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A miscarriage or stillbirth is a terrible emotional loss for both the father and mother, yet the dad's grief after miscarriage or loss is often poorly understood. While this article is written for dads, moms will benefit just as much.
General Miscarriage Information
Miscarriage affects about 15-20% of all pregnant couples, usually between weeks 4 and 6 of conception. Only 1% of miscarriages happen after the 13th week. The chances of a miscarriage are greater during one's first pregnancy.
Most times, the reasons for miscarriage are outside the control of expectant parents. Ordinary activities such as working, exercising, or having sex do not cause miscarriages.
They are usually due to abnormalities in the fetus or placenta, mostly chromosomal abnormalities or incorrect egg placement. A stillbirth occurs when after 20 weeks of pregnancy, the baby dies in the womb.
The Shock Of A Miscarriage
In either case, whether by miscarriage or stillbirth, it's a terrible shock to the couple. Some women don't even have any symptoms and only discover the loss during a routine ultrasound scan. It can hit a couple so fast it's hard to make sense of what's happened.
One moment you're in prenatal bliss, and the next being whisked away to another unit in the hospital to discuss having the baby removed. The floor drops beneath you. All future plans immediately go out the window.
There will be no first steps, no boy to play catch with, or girl to walk down the aisle. All your dreams are dashed in an instant. There is much grief over what could've been, which may take a long time to heal. Much has been said of the woman's experience of miscarriage.
It's common for her to feel grief at an intensity similar to other major life losses. Women often have depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder weeks and months following a miscarriage. Sometimes, the aftereffects can last for years.
Dad's Grief After Miscarriage Or Loss
But less has been said about how men react to such a loss. Available studies indicate that men often have the same feelings of grief and loss as their partners. It's not at all unusual for many men to experience grief, sadness, anxiety, and depression after miscarriage.
In fact, in one study of 386 partners, post-traumatic stress was reported in 7% of men one month after a miscarriage. Such is the bond that so many men already have for their unborn child.
Natural Reactions To Miscarriage
There's no exact playbook of how anyone should or will feel in this situation, but there are generalities.
Most people will alternate between the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Everyone processes grief in their way and in their own time. You and your partner will likely be on different schedules.
Some women may feel guilty as though their bodies let them and everyone else down when it isn't their fault. Many men may feel an immediate impulse to try to fix things, which of course, isn't possible.
Some couples will feel lonely, never having disclosed the pregnancy to others or feeling that people can't understand what they're going through. They may also harbor irrational fears that now they could lose everything else they have, including their relationship.
The Grieving Emotion
Grief can come with a palette of emotions. Some symptoms you may feel are:
- emotional numbness
- lack of concentration
- lack of appetite
- problems sleeping
Women can be in double jeopardy, as their hormonal levels will rapidly shift for a few weeks following a miscarriage, and until stabilizing, mood swings and tears are the norms. So postpartum depression and other mood disorders can take their toll on top of miscarrying.
Couples may fear suffering another pregnancy loss or complications, though most women have healthy pregnancies the next time around. Partners may also resent not being able to enjoy their subsequent pregnancy for all the worry. You may want to scream, cry or lash out.
How Some Men Handle Grief
Some men may react by taking on the persona of the strong silent type. They may:
- Grieve alone.
- Not want to talk about the loss. (Women are far more likely to reach out and communicate their feelings verbally.)
- Feel numb or unable to show their feelings.
- Feel that their only job should be as a support for their partner.
- Work through their grief alone, rather than reaching out for help.
- Spend more time at work and doing things away from home.
- Drink too much.
- Be chronically irritable and angry.
- Lose interest in things they once enjoyed.
Trying to be 'the rock' for their partner makes some men feel they must put their feelings aside.
Studies On Men's Grief After Miscarriage Or Loss
In a University of College London and the Miscarriage Association survey, following a miscarriage, half the men kept their feelings to themselves for fear of causing their partner more pain and agitation or saying the wrong thing.
Almost a quarter didn't talk to their partner about her loss and pain at all, while 47% reported sleeping problems and 48% reported it affecting their work.
