Pregnancy loss doesn’t just happen to women, but it can seem that way if you’re a grieving father looking for information and support. It’s no secret that men and women deal with a lot of things differently, and pregnancy loss is no exception. For many men, problems and meant to be solved, but in pregnancy loss, there’s nothing that can be “fixed” and that can make men feel very helpless.
Below you’ll find strategies and suggestions for coping with pregnancy loss at various stages of the experience. Hopefully, you’ll find a few specific actions that make you feel less helpless.
1. When You Find Out
Getting the news that your baby isn’t going to make it is devastating. Whether it’s an early miscarriage, or a shocking stillbirth at the end of pregnancy, you won’t be prepared for it. You’ll probably have a lot of questions about your wife or girlfriend’s diagnosis.
What You Can Do: Go with your partner to the hospital or clinic. Listen to the doctor’s explanations and ask any questions you have. Be there for your partner with a hand to hold and a shoulder to cry on. If she’s feeling very emotional, you can be helpful by offering to make phone calls and notify family.
Sometimes, pregnancy loss happens suddenly and you may find yourself in the emergency room or labor room with a surprise diagnosis. Other times, you may get the news much earlier from an ultrasound or other test. No matter how it happens, there may come a point when you’re in the hospital with your partner while the baby is delivered.
What You Can Do: Just like in normal labor, you can be supportive to your partner by helping to make her physically comfortable. Offering massage, ice chips, assistance in and out of bed can make your partner feel supported and cared for, and keep you involved. Don’t be afraid to join in the emotional experience, too. This is one time that it’s definitely OK to cry, and your partner will know she’s not the only one feeling the pain of loss.
3. The First Few Days at Home
There are a lot of unexpected pitfalls when you first come home. Whether it’s stumbling across a baby gift from a shower, or having to break the news to relatives, you’ll encounter lots of reminders that keep grief fresh. Your partner’s emotions will be all over the map, and yours probably will be, too. This is when it starts to become obvious that men and women cope with loss differently.
What You Can Do: It’s perfectly OK for you to grieve in your own way, and it’s important that you meet your own needs, both physical and emotional. To help bridge the gap between you two, keep talking. Even a simple acknowledgment that you are feeling sad, even if you don’t show it as openly can make all the difference. You can also help by fielding phone calls when your partner isn’t up for it, helping her accept the help that friends and family will offer, and participating in any plans to memorialize your baby.
4. Coping for the Long Term
Unfortunately, there is no expiration date on grief. Although you will slowly learn to assimilate this experience into your life, it will never go completely away. Your partner will likely go through her own grief experience at a different rate than you, and the difference can be frustrating for both partners.
What You Can Do: Be kind to yourself, and don’t expect grief to end for you or your partner in an abrupt or predictable fashion. Consider trying a personal coping technique of your own, like journaling. Learn the signs of depression and be aware that both men and women are at risk for it after losing a child.
5. Your Marriage/Relationship
Pregnancy loss can strain a relationship like any crisis. There are so many emotions when a child dies, and even though you and your partner are going through this together, you won’t necessarily be experiencing the same feelings at the same time. In a relationship, people usually try to take care of each other, but that can be hard to do when your own needs are more intense than usual.
What You Can Do: Communication is the key, even if all you can do is let your partner know you care and you’re aware you two aren’t on the same page right now. Try to be patient with yourself and your partner as you walk the path through mourning. Consider looking for a support group or seeking professional counseling to help you cope either on your own, or as a couple.
6. Special Considerations
There are times that you or your partner might experience stronger feelings of loss. Whether it’s a personally important date, like a birthday, or your partner’s due date, or a calendar holiday like Christmas, Thanksgiving, or Father’s Day, there will be times of the year you’re more aware of the loss of your child.
Here is a list of some of the specific aspects of coping you may encounter: