Supporting Fathers After a Loss
How can fathers expect to feel after the loss of a pregnancy?
The death of a baby is overwhelming. The reality is that there is no right or wrong way to grieve the loss of your baby. Your grief will be as individual as you are. Many thoughts and emotions you experience, however, are common to fathers in grief. The range of emotions may affect you at different times and be repeated. Emotions may include shock and confusion, loss of control, anger, frustration or failure, and sadness.
How is my grief different from my partner’s?
Grief work is a very individual and personal process. Women often are more open with expressions of emotion. Fathers may feel uncomfortable or ill at ease in the presence of another person’s expression of sadness or tears. Fathers often have difficulty expressing their grief and emotions.
It is important to allow yourself time to grieve and give yourself permission not to be strong. Grief work can be exhausting for both you and your partner. Men are likely to channel their grief into another concern or activity. You may just as likely feel like withdrawing from normal routines. You may try avoiding your grief in hopes that the emotional pain will simply go away. Or you may, like some fathers, substitute feelings of sadness and hurt with anger. Perhaps, like other fathers, you will focus your energy on working long hours to delay going home and coping with memories. It is important to realize that efforts to avoid or delay grief only prolong it. Healthy grieving requires that you embrace the hurt and communicate your feelings of pain and disappointment.
Questions are a normal part of the grieving process. Both you and your partner will have questions. It is important to understand that some of your questions will never have an answer.
It is important to discover ways of expressing your sorrow alone and equally important that you communicate to your partner not only how you grieve but also what you need to survive this loss. If your need is to grieve and cry in private, your partner needs to understand that. Lack of communication may give the perception to others that you are immune to the loss, irritable or depressed.
Understand that everyone grieves in his or her own time and in his or her own way. You may find comfort in long walks alone while your partner needs the comfort of being held by you and sharing feelings. Fathers tend to be problem solvers, and the loss of a baby is something that can’t be “fixed.” It is a journey that can be only experienced and requires time and patience.
How do I cope with others and going back to work?
Most often friends, family and co-workers are at a loss for words to comfort. Words offered with good intentions may make you angry instead. Many people do not understand what you are going through; it typically takes another bereaved parent to have a grasp of the emotions you are feeling. Be honest and specific in communicating what you need.
Where can I find support?
Support groups provide for connecting with other parents dealing with the loss of a baby. A support group provides fellowship and networking with other parents. Sharing your story with other fathers can provide comfort and a sense that you are not alone in your grief work. A support group provides a safe environment in which to share stories and express feelings and emotions. It is more comfortable to connect with people who have shared a similar pain and surround you with the support and compassion that comes only through understanding.
Remember that grief is a journey with peaks and valleys. It involves many emotions and surviving many anniversary dates. For information on support groups, visit Share Pregnancy & Infant Loss Support.