: Healing and Hope After Miscarriage