Interestingly enough, a study of 323 men after miscarriage found that they usually displayed grief less openly than their partners but fell victim more often to "feelings of despair" and "difficulty in coping."
Could these men feel a sense of vulnerability and powerlessness because they did not or could not share their feelings with their partners and others?
Many men have felt that:
- Their partner did not understand how they felt.
- Somehow their feelings weren't as important as their partner's.
- They were powerless to help their partner.
- They were too upset themselves to be able to support their partner emotionally.
In another survey of 40 men, 45% said they mourned the loss of their family's hopes and dreams, 50% reported not sharing their feelings with their partner, and 40% reported feeling vulnerable and powerless—a similar story.
Other studies showed that men suffer from anxiety and depression following a miscarriage, though at less consuming levels and for a shorter time than their partners.
The lesson here is that fathers are not immune to the devastation of miscarriage, and we need to break the taboo about men showing their grief and emotion without feeling guilty.
Help For Grieving Men
So what does help men? A small 2019 study of Australian men with previous miscarriages concluded that male-oriented support networks would have been a significant help.
Another study concluded that the quality of the couple's relationship, the support of family, friends, community, and a good experience with the healthcare system all positively influenced the men in dealing with grief.
Relationship Dangers of Being Noncommunicative
It is essential to know that your communication may not only be vital for your mental and emotional well-being, but it can also be the salve that literally saves your marriage!
Six months following a miscarriage, the most depressed women were those with partners who were least likely to talk about the loss. The same study showed that men who had the greatest difficulty coping with the miscarriage were prone to a "delayed grief response" two years later.
Married or couples living together who had a miscarriage were 22% more likely to break up than couples who brought a healthy baby to term. Stillbirths resulted in 40% of couples ending the relationship.
So what are some of the key takeaway DOs and DON'Ts we've learned from research and experience?
DO Let Your Partner Know That The Miscarriage Was Not Her Fault
Working a little overtime, exercising extensively, and not eating a balanced meal now and then do not cause miscarriages. Mostly, miscarriages are due to genetic abnormalities. Your partner needs to hear, "You did nothing wrong. It isn't your fault."
DON'T Try To Fix Things Or Fix Your Partner
Grief is a process only time and communication can help. Don't take on an impossible job. It will make your partner feel that you are marginalizing her feelings and lead you to feel helpless and inadequate. Only time and understanding will help.
DO Listen, Talk With Your Partner And Let Your Feelings Show
Your partner doesn't want to go through her grieving alone, and sharing your feelings gives her the cue that it's okay to share hers. At times, all you will need to do is to listen. Make patience and caring the norm in your relationship. Let her know that she and her feelings are okay.
Tell her about your feelings and thoughts and how you want your baby to be remembered. Don't be so identified in your role as a support person that you forget to share your own emotions.
DON'T Make Clichéd, Dismissive Comments
Avoid clichés such as, "It's very common," "You can still have other kids," or "It just wasn't meant to be." For most moms, this isn't reassuring. This baby was unique and special, and no other child could ever take his or her place.
DO Accept That Your Feelings Will Most Likely Be Different From One Another
All of us have a different way of processing grief, and our feelings can change from day to day.
Perhaps your partner is feeling the loss of your child more intensely than you. Losing a child for a woman can be very different as she is the one who felt the development of the child within and the physical loss of her body no longer being pregnant.
Be open to differences in how the two of you grieve and how these feelings evolve. Differences in emotion and outlook don't mean that you love her any less. Recognizing differences also sets the stage for her to understand that you process differently.
DON'T Be Around Babies And Kids Until You're Ready
Nothing can trigger memories like being around babies, so perhaps for a while, consider taking a vacation from being in situations with healthy infants.
DO Show That You Care In Other Ways
Besides asking her to share her feelings or share them when she's ready, show you care by taking her out to a nice dinner, taking care of the kids, giving her a night off, or making dinner and doing the dishes. Let her know that she's still just as special to you.
DO Take Your Time Grieving And Let Her Take Hers
Again, there is no timeline or playbook for handling grief. Some couples move through it relatively quickly in the days or weeks following, and others fall into long, deep despair over the loss.
