Breaking Up Over The Loss Of A Baby

The newest research says that couples who experience a miscarriage or a stillbirth are at a higher risk for a break up, even many years after pregnancy loss, than couples who have had children.

In the case of a miscarriage that occurs earlier than at 20 weeks, the likelihood of a break up is 22% higher than for couples who have a successful obstetric outcome. The rate for breaking off relationships peaks at somewhere between 18 months and 3 years after the pregnancy loss occurs. The rate for breaking up then falls back to rates that are comparable to those of other couples, says the study.

But in the case where there is pregnancy loss or a stillbirth at 20 weeks or more, the divorce rate rises to 40% and remains there for up to a decade after the event, say the researchers.

First National Study

The researchers responsible for this work say this is the first large national study examining the correlation between pregnancy loss and divorce or break-ups in couples who live together. The scientists looked at data on 7,770 pregnancies from the National Survey of Family Growth. Study author Dr. Katherine Gold said, "The findings were quite surprising at how strong they were and how long they lasted." Dr. Gold is an assistant professor in the departments of obstetrics and gynecology and family medicine at Ann Arbor's University of Michigan. The results of the study were published in the May 2010 issue of Pediatrics.

Gold explains that miscarriages bring on feelings of grief, followed by anger and even guilt. While the feelings may fade with time, they may not do so fast enough to suit family and friends. The feelings may also recede and then reappear at certain dates, such as on the anniversary of the miscarriage or on the due date of the failed pregnancy.

Stillbirth is even more difficult with some women becoming clinically depressed. Women who undergo a stillbirth may also suffer symptoms of anxiety disorders or of post traumatic stress, says Gold.

Resilient Women

But Gold also points out that women are resilient and pregnancy loss doesn't have to doom a relationship. "Most women after miscarriage actually do quite well, and most couples do well after miscarriage," said Gold. Still, there is a subset of couples who appear to be at a higher risk for break up, says the researcher.

"The study provides evidence scientifically of what a lot of us sensed was an issue, which is that following a major disappointment of a miscarriage or stillbirth, that marriages can fall apart," says David Keefe, a fertility specialist with psychiatric training and chairman of the obstetrics and gynecology department for the Langone Medical Center. The center is affiliated with New York University.

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