Marriage and Cohabitation Outcomes After Pregnancy Loss

Personal loss shapes an Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Clinical Scholar’s research agenda for years to come.

RWJF Clinical Scholar Katherine Gold, M.D., M.S.W., M.S., (2005–07) lost her second child just days before her due date. When she looked for research on how people dealt with the death of a child she found little about how couples (married or cohabitating) fared after a fetal loss.

With support from her mentors and the Clinical Scholars program, which encourages clinicians to follow their passions and trains them in multiple research methods, Gold framed her own research topic.

She analyzed data on 7,643 women who reported 13,593 pregnancies and found that couples who had experienced a miscarriage had a 22 percent greater risk of divorcing or ending their relationship than those who had not lost a baby. For couples who had suffered a stillbirth, the risk was 40 percent higher. Those risks remained for two to three years after a miscarriage and up to 10 years after a stillbirth.

Some of the reasons behind these numbers include: the loss of a child is often not acknowledged by society or even people close to the couple; parents feel alone in their grieving and coping; and fear they may never become parents.

Gold’s next research project follows a group of women for two years to see how a stillbirth or infant death affects their mental and physical health—and subsequent pregnancy choices.