There is no right way to feel nor the right amount of time to grieve. But trying to push your feelings away or rush through them will only worsen the situation in the long run. Allowing yourself to grieve helps you to come to terms with the loss.
Sadness is an integral part of the grieving process that cannot be helped. Even when you feel that you've accepted your loss and come to terms, you will probably always mourn the loss in some way.
It may hit you during anniversaries or on a playground when you least expect it. Even a commercial for baby-related items can unexpectedly trigger a buried memory of what might've been.
DO Reach Out To Family and Friends
There can be a tendency to isolate, but reach out to family and friends when you're ready. Let them know what you need, whether that be someone to talk to about the baby, hug you, spend time with, someone to bring you a meal or shop for groceries or take care of your children.
Ask them to use your baby's name if that's what you want. Understand they may not know exactly what to say, and let them know that that's all right. Or, if you're not ready to talk, let them know.
Remember, people care about you even when they're silent. And there may be some people you'll never want to talk to about it.
DO Put Together a Support Network
Talk with other couples who've experienced a miscarriage. It can be beneficial to get in touch with couples who have had successful pregnancies after a loss.
Join a support and bereavement group for parents and families who have lost a child. Your healthcare provider, a social worker, a grief counselor, or a hospital may help locate such a group. You can also find groups online.
DO Consider Seeing a Therapist
If your feelings are making it difficult to deal with daily life, if you feel stuck in one of the grieving stages, if you feel debilitated, or if your sadness lasts more than a couple of months, it may be helpful to seek a counselor, therapist, or social worker.
These people are trained to help you explore your feelings and get "unstuck."
DO Get Busy
Turning to a project can help lessen feelings of grief and help you process your emotions. Being busy but not too busy to reach out and be supportive and sharing with your partner can be very helpful for some.
DO Take Care Of Yourself
Especially when you're under a great deal of stress it is essential to take care of yourself by eating balanced, whole-food meals, getting daily exercise, and sticking to a sleep schedule. Your body can take care of you only when you take care of it.
DO Consider Writing
It's not for everyone, but journaling or writing letters to your baby expressing your feelings of how much you miss her can help the grieving process. Many people feel that they give life to their feelings by committing them to paper. This can be therapeutic for grieving fathers and mothers.
DO Commemorate Your Baby
There are so many ways you can memorialize your baby. You may decide to hold a service for your baby, such as a memorial service or funeral. This will give you a chance to say goodbye and share your grief with family and friends.
You may want to volunteer for a charity or donate in your baby's name; perhaps raise money for a local park or plant a tree in her honor. You may want to have a scrapbook or memory box of ultrasound pictures and other keepsakes of your child.
Or you may want to have a piece of jewelry made with your baby's initials or her birthstone. The two of you may want to honor your child on special anniversaries, bringing your family and friends together to remember your child.
For Couples With Older Children
Your children may be grieving too. They may be acting out and in need of special attention. They may even be afraid of dying too, or that they're somehow to blame for the baby's death.
Let them know that they're not the cause of the baby's death and that no one is to blame. Let them know that they are not going to die. Use simple, unambiguous words to describe what happened to the baby.
Say things like, "the baby was attached to the wrong place in mommy, and so he couldn't grow anymore, and he died." Don't say ambiguous things such as, "mommy lost the baby."
Encourage them to talk freely about how they feel about the baby's death. Let them ask questions about the baby and about how you are doing. Read them a story(s) about death and loss to help them better understand these concepts.
Ask them to find ways to help you remember the baby, perhaps by drawing a picture or making something that can be kept in a memory box.
For Couples Thinking About Conceiving Again
Some couples feel that the best thing to do is to get pregnant again right away.
Check with your doctor, but it's usually safe to conceive after the first menstrual period, which normally occurs four to six weeks after the miscarriage. Then again, your emotions may need time for healing, longer than the woman's body needs to get ready.
Many couples fear another miscarriage, but there's no greater risk of miscarriage after a loss. Most people will experience a healthy second pregnancy.
I hope this post has been helpful to you. Your comments below are welcome and appreciated.